It came from a few chance meetings on the street. I ran into Dave Trimble the other day and we had a lovely “Hail fellow, well met” moment and said “Great to see you, it’s been too long, we really must get together, stay in touch, yadda yadda” and then we went our separate ways.
In fact, we parted company quite certain in the knowledge that we probably wouldn’t get together any time soon. It’s not like we’re best friends, although we genuinely like each other and spend time well together. Life is busy and people move on and yet . . . In saying good bye to each other the way we did that day, we were both somehow tacitly acknowledging the fact that in the absence of the Auburn Saloon, we might well never get together, ever again. Sad, really.
For those who don’t know, the Auburn Saloon was Calgary’s arts bar of choice for almost twenty years, which unexpectedly closed its doors just less than a year ago. The Auburn’s history was written in two chapters, really. The first ten years, when it was located in the north side of the Teatro building on Olympic Plaza, and the second ten years when it moved to its final location in the Tower Centre.
During its first ten years, when I was a more than regular fixture there, it was almost exclusively a theatre bar. It’s where we went after shows. Or sometimes before shows. Or during shows. You get the idea. We went there a lot. The whole theatre community went there and this led to a wonderful cross-pollination of artists and ideas that became a critical component in the rise of the theatre we saw in Calgary in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. Suddenly Calgary had a theatre scene and the Auburn was its epicentre. I’m not making this up. In 2001, the bar was awarded a Betty Mitchell Award for its contribution to the Calgary theatre community. The award was accepted by its original owner, Lawrence Romanoski and its second and final owner, Jesse Glasnovic.
The time we had in the original location could probably be considered the Auburn’s golden age, but we soldiered on in the new location. While it remained a theatre bar at heart, the next ten years saw a number of different art forms find their expression in the bar, in particular the Spoken Work Festival, Poetry Slams, Single Onion Poetry and others. From the early days, there was always art of the walls. There was also a brief flirtation with jazz and other musical events. And please, don’t get me started on the dreaded salsa nights.
Such expansion and search for a larger clientele was a fact of life, I guess, and it came down to a question of loyalty underscored by an ongoing financial crisis. The new larger location simply couldn’t survive on the patronage of the theatre community alone; and yet the theatre community often resented the presence of anyone else in their unofficial clubhouse. This was a tension that Jesse had to live with for too long, until finally the thing fell apart. No one’s fault, really. It’s just how it was.
Oh well, move on.
But as Joni Mitchell so famously said, “Don’t it always seem to go, seems you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone . . .”
On any account, a few weeks after my encounter with Dave Trimble, I ran into Jim Leyden on the street. A cold day. But good to see each other. (Playwrights, you know . . . we tend to take a parochial interest in people who have been in our plays. Jim was in my play The Hen House at Lunchbox Theatre a million years ago. (Trimble had been in a ten minute play I wrote even before that.) Yes indeed, the old “Lunchbucket.” Back in the days of Bow Valley Square. Johanne Deleeuw had just taken over. Bob White and I walked over from ATP to do that play. I’m sure the whole scheme was hatched late one night in the Auburn. Seems like a long time ago.)
And so Jim and I said, “Great to see you, it’s been too long, we really must get together, stay in touch, yadda yadda.” We started to walk away, our own separate ways, but then we both just stopped and turned and looked at each other, you know how you do. And then Jim said, “Maybe we should try to get some kind of get-together happening.” And I said “Yeah, maybe we should.”
Long story short, we have.
This Monday (December 16), at the Kensington Pub, we are having an event called The Spirit of the Auburn. Jim said he would make the arrangements, I said I would put something up on Facebook. Although we didn’t want to exclude our friends from Dirty Laundry, we decided on a Monday evening. We figured if we could get 50 people, we would go ahead with it.
We got our 50 people and then some, so we are going ahead with it.
What’s amazed me, maybe not surprised me but certainly amazed me, has been the passion of the activity on the Facebook event page. After a few somewhat cursory inquiries, things have really started to heat up.
Probably the main reason for this is the fact that Brian Jensen got involved. Brian is an honourary Auburn alumni, not only an actor, but a wonderful photographer with many, many photos of the Auburn and its habitués, on his hard drive. After a few days of the existence of the “Event” on Facebook, Brian (and then others) started adding photos on a regular basis and the feeling of nostalgia became palpable.
One interesting thing about the photos: digital cameras and smart phones must have come into existence during the time the Auburn was in the Tower Centre location. Photos from the original location are harder to come by. Except for the one I’ve posted above, taken by Vicki Stroich on the final night of playRights 2000. Seeing that photo makes me think maybe it’s just as well there aren’t more photos from back in the day. What the hell was I doing up there, anyway?!
How to describe, adequately, the importance of the Auburn Saloon in the Calgary theatre community? And how to express our collective feeling of loss? Or our respect and love (yes, actually love) for Jesse Glasnovic?
I don’t have the words. I think we’re all finding more and more that the loss is virtually incalculable on many different levels. I guess we’ll find out on Monday if there’s any forward gear left on this baby, or if it really only exists in the rear view mirror.
Thanks for reading.