Friday, July 1, 2011

Far West's final farewell is bittersweet

Posted By on Fri, Jul 1, 2011 at 11:37 AM

Odd impressions of the abrupt and unexpected closure at Far West Billiards pepper the bar, like a sign reading “WE WILL BE CLOSED Monday JULY 4.”

Yesterday afternoon, all eight employees found out those signs are null — they would be closing immediately and permanently, after Far West owner Andrew Sackville-West turned the bar over to building landlord Rob Brewster. In an interview with the Spokesman-Review, Brewster said he plans to renovate the space and open a new establishment without billiards, while noting that Far West had been late on their rent payments as of late.

The news caught Far West employees completely off guard.

“We knew there was going to be a transaction [between Sackville-West and Brewster],” general manager Yvonne Millspaugh told The Inlander yesterday. But she says she thought the bar, which has been open for over 10 years, would be unaffected.

“What can you feel about it,” Millspaugh says with a shrug during a quick smoke break outside. “Basically, I’m free.”

The employees were all laid off, so they qualified for unemployment benefits, but despite being taken care of, the closure meant more to some than just losing a job.

“You have your home, you have your work, and you have your third place you go,” says employee Nathan Heard, adding that Far West was the first bar he went to when he turned 21. “This is my third place.”

In an effort to get rid of inventory, the bar announced yesterday that all tabs would be 50 per cent off until close at 2 am. The message was initially announced by employee Johnny Dandurand on his Facebook page, and word of the closure and discount spread quickly.

In attendance was photographer Geoff Scanlan, whose cellphone photography exhibit was set to open at Far West for tonight's First Friday festivities. Scanlan said in an email that he went in Thursday morning to make some adjustments to his exhibit and received a call two hours later saying the bar would be closing. But like Heard, the closure means more for Scanlan.

“It’s a bummer because of my exhibit, but Far West has been a home for me for a long time. It's one of the first places I hung out ... It was the place I learned to bartend and helped me get out of my shell — a lot of the people I consider friends are from me working there,” he wrote.

Scanlan plans to move his exhibit to Picabu Bistro next week and hopes the Globe may pick it up as well.

Around 10 pm, the usually wide-open spaces of the bar were suddenly packed with people, shoulder to shoulder. Along with at least three other employees, Millspaugh tended to the sea of customers that showed up to say goodbye and help finish off the food and drinks, sometimes stepping aside for a hug from one of her customers.

Heard says he was just thinking of something Millspaugh told him that afternoon.

“'It was a good ride and it was fun,'” Heard says, quoting Millspaugh. “I don’t know if it can be said any better than that.”

Scenes from last night's closing:

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