Two doors down from the shuttered Sports Bar, Pamela MacPherson cringes when she thinks about life on Boncloddy Street when the pub was open.
The music blared all over the street. People were drunk outside the club, using dirty language, drinking outside, throwing up,” said the retired bank worker who has lived with her daughter on the short — not quite two-dozen homes — downtown street for 10 years.
Weekends were the worst, she added. “Instead of being able to have a nice barbecue and have people in, I was ashamed to have people in. I was ashamed to let people know that I lived on this street at times.”
Beer bottles were broken in the street. Fights would break out. It was impossible for residents to find parking amidst the constant flow of traffic. MacPherson says the vacant area beside her house, connecting Boncloddy with Gear Street, was used for drug transactions.
“I did call the police on a few occasions,” she said. “I didn’t expect the police to do anything, because people are not going to sell drugs on the side of my house with police presence around. So it was either install cameras, for evidence, I suppose, or just let it go on. So it just went on.”
That changed late last year when the Sports Bar — which had been open for decades — abruptly closed its doors. Residents interviewed by The Telegram don’t know why it shut down — and they don’t particularly care why, either.
“It’s just a whole different atmosphere since the club has been closed down,” said MacPherson.
Neighbours are visiting with each other and are able to enjoy the outdoors on evenings and weekends, she said.
“You could see a difference right away. It just all seemed so nice and calm, and people were coming out of their houses and stopping and saying hello to other people and having a chat. I’ve talked to more people on the street this past summer.”
So when a notice appeared in The Telegram last month of an application for a liquor licence for the Sports Bar, Linda Redmond’s heart sank.
“I went out of my mind,” said Redmond, two doors down from the bar on the other side from MacPherson, who has lived with her husband Bill on the street for nearly 25 years. When they first moved there, the bar was quieter, more of a neighbourhood pub to have a beer in after work with your neighbours — think Coronation Street. But an older crowd gave way, with successive owners, to different clientèle, they say, and after 25 years it’s time for the pub to stay closed.
For Bill, the biggest issue is traffic and parking — not the noise or the music — but for Linda, years of noise, fights and the cursing have added up.
“Whenever the club was full, that was an issue,” she said. “We’ve got to get up for work in the morning, and you’re looking out the window, saying, ‘Could you take it inside?’ There’s people coming outside and they’re fighting or whatever, and you’re trying to sleep, and all this is going on right outside your window.”
Linda organized a petition — presented at St. John’s city council meeting Monday evening — to collect signatures asking the Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corp. (NLC) not to grant the licence. “I don’t want it there no more. I don’t want what goes on there. I just don’t want the club there. It’s interrupting our lifestyle. It’s interrupting the neighbourhood. … It’s done its time, for 50 years, and now it’s time to close it down.”
The closure of the bar has improved property values, says Linda. Bill notes that since the application appeared in the paper, three for-sale signs have gone up on the street. He said he doesn’t know if there’s a connection, but he suspects some of his neighbours don’t want to stay if the bar reopens.
But not everyone on the street is against the bar reopening. Across the street, Linda Squires, who lives with her brother, says she’s never had any problem with the bar.
“That’s been here since I was four, since we moved on the street. I’m 62, so that’s a good while,” she said, adding she’s never had any problem with noise.
“No, not a thing. Never had a problem with anyone in it either, I’ve gotta say,” she said. Squires said she was surprised to hear about the petition. “Well, I wouldn’t sign it. … We didn’t want a problem with it. Everyone’s friendly there.”
Ward 2 Coun. Jonathan Galgay, who presented the petition at Monday’s council meeting, says he supports the residents who want the liquor licence rejected. He’s long heard complaints of excessive noise and traffic in the area, which has another bar, the Peter Easton Pub, on nearby Cookstown Road. Galgay emphasizes that not all bars near homes are a problem — he’s never had a complaint about the Georgetown Pub on Hayward Avenue, for example — but says it’s not working out on Boncloddy.
“I don’t think that a liquor licence should be approved, and if I had my way I’d actually rezone the property, but unfortunately I can’t do that, because that’s the way that it was done many, many years ago,” he said. “I’ve actually asked staff if we can rezone it, but unfortunately there’s nothing we can do.”
There’s nothing city hall can technically do about the liquor licence — a provincial matter, Galgay acknowledged.
“All we can do, and all I can do, is put pressure on the liquor board to give careful consideration about issuing a permit such as this,” said Galgay, who has requested a meeting with the NLC. “The building itself could be used for many other facilitiees such as a cafe, a bakery, something like that. I think something like that would be a little more welcome than having a bar in a neighbourhood like that.”
Hannah White, listed in the notice as the applicant for the licence, was not available Tuesday, with the Telegram told she’s out of the country.