By Lisa Wilton with B. Simm
The Staff (Older, Wiser)
The Ship jam happens every Saturday afternoon, live shows every second Wednesday night, and big bashes planned for St. Paddy’s, Stampede, Halloween and other occasions throughout the year. When Darren Ollinger took over as the Ship’s booking agent four years ago, he didn’t try to change or do anything different to their programming and legacy other than bring in a few more touring bands, which they embrace.
Bands love playing here,” says Ollinger, “because the Ship treats them well. They know they can suck up all the other shitty gigs they have to do on the road, but when they get to the Ship, there’s going to be people there, and they’re going to feed us and they’re going to pay us.”
The Ship also is highly regarded as the room to play in town. When a local band gets booked at the Ship, they’re “gunned” for it, it’s a special occasion no question about it.
“There’s always going to be a lot of fresh eyes on them. There’s no cover charge, and we try out a lot of different acts, we give bands a chance. People are interested in that, in something new. And bands benefit, knowing there’s going to be some kind of crowd and they’ll get attention. It’s a great dynamic.”
Bartending through out his university years, Kotyk gravitated to the Ship in 1999 simply in search of a job. More than a decade and a half later, he’s still there and still smiling while serving.
A man who clearly likes his work, Kotyk says the Ship has retained its charm and good character over time and that’s a good thing. “Yeah, nothing much has really changed. A lot of people have gotten laid here,” he chuckles. “Seriously though, the Ship has put down some good roots. There’s a community, it’s more than just a bar. And the one other thing that doesn’t change, is the crowd that comes keeps getting younger.”
Filling in for the Ship’s original sound guru, Grant Sim, Waite took over the mixing board in 1994. He’s seen a lot of talent take the stage some who’ve gone from grassroots to international stars. “I remember,” says Waite, “when Sara and Tegan played here. I didn’t know who they were. The place was filled with hippies and family all sitting on the floor.” A serious fan of all types of music, Waite tries to get behind each band the best he can. “What I like about the Ship, it’s such a wide variety of style: country, alt-indie, and a lot that leans towards rock ‘n’ roll with a punk edge. There’s so many extreme artists that hold their own. It’s a real treat to be here. A privilege.“
The Staff (New Blood)
Originally from Halifax, Baldwin didn’t know anything about the Ship when she arrived in Calgary. A friend suggested that before she check out other jobs, try the Ship… “you might like it.”
She had previously worked in the bar industry at home, and during her interview when she asked if it was okay to show her tattoos when working, “they laughed.”
Baldwin says she planned to stay just for a summer. Three years later, her “boyfriend of two and a half years is from the Ship and all of my family here is from this place. It’s the biggest family group I’ve ever had. And I’ve worked in bars for years.”
Armed with a degree in political science and some industry experience at the Lazy Loaf and Kettle, Wilson started busing at the Ship five years ago before recently transitioning behind the wood.
You can serve booze anywhere, but what’s unique about working here? “The diversity of patrons is amazing,” says Wilson. “You have suits, punks, people from all walks of life, and it changes with the time of day. And then there’s the music: hip-hop, metal, punk, country. This place is a cultural hub that pulls everyone together. It doesn’t feel like work, but I get paid to do it, five days a week.”
Person has been coming to the Ship ever since he was old enough to drink. Four months ago he decided to apply to the place he “loves” and got a job busing.
“The regulars here aren’t like regulars anywhere else. They’re so dedicated to this bar. They’re here almost everyday, they know all the names of the staff, they probably know the menu better than I do,” laughs Person. Having worked in “white glove, fine-dining” establishments, he prefers the “messy, dirtiness of pub life.”
Person notes there’s also an other set of regulars that belong to the Ship… a group of homeless people that congregate outside that bar. “I’ve made friends with some of them, and some of them are fantastic!”
After managing Coconut Joe’s on the infamous Electric Ave. strip, Mike “Noodles” Newans was looking to escape that scene and came to talk to the Ship’s owner James Ballantyne about a job in the early 1990s. “James asks me one question: ‘Are you going to rip me off?’ Of course I wasn’t, I’ve always run a straight bar. So he proceeded to hire me on the condition that I show him all the ways that you could be ripped-off by staff.” Newans went from working nights getting $200-300 in tips to a day shift getting $40-50 in tips. “You had three groups of drinkers: cabbies, poets and musicians. All gigantic wage earners!” he laughs. Although he was “pissed” with a tip-out that was “literally nickels and dimes,” Newans says in retrospect it taught him to give proper service no matter what you’re tipped.
What kept him hanging in at the Ship, however, was the freedom to play music he liked. “I’d make mix tapes and bring them in. And CDs were just starting to circulate. I had a about a hundred of them. The reason I was such a surly bartender is because I would always be in a big rush to make drinks so I could make sure I could see my way to the next song on the next CD that I was going to play for everyone.” Bartenders playing DJ was a significant part of curating and developing a culture, a community, a neighbourhood pub through music. “That’s right,” nods Newans. “I was playing music that the waitresses liked. They were having fun, the bartenders were having fun, the costumers were having fun. It changed everything and made everything better. That’s when it started to really gel.”
“I did what all good English majors did with their degree, worked in a bar and travelled. I did that a couple of times then decided to put my degree to use in recession Calgary and wound up unemployed. I then started hanging out at the Ship and made the acquaintance of a certain young Nicola Wealleans, who was working there, and fell under the sway of her considerable charms.”
Management found out “Wistle” had been BA at the notorious Fox & Firkin on Electric Ave. and asked him to jump behind the bar. He began a four-year tenure at the Ship on February 29, 1992. “Whenever anybody asks me about what the Ship was like back then,” says Entwistle, “community is the first thing that I think about. But it wasn’t necessarily a pre-established or predefined community. It was this kind of a place where people who didn’t have any kind of place to land, landed. It’s where people went who didn’t fit in anywhere else. When you walked in the front door, no matter who or what you were, you were accepted and there wasn’t a lot of judgment about it as long as you accepted others like you. It was a community of people who didn’t fit anywhere else. I recently read an article with Denise Clarke from One Yellow Rabbit who said in a conformist, corporate city like Calgary, with a strong conservative bent, there’s going to be an equally strong underbelly. And I think the Ship is really where that strong underbelly gathered and colonized… You’d get regulars from across the spectrum. I remember an old, British World War II pilot, who said he once roomed with Ernest Hemingway. He’d come in each day and get quietly soused then go home to his partner, who was a transvestite. I didn’t know that for the first couple of years. It kind of surprised when he told me, but not that much.”
Massage therapist by day, Slater works the Ship’s floor at night helping to keep the bar orderly. “I feel I’m good at reading people, and thought it would be an interesting job for me. So I put myself up to the test.”
She says the biggest challenge is that “some people don’t like being told what to do by a 5’4″ woman. It’s difficult to take firm instruction from a lady sometimes. You get called the C-word, but just explain it’s nothing personal… they’re cut off and have to leave now.” Slater says that the drunken abuse can rattle her but she’s overcome it by staying positive. When asked if a woman at the door changes the character of the pub, she says she’s had a lot of encouraging feedback from patrons saying it does and feels, “it probably makes the place a bit more inviting.”