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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Knox Harrington: 21st century honky tonk man

Admittedly, 'ol Knox loves fancy restaurants, rock-solid wine lists and sparkling stemware. Sometimes though, I crave the warm and cozy confines of a good 'ol small town Prairie bar, or as the Americans call it -- a Honky Tonk. Sure, a real Honky Tonk, by definition, has live music and a particular brand of live music at that. Some form of country music. However, Western Canada has its own version. Live music is rare, but truly Canadian trappings are added in its place. Terry-towel table cloths, Old Dutch potato chips, Lethbridge Pilsner beer (as they used to call it) and rye, rye, rye.

Alberta, Saskatchewan and to a lesser extent B.C. have many such establishments, but Alberta seems to have the most and arguably the best. In my view, the best of the best is a little-known (to most) watering hole known as the Patricia Hotel in the tiny town of Patricia, Alberta, found just north of Brooks and about 2 hours east of Calgary.

The Patricia Hotel has it all. Cold beer, a fantastic rough-shorn wood interior, stuffed animals, pictures of regulars and local legends, a pool table and most importantly -- a jukebox. 

Not just any jukebox either. Probably the best-stocked jukebox in rural Alberta including Steve Earle's Copperhead Road album and some other Earle tracks on mixed CDs, Bruce Springsteen's Greatest Hits, numerous Johnny Cash albums, the best of Bob Seger, CCR's greatest, a fantastic and little-played Blue Rodeo song (3 Hours Away), plenty of George Strait (old and new) and yes, Elvis Presley. There are the lurking country cheeseballs like Kenney Chesney and Toby Keith too, but a guy could play solid selections all night (and have them sound better with every passing beer) without ever having to go there.

Ah, in my intense ranting above I forgot to mention the food. The notorious Patricia Hotel Steak Pit, tucked in the back corner of the bar, features a flame broiler and a menu that features locally acquired beef and bison (from a mile up the road) in the form of burgers or huge steaks, served with baked potatoes, salad and house-made soup. During hunting season, more times than not, there is also freshly prepared complimentary duck, goose or pheasant, prepared on the broiler by one of the in-house hunters and served to the patrons within. Also worthy of mention are the huge, fresh made-to-order breakfasts served in the adjacent hotel cafe. Fan-damn-tastic. They've saved my life after many a long night hanging from the jukebox and swapping tales with the other dwellers within.

Throw the colourful staff, local ranchers and owners Joe and Leonne Stuart into the stew and you have a damn fine tavern that is my home away from home when I'm hunting in that area. I'm even known to wander in during the off-season to soak up the local flavours, the hospitality and the good times.

If its an old school, small town Prairie bar you're craving, spend a night here and let the good times roll.

Posted by Knox Harrington on January 20, 2009 in Food and Drink | Permalink


The Patricia bar used to really get hopping during the shallow gas boom in the seventies.

"Frenchy", the former owner, had a big old tomcat that roamed around the bar. One night it jumped onto our table, and spilled some beer. My co-worker back-handed it, and knocked it across the room. Frenchy barred him for life from the hotel. Two days later all was forgiven, but my co-worker decided to take his pants off in the bar. Once again, he was barred for life.

My brother got into a fight with a tough cowboy one night, and they knocked over every table in the place. Luckily, Frenchy's tomcat was unhurt, so we didn't get barred for life. We left for an hour, giving Frenchy time to cool down.

I hadn't been there for years, until about seven years ago. You are absolutely right about the steak pit. It's an excellent meal, and an absolute bargain. You're right about the jukebox as well. And when the sun shines through the window a certain way, I swear I can see the ghost of Frenchy's tomcat waiting to jump onto the table.

Posted by: dp | 2009-01-20 10:36:11 AM

It sounds like a great place.

Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2009-01-20 12:15:51 PM

When I think back to the way I used to perform, I get a bit embarassed about the way I try to preach now. Maybe it's time to get back to having a little fun again.

Thanks for stirring up some old memories.

Posted by: dp | 2009-01-20 12:37:10 PM

Why do I feel like some evil force has just been released upon the world? :-)

Posted by: Matthew Johnston | 2009-01-20 1:19:14 PM

If 1970s Canada still existed, there'd be no need for preaching.

Posted by: DJ | 2009-01-20 2:30:56 PM

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