Palomino Club closing, owner hoping to relocate downtown

By: Geoff Kirbyson
03 January 2016

Palomino Club closing, owner hoping to relocate downtown

One of Winnipeg’s oldest and most popular bars is closing down. But have no fear, country music fans — the Palomino Club could boot, scoot and boogie its way downtown.

Cary Paul, owner of the iconic Portage Avenue nightclub, confirmed it will close down Jan. 2. The building will be bulldozed shortly afterwards and a 60-unit condo building will rise in its place.

Paul is negotiating with the owners of 323 Portage Ave., formerly the 4Play sports bar, and hopes to put a pub on the main floor and a club in the basement. He hopes to sign off on an agreement within the next two weeks.

Assuming he does, he said the space would need at least a $600,000 renovation before he could open, ideally sometime in February.

“It’s not hard to spend three-quarters of a million dollars in the blink of an eye. I don’t want to miss the last third of the Jets’ season,” he said.

Paul said the changing nightlife habits over the past five to 10 years have made it difficult for nightclubs to remain profitable, particular for a place as big as the Palomino and that’s off the beaten path.

When he first christened “the Pal” back in 1988, the city didn’t have many pubs or lounges, and major chains such as Earls, Joeys and Moxie’s had yet to establish a significant presence in town. Now that suburban pubs enable many people to walk home and not worry about drinking and driving, the market isn’t as big as it used to be.

“We are a beer and shots bar. Fancy slushy cocktails, that’s not us. A lot of people will pre-game it because they can drink cheaper. Pubs and taverns seem to be all the rage at the moment. People hang there and then come to the clubs at 11 or 11:30 and see who they can dance with or do whatever with,” he said.

But moving downtown with an adjusted concept is something he believes could be successful.

“I never thought of going downtown when I first started, especially with country. People thought I was crazy opening a country bar so close to the city as opposed to outside of the city. When I first opened, I took up steer wrestling at the age of 39 just to ingratiate myself to the cowboys, not realizing I’d get the hell kicked out of me,” he said with a laugh.

Stefano Grande, executive director of the Downtown Business Improvement Zone, said he believes a relaunched Palomino Club would fit well within the Sports Hospitality and Entertainment District (SHED).

Cary Paul is negotiating with the owners of 323 Portage Ave., formerly the 4Play sports bar, and hopes to put a pub on the main floor and a club in the basement.

“Walking that block now, it’s beautiful with the Alt Hotel and Stantec’s headquarters. This would be a nice addition to make the block completely revitalized,” he said.

The fact Paul has been in the business for so long is crucial to the success of the 323 Portage space.

“You can’t rely just on the MTS Centre (for traffic). Having a well-seasoned operator with a clientele who will follow him will be more successful than somebody going in with no background, as we’ve seen multiple times,” he said.

<blockquote>”The vision for the downtown is to attract a cluster of pubs, restaurants and clubs to create that mix where people will want to come out, regardless of whether there’s a game on.”</blockquote>

Keith Merkel, president of the EdgeCorp Group, a local real estate development company spearheading the four-storey condominium building that will go up once the Palomino comes down, said he is in the process of rezoning the property, a process he hopes is completed by the end of the year.

“The project has been very well received by the residents and the planners,” he said.

One-bedroom units will sell for $174,900, while three-bedroom condos will sell for $269,900, he said.

Paul said he’s not worried previous occupants of 323 Portage haven’t been able to make a long-term go of things.

“That’s their problem. I’ve never had a failure (in business). This is my living. It’s not a hobby,” he said.

He isn’t sure what he’s going to do with all of the furniture, signs and other paraphernalia in his bar, but he might take some of it downtown or he might sell some of it.

There is no question, however, about what to do with the neon horse sign that adorns the front of the building.

“The horse will definitely come. Whether it’s from the same company or somebody replicates it, it’s coming. It’s iconic,” he said.

geoff.kirbyson@freepress.mb.ca

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