A reincarnated classic
Intimate music venue and bar adds to the core area’s growing list of nighttime music destinations
There’s no question 555 Osborne, a cozy, sign-less live music venue and pub tucked away a few blocks south of Confusion Corner, has the Winnipeg market for Thai restaurant basement bars cornered.
By the looks of things, though, it has a lot more going for it than just that.
Since opening its doors a year ago, the small watering hole beneath south Osborne’s late-night eatery Sawatdee Thai seems to have grown into the authentic community nightspot so many weary show-goers long for.
The venue’s eclectic Monday night house band, The Sawat Team, consisting of Alex Campbell (JD Edwards Band), Jamie Buckboro (James and the Giants), Josh Ayers (Leanne Pearson), Alan Nagelberg and Sam Little (both Calabi Yau), is perhaps the perfect representation of the bar’s unique feel.
“It’s a really cool vibe here,” says Ayers. “It’s kind of like playing in your rich buddy’s awesome basement.”
The band, which describes itself in terms of a Thai food-booze combo as “Burt Reynolds Lettuce Wraps” and more conventionally as a “bottom 40” ‘60s and ‘70s rock cover band (they throw in a dash of contemporary, too), make a good case for this hidden gem.
“Some of the more well-known venues around town seem to be kind of dwindling as places to actually go and enjoy live music,” says Campbell. “Having another place, in a different neighbourhood, where you can watch a good show and have a fun time hanging out afterwards is really special.”
Stepping into 555 combines the roomful-of-regulars warmth of Cheers with the illicit thrill of an unadvertised speakeasy.
“I like the no-sign thing, actually,” says Ayers. “Aside from a little bit of social media, it’s all through word of mouth (that people hear about the venue), so you always get a cool crowd out.”
That’s just the type of humble atmosphere bar owner Everett King, who’s known the band long before they embarked upon their weekly jam sessions, is happy to play host to.
“To be able to come into work every night and see these guys, listen to some tunes and catch up with friends - it doesn’t seem like a job,” says King.
Perhaps he’s a bit too humble.
Since reopening the basement, which went virtually unused during the 16 years since Sawatdee Thai took over what was the original Johnny G’s and Cornerboy’s bar, King has managed to bring some serious talent to the intimate space.
Local favourites like The Sturgeons, The Empty Standards, Cash Grab, The Dirty Catfish Brass Band and Sons of York, along with a host of the city’s best DJs (Co-op, Hunnicut, Mama Cutsworth, Brian St. Clair), are among the many artists who have already graced the venue’s stage.
The bar also seems to have established itself as a veritable hotbed for newer acts looking to break into the city’s music scene.
“It’s a great venue for original, up-and-coming bands to showcase their sounds and try different things,” says Little. “It really is an awesome opportunity for them.”
Not unlike its freshest performers, the south Osborne neighbourhood is something of a greenhorn in terms of its status as a Winnipeg entertainment destination.
But that doesn’t look to be the case for long.
“South Osborne is just exploding,” says King. “The whole strip is getting ready to go nuts (in terms of development).
“I think people are getting tired of some of the drama and current history there is tied up with a lot of the bars (in other parts of) town,” he adds. “It’s nice to be able to start fresh somewhere and start bringing in a new generation of people.”
Bringing in the new without estranging the old(er), that is.
“These are the same guys that would’ve been at places like the Pemby years ago,” says King, motioning to the band.
“It’s nice to be able to bring together that same crowd, too, but in a new bar atmosphere - especially a place like this, that’s been such an iconic location in the past.”
The Sawat Team starts cranking out the (B-list) classics at 10:30 p.m. every Monday evening. To find out what else is going on at 555, follow the venue on Facebook or check The Uniter’s weekly listings.
Published in Volume 67, Number 16 of The Uniter (January 16, 2013)