There are things that happen in Winnipeg that make you wonder if they happen the same way elsewhere. For example, a couple of guys know about a space for lease. They have some money, but the space isn’t right for what they usually do. Not wanting it to go to waste, they contact a guy, who has an idea, and gets in touch with another guy. That guy likes the idea, and reaches out to another guy, who also thinks it’s a good idea. A few more guys get involved, and bingo bango, you’ve got a business.
You’ve got The Good Will.
For the past three months Donavan Robinson, Abi Torquato, Cam Leoppky, Anthony Kowalczyk, and David Schellenberg have been working to transform 625 Portage Avenue – the space formerly occupied by Pop Soda’s – into something special.
“In my mind, when the Lo Pub closed that meant that I didn’t have anywhere to go, and when I was approached with this project, it was not to re-create the Lo Pub but to have an environment that was similar to it,” says Kowalczyk, who has created all the branding, and is a big part of the “look” of the space. [related_content slugs=”heart-full-of-harvest-moon,a-cut-above-the-rest,made-in-the-prairies-brendon-friesen-and-nate-bezoplenko” description=”More from Sara Atnikov” position=”right”]
The desire to create a space they were proud of and felt Winnipeg deserved lead them all to work together, despite some not really knowing each other. Robinson, who owns A Little Pizza Heaven and Vantage Studios, knew the space needed a diverse group of people to help it fully reach its potential, so he reached out to Torquato, despite only knowing him by name.
“Personally, I just didn’t think I could do it myself, so I think we’ve got the perfect team; everyone’s kind of the best of the best in their industry, I think,” he says.
This trial by fire arrangement has worked out well, and everyone involved brings something special to the space.
“I think the cool thing about this place is we all kind of came in wanting to build a place for Winnipeg, and it’s kind of like the people that are part of this are the kind of people we want to bring in here,” says Robinson.
Mercifully, the tacky grade school art teacher gone wild décor of Pop Soda’s is gone, and is being replaced with dark walls, a mural by artist Kenneth Lavallee, natural wood, and, thanks to Turquado’s obsession, will be furnished with mid century modern pieces.
“It started as lets keep everything that Pop Soda’s had in here, and we wanted to open it for nothing; open the doors, see if it works,” says Kowalczyk. “But then we pretty much walked in here and were like ‘what can we rip out that they won’t notice,’ and it started with the carpet, then it was like ‘okay, let’s paint something’ and then we started ripping out the walls, and now there’s nothing from the original left,” he adds.
“There were five of us here one day and we just pulled out the carpet, and then we were like this is good, lets do more,” says Leoppky, who is in charge of sound.
The Good Will will be more than a music venue; it’ll be a social club. It’s all of the partners’ – there are nine in total, including Tim Hoover, Tyler Sneesby, and two silent ones – vision to claim their little strip of Portage Avenue, and make it a go to place, whether it’s to hang out during the day and drink coffee, or stop in at night to check out a band.
“We’re really focused on taking back Portage,” says Torquato, who will be the General Manager. “In the summer we’re going to have two patios, and all year round you can drink coffee, eat pastries, and drink great craft beer; we want it to be a full on hangout place,” he adds.
And what of those craft beers? Well, they’re going to have 12 taps with a revolving selection of not just beer, but ciders from across Canada. The two house brands – one a “highly potent” brew called Plan B, the other called the Good Pill – will be the only staples. They will also have cocktails, expertly mixed by some of the city’s best bartenders. In addition to great booze, bar staples like wings, pizza (a second A Little Pizza Heaven will be located right next door, and there will be a door separating the two spaces), calzones, and fresh potato chips will be available into the wee hours of the night. Yes, there will even be vegan options.
The creativity and a sense of humour in things like the names of the house beers is also in small things like the drink and dishware – it’s all coming from that other Goodwill and Value Village. It’s also in the events. A strictly vinyl night, a lounge singer night with fancy cocktails, a monthly karaoke party, a monthly dance party put on by two djs immersed in the LGBTTIQQIS community, and a night where hot dogs will be served (complete with beer for under $10) are things that aren’t happening anywhere else in the city, and are what, the owners are hoping, will help draw people in.
The group wants the space to be an inclusive and safe one, and this includes gender-neutral washrooms, and a zero tolerance policy in regards to any form of discrimination or inappropriate behaviour. They’ve seen things happen at other spaces, and they don’t want that in theirs.
“Some of my girlfriend’s friends have been groped on the dance floor, like, in the middle of a room, and no one did anything, and that’s not okay,” says Kowalczyk “If anything like that were to happen here, you’re done, never come back, see ya, you’re not getting in; everyone who works here stands for the exact same thing, they wouldn’t be here if they did,” adds Schellenberg, who is in charge of talent booking.
With the opening still over a week away – Viet Cong are scheduled to play on October 24th – things are falling into place, and finishing touches are being applied. Standing outside, with the doors open while the sound system is being tested for the first time, it’s hard not to get wrapped up in the excitement, and it’s hard to think anything other than yes, The Good Will is going to be great.
Sara is in a committed relationship with Winnipeg. They fight, and sometimes need to take a break, but they always come back to each other. You can follow her on twitter.