Walking through Winnipeg’s Exchange District, most people wouldn’t look twice at the almost century-old building standing at 48 Albert Street. From its parking lot, the Royal Albert Arms Hotel looks worn-down by typical urban decay. There’s the rickety and rusted out fire escape, and the paint chipped from walls littered with buff marks from graffiti — and the interior isn’t the prettiest. Despite all this, its halls have impacted many people’s lives, and even with its recent closure the venue continues to inspire.
For decades now, the building — better known as “the Albert” — has played host to a variety of bands and patrons from all genres of music and all walks of life. Since being forced to close its doors because of a water main break, there has been an incredible sense of loss in Winnipeg’s music community. The fact that the building remains closed with no indication of re-opening in the near future is akin to a swift punch in the gut, as many people reminisce and recount the fond memories the Albert holds for them.
It is comparable to looking through an old photo album and remembering the way everyone loved, fought and drank. You can start to absorb the smell of the bar and its often misused lavatories. You can start to hear the rumbling expletives coming from everyone’s favourite bartender “Q.” You can see the people crashing around the room, completely inebriated — their only care in the world focused on living their lives in that particular moment. I challenge any person who cares deeply for the Albert to drink a beer in any other bar in the world and have it hit your tongue in the same manner it did at the Albert.
Everyone who loves the Albert has a huge sense of pride and ownership; the venue’s spirit has always belonged to these people. It belongs to the people who work there, and the people who live there. It belongs to the patrons who drink there, the fans, and the bands that play regardless of money or fame — even if only six kids have shown up to see them play. It has been an essential part of Winnipeg’s music scene, and has always been a place where bands could get a start or even play alongside a more established act. Even if the Albert never opens its doors again, the energy it has created will live on.
It is absolutely heartbreaking to see the Albert spread so thin and on its last legs, but Winnipeg musicians have always found alternative venues. This is not the first time a bar catering to musicians has closed its doors, and it’s not the first time promoters and bands have had to find other outlets to host shows. Shows have already started moving to some other really amazing venues in the city, such as the Lo Pub, the Park Theatre, the West End Cultural Centre, the Death Trap and Negative Space, to name just a few.
Winnipeg’s music scene will never be stifled so long as there are people who care deeply about it. It is after all the people who ensure that it progresses, not the buildings. Still, we’ll miss you Albert.