Tuesday, December 29, 2015

1133 Portage Avenue - Pierre's Restaurant / Palomino Club

© Christian Cassidy, 2015
Place: Pierre's Restaurant / Palomino Club (website)
Address: 1133 Portage Avenue (map)
Opened: December 12, 1954
Architects: Moody and Moore

January 26, 1955, Winnipeg Free Press

Designed by prominent local architects Moody and Moore, 1133 Portage Avenue was constructed in 1954 as Pierre's restaurant specializing in fine French cuisine. Parry Orestes, president of Pierre’s Restaurant Ltd., was a local businessman better known in the taxi cab industry. Other investors included Peter Buzunis and Maurice Pockett.

Pockett also acted as its manager through the 50s and 60s. He sat on the Manitoba Restaurant Association, made a member of the Paris-based Confrérie de la Chaîne des Rôtisseurs and his good hosting skills even got him a mention in the Chicago Tribune, (see below)

Pierre's opened for business on December 12, 1954 and was officially opened on the morning of January 27, 1955 with a ribbon cutting by Mayor George Sharpe. It must have found a loyal following quickly because, in the Free Press at least, they rarely advertized, with the exception of the entertainment in the Balinese Lounge. A second lounge, Club 76, was added to the basement level soon after opening.

June 21, 1960, Winnipeg Free Press

In 1960 architects Waisman and Ross were hired to expand and renovate the building. It included the creation of Le Cabaret, an 85 seat dining and dancing lounge which featured the Jose Peneira Ensemble as nightly entertainment.

Pierre’s formal dining room seated 130  and featured two large-scale murals. One was a Paris street scene by Robert Bruce, another mural by an artist from Vancouver, the name was not mentioned, and shipped in sections to Winnipeg for reassembly.

The executive chef was Hans van der Horst who oversaw a team of British, Dutch and German chefs, thus expanding their menu to other nationalities.

Otto Koch (source)

One famous Pierre's staffer was Otto Koch,who worked as a bartender. After years of rubbing shoulders and making contacts with successful Winnipeggers, he decided he wanted more. In 1969 he partnered with Irv Benne to purchase a Chicken Delight franchise and he went on to own the company.

March 24, 1973, Winnipeg Free Press

In the fall 1969 the building's interior was again completely renovated. Arthur Fishman of Calgary was brought in to oversee the redesign of the décor. The restaurant reopened as Koko's with a dining area spread across three separate rooms, each had its own feel and theme. The basement level featured an oyster bar and entertainment.

Though the fare was no longer exclusively French, it retained a fine dining menu. A Free Press review shortly after it opened in 1970 said that it was "one of Manitoba’s most elegant restaurants." Manager Steve Lucas told the paper: “You can eat at Koko’s three times a week and have a change of surrounding each time.”

January 26, 1977, Winnipeg Free Press

Koko's lasted until 1977, then it was remade into Thomas Button's. It was one in a growing number of restaurants controlled by Oscar Gruebert of the Champs restaurant group, which included the Champs' Kentucky Fried Chicken and Grubee's fast food chains as well as sit-down restaurants such as G. Whillakers, Mother Tuckers and the Garden Creperie.

Buttons' offered a more relaxed the fine dining featuring steak and seafood plus an oyster bar and 50 item salad bar. Marion Warhaft described it in a 1978 review as "…attractive and comfortable – four neoclassical rooms with a scattering of wooden, brass and pewter artifacts, solid tables and chairs and cosy fireplaces."

The restaurant's concept changed a number of times in short succession all while part of the Champs restaurant group. (The exact pedigree of restaurants and hotels are notoriously hard to pin down from newspaper articles. If someone has more information, feel free to comment below or drop me a line at cassidy-at-mts.net.)

Top: October 1, 1980, Winnipeg Free Press
Bottom: March 3, 1981, Winnipeg Free Press

In October 1980 Button's became Jayson's Bistro and Bar, which lasted just six months. Its closing ads said it was moving to Osborne Village. It was replaced by Gabby's Texas Steakhouse and Lounge, which lasted until December 1983.

 Top: September 4, 1984, Winnipeg Free Press
Bottom: September 3, 1987, Winnipeg Free Press

In 1984 the building's run as a restaurant ended in favour of catering to a new demographic.

That summer it became a night club called Avenue Cabaret, featuring nightly live entertainment with a steak and lobster dinner menu. After a few months, in early 1985, it became Blue Jeans Cabaret.

October 24, 1988, Winnipeg Free Press

While Blue Jeans was still in operation, help wanted ads appeared for a new country bar called the Palomino Club which was already billing itself as "The Heart and Soul of Country Music."

It was part of an explosion of country bars at the time which included five that opened in a 14-month period in 1988-89. They included the Golden Nugget, both a north and south location, Ma’s Corral and a revamped Westbrook Inn. A Free Press review of the latest country venues described the Palomino this way: "While the western look is manufactured – lots of neon signs and timber – the house PA system sounds good and the sightliness are fine too, even though the room is an awkward L-shape.”

In early October 2015 managing partner Carey Paul, who has been with the Palomino Club since the day it opened, announced that the landmark would close on January 2, 2016.

In a Canstar Metro interview, he cited an evolution in the restaurant and entertainment industries, with places like Earl's and Joey's taking over the weekday supper crowd."The nightclub business today is mostly two nights a week which is eight to nine hours of business… clubs in most big cities don’t even open until 11 p.m. and run until 5 a.m., well we don’t have that ability here in Winnipeg."

Initially, he mused about moving to a new location, such as the Dayton Building across from the MTS Centre, but changed his mind.

In mid-December 2015 the City Centre Community Committee approved a rezoning application for of  1133 and 1137 Portage Avenue to allow for a 64-unit, multi-family condominium development by EdgeCorp Developments Ltd. (applicant: Keith Merkel). Final design plans are yet to be submitted for approval.

December 11, 1954, Winnipeg Free Press

October 6, 1964, Winnipeg Free Press

 October 14, 1962, Chicago Tribune (source)

Palomino Club Closing Winnipeg Free Press
Palomino Club kicks up heels... CBC Manitoba
Pal won't reopen downtown Winnipeg Sun
Palomino owner decides against moving downtown Winnipeg Free Press
One last New Year's at the Pal CJOB (interview with Paul)
Palomino Club - 25 Years Observations, Reservations, Conversations

1 comment:

  1. Hi there;
    I lived in Winnipeg for about 2 years back in 87/88.
    I seem to remember eating at a downtown KFC (Champs?) And reading a copy of a letter from the Queen thanking them serving up some KFC during her Royal Visit. Did I remember this right?