Leopold's Tavern Opening on Academy Road

Leopold’s Tavern opened last year next to the Park Theatre on Osborne. The July 2018 opening brought the total number of restaurant/bars to nine across the prairie provinces. The vibe the bar wants is for customers to feel the place is theirs and subsequently all sorts of stuff is tacked to the walls. They advertise themselves as a dive bar but it is probably more of a friendly neighbourhood clubhouse feel.

The Regina-based company has steered away from from some more obvious choices. The Osborne location was not in the Village but being beside the Park, there was a certain synergy the two businesses could create. And they have. Both places draw people.

Academy Road is tricky place. Homeowners routinely complain about businesses on the street. It is all about parking mostly or fear of noise. There are cars in an unbroken chain from Wellington Crescent all the way to Taylor. On EVERY street. Why? It isn’t generally about the businesses. It is that River Heights residents have multiple cars and most homes have one car garages. Moreover the neighbourhood has people passing through it every day as quickly as they can to go elsewhere.

Some homeowners have gone so far as to seek zoning to create a permanent residential designation to avoid any commercial development. Bowling alley landlords complain about future restaurants making noise. A furniture retailer complains about a medical clinic going up. And so it goes. The real issue is now many cars each house has in Winnipeg including River Heights.

The location that Leopold’s will open has recently gotten attention and has some real curb appeal as a building. It is possible to renovations and rent increases led to Inferno’s Bistro closing there. They had occupied the building for six years. Prior to that it had been J Fox’s Restaurant and Local. It is a phenomenon known as luxury blight. High rent chasing away one business after another. It could explain why some businesses have moved over the years to other places or simply shut down.

Leopold’s could be a walkable favourite in the neighbourhood. With a relaxed “dive bar” atmosphere, it could make the area have a more livable feel. The best commercial streets will have something for locals in addition to posh shops and restaurants. It used to be that people would walk to their pharmacies or dentist office on Academy Road but that happens less now. We need more of that.

Leopold’s plans more locations so that other neighbourhoods could have their places to hang out. It will be interesting to see what sort of impact it will have in River Heights or whether residents and landlords will chase away all the business and create a re-newed restaurant and shop desert with no street life.

This has been a guest editorial by John Dobbin.
To read more from John, visit his blog Observations, Reservations, Conversations