Decorative walls, tight space makes Sask. based Leopold’s a unique bar

Logan Richards is a regular of Leopold's Tavern in Regina, Saskatchewan on Thursday January 3, 2019. The Regina-founded bar chain emphasizes neighbourhood charm and a warm atmosphere.
Logan Richards is a regular of Leopold's Tavern in Regina, Saskatchewan on Thursday January 3, 2019. The Regina-founded bar chain emphasizes neighbourhood charm and a warm atmosphere. Michael Bell / The Canadian Press

When Logan Richards walks into Leopold’s Tavern with his good friend, he can often hear the groans from other patrons.

The duo always tries to outdo each other to see who can play the saddest country song on the jukebox, much to the chagrin of other customers.

It’s one of the reasons Richards has been a regular at the original Leopold’s or Leo’s as the locals call it since it opened in 2013.

“I like the intimacy of it,” he said. “You come in during the day and it will feel like a dive bar, and then at night you can come in and if 40 people are in here, it feels like 200.”

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Leopold’s is a uniquely Saskatchewan chain that’s expanding throughout Western Canada. There are seven locations, and the hole-in-the-wall on Albert Street, just north of Saskatchewan’s Legislative Building in Regina’s Cathedral neighbourhood, is always packed.

The name originates from Leopold George Duncan Albert, the eighth child of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. A giant poster of the Duke of Albany can be found at each location.

Co-founder Matt Pinch, 40, said when the first Leopold’s opened he and a group of five friends wanted a place in their hometown to call their own.

“It wasn’t really our intent to make it a big business or anything like that. It was kind of for us,” Pinch said.

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And though three additional locations are planned for this year including one in Victoria, Pinch says maintaining simplicity in the esthetic is what gives each bar a Saskatchewan flavour.

“I think that’s sort of the nature of Saskatchewan. Good, hardworking, but simple people,” Pinch said.

A distinguishable feature of any Leo’s is the walls.

Staying true to its dive-bar ambitions, Pinch says he and his co-owners took junk from their basements that their wives wouldn’t let them put in their houses and slapped it on the wall.

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Eventually, customers were allowed to add their own belongings.

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Among the items you can find at the original location include acoustic guitars, Saskatchewan Roughriders apparel, tire rims, licence plates, front pages of the Regina Leader-Post, high heels and a cigarette with a sign attached “Reserved for Slash.”

“It makes it feel like it’s their own bar,” Pinch said. “It’s part of their community.”

Matt Hjorth, another regular customer who also frequents the Leopold’s in the north end of the city, says he put someone’s boarding pass on the wall at the northern location because he had a good conversation with them one night.

“I don’t know how I ended up with their boarding pass but I was like, ‘you know what? We’re going to commemorate this night, and I’m going to put your boarding pass right here and just pin it up on the wall,'” Hjorth said.

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One of the strangest recent additions includes a bag of rice. It was given to the bar after someone spilled something on their phone and staff decided it was worthy for a wall addition.

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“And now it’s there, anyone can use it,” said AJ Schepers, Leopold’s regional manager.

Every location is decorated to conform to the neighbourhood it’s situated in.

The original location has a capacity of 60 people and it’s a trend that stays true at other Leopold’s as well.

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Pinch said the size is an important factor and going any bigger would take away the sense of community they’re trying to create.

Having a small bar also forces you to talk to the person beside you, which Pinch said is a good thing.

“In this day and age, everyone is so connected on their phones and the art of one-on-one personal conversation is sort of somewhat off. Having a small place sort of forces that to happen and that interaction builds community inside the bar and the community itself,” Pinch said.

There are currently three locations in Regina, two in Saskatoon, two in Calgary and one in Winnipeg. Additional locations in Saskatoon, Warman, Sask., and Victoria are planned to open this year.