An iconic part of downtown Hamilton’s music scene is closing its doors after 28 years.
Last week, the Cat’N’Fiddle pub at the corner of Augusta and John streets announced on social media that it would be permanently closing on Oct. 2.
“We hope that we have provided a venue for many special moments and memories for those that have entered our establishment,” reads the post, which received hundreds of comments and reactions across Facebook and Instagram since the closure was announced on Sept. 7.
Co-owner Suzanne Keast said it wasn’t an easy decision, but she said COVID-19 restrictions have made it difficult to do what the pub does best.
“I was hoping by this September we would have our live music back because that’s a huge part of our specific restaurant bar,” said Keast.
“Seven nights a week, we’d have the music, and we haven’t had it for a year and a half. And it’s too difficult in the setup of our restaurant, with it’s being kind of three separate rooms.
“If we put a band where we usually do, we end up with three tables in that room, and everybody wants to be where the band is. And so it’s just not possible to do it and for it to be financially feasible, either. So it’s very disappointing.”
Keast’s father, Reg Collett, opened the Cat’N’Fiddle alongside his business partner in 1993, looking to replicate the traditional English-style pub in Hamilton.
When Collett’s partner decided to move on to other things, he and Keast, along with her husband, bought out his share and since then, the pub has been fully run by Keast and her family.
She said it’s been a difficult decision to close but the pandemic has helped everyone realize it might be time for a change, adding that it gives them an opportunity to close on their own terms instead of being forced to close due to circumstances outside of their control.
“It’s a big part of our family, so it’s going to be very strange and hard to say goodbye. But I think we’re all at peace with it. It’s time.”
Alfie Smith, a Hamilton singer-songwriter who’s been performing live for three decades, said playing at the Cat’N’Fiddle “always felt like playing home”.
“I used to call it my living room, like I was able to go in my living room and play for my friends and family,” said Smith. “The staff, and Suzanne, they became family, you know.”
The 48-year-old started playing at the Augusta St. pub about 15 years ago, performing alongside Brian Griffith, an iconic guitarist and musician who was well-known in Hamilton’s music scene before he passed away in 2014.
Smith also started up a Sunday afternoon blues series at the Cat’N’Fiddle, which ran for roughly eight years – until the pandemic put an end to live music.
“The Cat’N’Fiddle, along with Mattson & Company and Lou Dawgs, were my three major regular gigs in Hamilton. I would play those three places eight to ten times a month … combined. And they’re all closed permanently now.”
Smith said he does fear the pandemic has led to the loss of intimate performance venues like the Cat’N’Fiddle, but he’s hoping there will be something of a return to normal — potentially with new venues opening up in empty retail spaces.
“Hopefully new people will come in and pick up the torch of being a venue or being a bar or, you know, being able to fill the void of places that have left.”
Since announcing their closure, Keast says she’s been “overwhelmed” by the outpouring of love for the small pub.
“You don’t realize how much you’re touching the community until after the fact,” she said.
“A lot of times you just are hearing complaints and negative stuff, so to hear that makes us feel like we did something good. And it makes us very proud of what the community feels we contributed to Hamilton.”
There will be no big blowout party to celebrate the Cat’N’Fiddle’s legacy, Keast said, since they’re still abiding by COVID-19 restrictions until the very end.
“And the bands have been reaching out, you know, ‘We’ll pay for play for free’, and then we’re just like … we were trying to wrack our brains. How could we do it? But we just can’t with all these rules, we just can’t. We’re not set up for it.”
For the next two and a half weeks, Keast said she hopes people will be able to make it out to say goodbye and to say thank you to everyone for their support over the years.
“What is nice is that we’re seeing old faces that we haven’t seen in 20 years come in, and we are reminiscing with them about the good old days. In that way, it’s nice to see people we haven’t seen in a long time.”
She added that they are going to try to hold one last trivia night for regular guests, which will allow them to make it a reservation-only event where everyone must remain seated.