The venue was integral to the live music scene in Calgary. For countless artists, the Blind Beggar Smokehouse was the essence of live music, an inclusive place where emerging talents got their first break.
Owners Patrick Ballard and Doug Dumelie said together, they created a dream.
As musicians themselves, they wanted a place where anyone could access live entertainment.
“Our idea was my mom could come and feel comfortable and my welding buddy could come and he doesn’t need to have a fancy place. We wanted everyone to come,” Ballard said.
It was the place a lot of bands got their beginning.
“We wanted to make the stage killer,” Ballard said. “Even if you’re new, you don’t have to play in the back of a community hall — we have an actual stage raised up. We have thousands of dollars with lights and thousands of dollars with sound and smoke and make you feel like a rockstar.
“In our best moments, we achieved it all.”
But unfortunately, after almost 17 years, the venue was forced to shut its doors.
“It’s an empty, soulless building without people — without musicians — and the whole makeup of what the Blind Beggar is,” Dumelie said.
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During on stretch of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Blind Beggar was closed for nearly nine months. Its owners worked relentlessly to rebound.
“We don’t give up — ever,” Dumelie said. “We fought and fought, but once restrictions were lifted, our sales weren’t there.
“We are down $1.5 million in the last two-and-a-half years in revenues and we don’t see coming out of this.”
“When you get to the point where it’s on life-support and you’re just about to pull the plug, then you get a little hope and the government gave us a couple bucks,” Ballard said. “But when you get to the point you can’t pay your staff, you think, ‘OK, this is dead.’
“For us, that was the light switch — it’s done.”
For musicians like Phil Dais and Libby Senff of Machine Gun Rabbit, they will miss performing there and said the loss in their community is immense.
“There’s a lot of talented artists in this town,” Dais said. “It’s getting harder and harder to find places to play live music.
“It was more of a venue than a bar. It was a place to see original acts.”
“It’s heartbreaking,” Senff said. “It was one of the best stages in Calgary. They had a light show and sound systems.
“They were incredibly supportive.”
Steve McQueen and his band played on the stage over the years and said he is sad to see the Blind Beggar close.
“What these guys brought was a chance to build an audience — but also a chance to entertain your audience,” McQueen said. “Their legacy should be how much of a great thing they provided.
“It’s a shame it’s not going to continue.”
“To hear you impacted people and some dreams were realized, it’s great, because someone celebrated what you celebrated,” Ballard said.
The owners hope their departure from the music scene wakes people up to the potential in Calgary.
“There’s not enough people watching,” Ballard said. “We call them watchers because they’re not fans yet. But it doesn’t feel like there’s enough people watching.
“I hope this creates an opportunity to showcase the fact there is so much talent out there and they need people to watch it.”
Restaurants Canada released new statistics revealing how many establishments didn’t survive the pandemic. There were 459 permanent restaurant closures in Alberta between April 2021 and July 2022.
There were 542 in British Columbia and 79 in Saskatchewan.
Tianna Goguen with Restaurants Canada said although the organization does not have confirmation these businesses necessarily closed due to COVID-19, it is likely.
“We do speculate that they were in some way forced to close due to the impact the pandemic had on the industry,” Goguen said.