Pogue Fado closure comes during ‘worst climate’ for bars in Halifax: Expert

By Haley Ryan - Metro Halifax

Published on May 1, 2013
People walk by the Pogue Fado in Halifax on Tuesday afternoon.
Metro Halifax photo

HALIFAX - Although news of the Pogue Fado’s closure disappointed many Haligonians Monday, one restaurant expert said it’s hard to operate during the “worst climate” in the scene’s history.

Gordon Stewart of the Restaurant Association of Nova Scotia said the Irish bar’s sudden closure is concerning, “but the numbers kind of support it in a way.”

“It’s a really tough business right now. The margins are razor thin, the thinnest I’ve ever seen them,” Stewart said.

In the last decade, Stewart said bar and restaurant sales dropped by $14 million in Nova Scotia: $9.1 million of that is in Halifax.

The social change where people drink at home and go downtown later has also taken a toll on bars, Stewart said, and for the Pogue, a student crowd has its drawbacks.

“You’re going more than half the week with very low business, then high-volume business on the weekends. It’s just not high enough to sustain the kind of cost that you’re carrying,” Stewart said.

Stewart also said with less people downtown during the day, restaurants have lost lunchtime revenue to the fringes of the city where more office buildings are popping up.

“You can go down Argyle Street …and you’ll be lucky if you find 50 people in all the restaurants, where in St.John’s, Newfoundland there’d be 50 people in one,” he said.

In a Facebook post, the owners of the Pogue cited the “current business environment downtown” as a factor in its closure.

Paul MacKinnon of the Downtown Business Association said he’s not sure what the owners mean by that, but said the high rents on Barrington Street need to come down to attract new businesses and help existing ones.

While the Pogue is the third bar to close this month, behind the Palace and G Lounge, MacKinnon said those other businesses are simply changing and will reopen with more of a focus on dinner than drinks.

“There’s concerns about things like late-night violence in cabarets, but we may be seeing more of a natural shift towards bringing people downtown earlier,” MacKinnon said.

“Things are changing in the industry. I wouldn’t say that there’s necessarily a decline.”