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The New Edinburgh Pub–A clean, well lighted place

There is no doubt that we will all be pulled into the shadows of this life at one time or another, and the path out will almost certainly be unclear.

After I got the phone call informing me that I had advanced cancer, I went to the New Edinburgh Pub. I sat at the end of the bar,  so thin and pale and hunched as to be little more than a shadow on the periphery, and ordered a half liter of red wine and a large soda water, and then quietly flipped through a newspaper for the rest of the night. That was over 20 years ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday.

The New Edinburgh Pub, located on Beechwood in Ottawa, wasn’t too far from where my parents lived.

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It’s a generic place, a standard Ottawa pub that looks like it was made from a Build-Your-Own-Bar kit. It wasn’t ugly, but there was just no mind paid to the character or aesthetics of the place, and it reflected nothing back to you. It was nobody’s first choice, just a space in which you could drink.

The reason that I went to this particular pub on that night is that I didn’t think that I would know anybody there. I wanted to be invisible and uncalled to. I wanted to separate from the herd, ┬ástep outside of my life and dissolve into the space around me. I didn’t want to see anybody who might call me back to my life or the one that had been expected of me. I could not bear my own sadness, let alone theirs.

My recovery from the treatments and surgeries for Hodgkin’s Disease took a long time, years, actually, and each night, I went to this pub. It became the bell I had to ring each day, the one that confirmed my survival. And in spite of my desire to be anonymous, to have nobody care about me and vice versa, I became friends with all the staff and regulars.

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I went there late, in the drinking hours, and all of us there carried our weights. But the pub served as a place where these weights were lifted, and suspended from our lives we could just sit amongst other people, unjudged and unmeasured.

We all need rest stops like this. And when I think of this place I think of it as being as essential to my recovery as the hospital. I sought to abandon the world, but it was here that I found the world, and that world restored me.

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Just the other day, about half and hour before I turned the astonishing and impossible age of 50, I was told that after decades, the New Edinburgh Pub will be closing. This is what the world does. It reinvents itself. And that the landscape of my past is vanishing is nothing new–it happens to everybody, on every single block of this world, but still, it’s a blow, a real loss. And I just want to thank the New Edinburgh Pub– Paul, the truly decent owner, and everyone who worked and spent time there, I want to thank them for being present and sharing that space with me.

11 Comments Post a comment
  1. Stephanie #

    My former, late mother-in-law left a request in her will that a small wake be held at the New Edinburgh Pub, the tab picked up by her. It was a lovely gesture, and left a good impression on me of the place. Glad you recovered there. Sorry to see it go.

    March 16, 2016
  2. Wendy #

    Man I feel old! When a pub (I remember opening) closes after “decades”, you realise you aren’t the high school student you used to be.
    I was a border at Ashbury back in the late 1980s. When the the New Ed opened, it was a bright light ‘at the bottom of the hill’ – a welcome respite from The Claude where we used to frequent. Just don’t tell them that I was underage at the time.

    March 16, 2016
  3. I played music there, every Saturday night, for about 10 years.
    It wasn’t just a gig, it was a family gathering!
    Friendly, warm, non-judging….all reflections of Paul and his loyal staff (rare in this day and age).
    I’m saddened to see this happen.
    It is home for many!

    March 16, 2016
    • Rachel #

      I’ve seen you play probably 50 times, good times were had I had my first drink there and so did the kid. It was a real “local”. I’m sad to see it close, I will miss the cobb salad and the company.

      March 17, 2016
  4. Lindsay Fraser #

    I was a regular visitor in the very days you speak of Mike and remember a few drinks with you. Since moving away I have rarely been back but it turns out my parents are regulars, know all by name, and are devastated at the loss of their local pub. We went recently for my Mum’s birthday and heard the news first hand… and I couldn’t believe how many of the staff I still recognized. My best wishes to them all in their new endeavors.

    March 16, 2016
  5. It is a beautiful story, Michael. When memories are made in a place such as you’ve described it is hard to see it go. Great writing, as always. Thanks for sharing this story.

    March 16, 2016
  6. Darko Lisak #

    I remember watching a 1998 World Cup semifinal match there with Steffen Knippel and Beijing York: Germany vs Croatia. Croatia won, Knippel was impressed. Yes!

    March 17, 2016
    • Beijing York #

      Michael, a lovely and personal tribute.

      Darko, I was thinking of that lovely summer afternoon too! Thinking back on it, that was a very impressive Croatian victory.

      March 17, 2016
  7. Nick #

    A great and touching read Michael. My late mum’s apartment was right around the corner from the New Edinburgh and when we were all home catering her at the end of her life the pub was a place for my sibs and I to retreat to to sit, be neutral (ish), and refuel on comfort food. Surprisingly, I also ended up running into and reconnecting with more than a few Ottawa friends that I’d long lost touch with as they passed in and out of the place speaking of impossibly grown up things like second children, new jobs, mortgages and divorces..

    March 17, 2016
  8. Sharilyn #

    My uncle Paul is not only a hard worker but has the biggest heart of any one I know. He put his heart a soul into his business and genuinely cared for his staff and customers as if they were family. It’s very hard on everyone who loves and cates for him to watch him loose the business he poured his whole heart and soul into. Not only does he go out of his way to support charities but he supports the community and his family. It’s a sad time for all especially for those who found salvation in those four walls. It was a place where people gathered simply because of the welcoming atmosphere. Watching my uncle tear up as he said his goodbyes and the tears shared amongst family, friends and employees made me realize how amazing of a man my uncle really is. I know he will Excell in any new venture he chooses it’s just sad to see a hard working an have to say goodbye to a business he truly loved!

    March 23, 2016
  9. Michael Murray #

    Sharylin:

    Paul is a great guy.

    Everybody there, staff, customers, community, love him. A truly kind and decent man, somebody who provided an awful lot of us with more than we could understand. We need a million more men like Paul, ten million, one hundred. I thank him with the deepest sincerity for his work, mourn the passing of the bar, and wish him great health, happiness and success in all his endeavours.

    March 23, 2016

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