the chalkboard that hangs above the bar of the Khyber Club says everything: “The HRM has decided to close The Khyber Club. Saturday, February 4, is it. No, we don’t know why.” In spite of an agreement made by the city to keep the bar open until February 20, Heather Gibson, manager of The Khyber Club, was told to close the venue earlier than expected.
“I have no idea why this is happening,” says Gibson. “We went to sign a release with Diane Moulton on Thursday and part of that conversation was that as of Monday, February 6, the city was changing the locks.”
Gibson, Khyber members, employees, artists and musicians are all perplexed by the timing of the closure.
“It seems totally arbitrary, as the rent and taxes are all paid up,” says Gibson. “The space is going to be totally empty, as it’s not like the city is going to use the space between now and the next three weeks. They even said I could leave my furniture and pick it up later.”
Instead of throwing in the towel and admitting defeat, Lukas Pearse and Eleanor King of the Khyber Performing Arts Society have conjured up a plan to help save the Khyber. They’ve issued a petition they intend to present before city council. It began circulating at Saturday night’s final soiree while the bar taps were being sucked dry.
“We’ve got 100 signatures so far,” says Pearse. “We need at least 400 signatures for council to even glance at it.”
Pearse and company are not Khyber members, nor are they affiliated with the Khyber Arts Centre. The Khyber Performing Arts Society is a newly formed alliance of concerned artists who are interested in continuing to operate the club as a licensed performance and musical venue.
“We want to focus on the club itself, not the gallery,” says Pearse about the society’s goals. “We want the cultural space to be used as a venue; in addition we want to have educational workshops and be a place for musicians and aspiring musicians to work together. We want to work within the terms already established by the city, but their response was to lock us out.”
The Khyber Club has nurtured countless musical and artistic careers. A raft of favoured local performers, including Amelia Curran, have frequently filled the red-walled room with their folk melodies.
“The HRM’s reasons for closing the place are sketchy at best,” says Curran. “I’ve been spending the past six months planning In The Dead of Winter, a festival with Heather Gibson, Jill Barber, Rose Cousins and Jenn Grant, and we were given every impression this would be a solid event. It was to take place at the Khyber
on February 17, 18 and 19. That’s shy of two weeks from now, but we are forced to seek out another location.”
At the farewell affair, Jenn Grant, Tom Cat Bombat, Jill Barber, Amelia Curran, Rose Cousins and Jesse Dangerously paid their respects and performed before a crowded bar of patrons. Packed in elbow-to-elbow, people raised glasses, exchanged hugs and even shed a few tears.
“I think there is something magical about
this bar,” says Jenn Grant. “I remember the first time I walked in there, I felt like I was at a house party. The walls and windows are almost cathedral-like and the shape of the room is like a big oven mitten.”
There are speculations about the early closure being a result of the graffiti in the men’s washroom; however, according to Jodi McLaughlin, Interim Director of the Khyber Performing Arts Society, the form and location of the vandalism can be justified.
“Graffiti has always been an issue,” says McLaughlin. “The city doesn’t understand the agreement we have with the hip-hop artists that are doing it. We have a weekly hip-hop night here and the agreement is if it stays in the bathroom it’s alright, as long as it doesn’t happen elsewhere in the building.”
It is unknown how much influence the graffiti, or other factors, had on the sudden closure—Diane Moulton was contacted for this story, but did not wish to comment.