… in beautiful St. Andrews, NB, in the early ’80s, there was one spot that was the undisputed best place to party – a bar/restaurant called the Brass Bull. The Algonquin is a seasonal establishment, opening in May and closing after Canadian Thanksgiving weekend. Most of the 400 or so staff members are from out of town and live in 3 big dorms behind the hotel. So it’s very much a party atmosphere.
Therefore, the Brass Bull was almost always full of 20-something people with tip-money in their pockets and binge-drinking on their minds. It was a blast every night of the week. I have some great memories of dancing the night away to Prince and the Police and Eurythmics.
Anyway, when we were in St Andrews last month whale watching, we went to the Brass Bull, which is now called The Gables, and the dance floor is now a family-friendly dining area. It has completely changed the way it markets itself, and consequently, its clientele.
I spoke to the owner of the establishment (who was tending bar) about my nostalgic recollections of the old Brass Bull. It turns out he used to work there during that time, and shortly after my summer there, actually bought into it and eventually became sole owner.
He told me that things changed during that period – his younger crowd of customers stopped being gleeful drunks and started turning into nasty drunks. After a while, he decided it wasn’t worth it any more, and turned the place into a restaurant around 1990 and it has remained that way.
He’s happy with his decision, but I have to wonder if he wasn’t surrendering in a way. He let the customers control the “story” about what the Brass Bull was all about, instead of creating the story and having customers self-select if they liked that story. I’d like to think that he could have preserved the fun party-place, instead of throwing up his hands and letting a bad crowd run him out of business (or rather, into another business).
It reminds me of a story in Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, about how the NYC subway was transformed from a very dangerous, crime-ridden atmosphere into the relatively pleasant place it is now, in a very short time. They didn’t put thousands of cops down there, or put security cameras everywhere, or any other kind of force majeure. They did two things – eliminated graffiti, and arrested everyone who jumped the turnstile instead of paying. They created a story of a place where small acts of bad behaviour would not be tolerated, and this in turn created an atmosphere where people were much less likely to perform greater crimes.
If the Brass Bull had handled its marketing/story better, could it have remained a fun bar?