If you have been in Peterborough for a while, even for just two years, you may have noticed, and definitely will have walked by 172 Simcoe Street. This building is next to the bus terminal on the short walk to George street. During the past two years, the building has been: the Whiskey Club; the Oxford; and now it is Retro’s e-sports bar (featured in last week’s Arthur). Stretching back closer to the beginning of this millennium, it has been The Purple Rooster, Second-Floor Lounge and Club 172.
Three bars in the last two years, six in the last 17. That’s a quick turnover rate, particularly for a spot that had been popular- although, it seems to be rediscovering its mojo as Retro’s.
Owners haven’t stuck around for long, but why is that? Is it that the building’s has had a tumultuous relationship with too many people? Or, is it the ghosts?
172 sits right next to the terminal, opposite the infamous Home Hardware and bridging the alleyway that leads to Hunter Street that has generally only ever been noticed on the walk to the bus from Pigs. Something of greater authority than “legend” has it that an exorcism was once performed by a priest in this alleyway. However, differing accounts state that the exorcism was actually performed in the basement to appease a problematic ghost (more on that later).
172 Simcoe was first established in the 19th century as the Canadian Pacific Railway Hotel. By 1910, it was the King George Hotel having been the New Oxford Hotel originating somewhere between 1905-1907.
As the Peterborough Examiner noted in 2013, Canadian rockabilly icon Stompin’ Tom Connors picked up his “Stompin’” moniker during the 1970’s at The King George hotel. Connors had a reputation for wearing out the carpet at the venues in which he played, enraging many venue owners in the process. Somebody along the way decided to give Connors a board on which to stomp: this projected his foot rhythms’ even louder. The board continued with him and soon he became known as Tom Connors, with some form of ‘stomp’ in his name. Introducing Connors one night, the bartender of King George hotel added the prefix ‘Stompin’ to his name, and a legend was born. No word on who the hell Bud The Spud was though.
In 1985, the bar became Clover’s, a disco bar opened and maintained through to the late 80s. After a stint as Merlins, the building settled down as the Purple Rooster. Purple Rooster held the bottom of the building as a sleazy, speakeasy kind of place, sharing the building with the slightly nicer nightclub Second Floor Lounge. Purple Rooster and Second Floor Lounger established a kind of popularity amongst students, before the modern nightclub culture in Peterborough had emerged. These acted as a sort of precursor to the more ritzy, but contradictorily sloppy nightclubs of Aria, Shots & now the Social. Although changing names slightly to Adzy’s Purple Rooster in 1998, and the 30-E Purple Rooster in 2003, the space remained. Purple Rooster closed in 2009, a year or so after a woman was sexually assaulted in the bathroom. The closing may not have been due to the aforementioned act, but one can not help but wonder if the bar’s reputation may have been hurt by this event. It became Club one7two shortly after, then Whiskey Club in 2013, the Oxford in 2016 and now Retro’s.
Given its many recent incarnations, it is obvious that prospective owners are attracted to the place, but increasing turnover suggests challenges beyond owner’s expectations. Part of the problem is managing the building itself, a building which has three floors, a basement, a patio, and a storefront portion which is reportedly being turned into a dollar store.
One recurring theme is forces beyond anyone’s control: one is the force of history and vibes; the other is its haunted legacy.
In many conversations for this article, Purple Rooster was often described as a seedy but open joint where people felt like they could hide. Former Oxford owner Chris Nickle described that whilst there is a uniqueness that makes people want to own the place, “leakages of the past” constantly crop up. The unspecific reasons people want to own the place also continue as things that make their job harder once they own it and complicate branding their bars.
For instance, during the whiskey-embracing rebrand, a story recounted to us was that during a private whiskey tasting, a member of the public wondered through with a prostitute into the washrooms. By no means typical, it illustrates the idea that owners are continually contending with the previous bars’ legacies.
172 is, as Nickle eloquently put it, “timeless beyond brand”.
Andrew Warman, current proprietor of the newly opened Retro’s e-sports bar, openly states that, “the place is cursed.”
Many stories have emerged over the years of ghost sightings, tampering spirits, and ghoulish misfortune. The most popular of the stories is about a ghost named Ab. Ab was a former owner of the bar that worked out of the basement. The Home Hardware across the street used to be a coffee shop. Walking back with his morning coffee one day, Ab was hit and killed by a taxi. Reportedly Ab still haunts the stone walled, unfinished basement. It seems as though Ab is not a ghost that haunts by being seen. Rather he tampers with the electricity of the building, often causing the computers to encounter errors, and the power to go out. Any time something weird or unfortunate occurs, it is attributed to Ab’s anger. Owners of the bar often appease his anger by leaving an open can of Labatt 50 in the basement. Whether superstition or supernatural force, this act is believed to prevent electrical failings, and as Warman states, “the beer gets empty, but I don’t know how.” An interesting part of this story is the fact that many of the previous bars reportedly did not carry Labatt 50 to sell, but often bought a case solely for the purpose of offering it to Ab.
At one point, the disturbances became so frequent that a past owner attempted to have the place exorcised. Although accounts differ, the exorcism is most likely to have occurred in the basement of the bar, where Ab’s office used to be located. This office was allegedly filled in, with a few cans of 50 for good measure. The hope being that Ab’s shenanigans would end for good. However, another account states that the exorcism actually occurred in the alleyway beside the bar. This account has it that the Priest called in to exorcise the place insisted that three iron crosses were built into the wall, although the disturbances allegedly still occur. Warman told us that, “the power goes off all the time.”
Another story involves a woman in a green dress. Although the details on this story are loosely strung together, the general idea is that this woman was a vagrant who hung herself in a upstairs room. Bars used to be required to have hotel rooms above them, but this hotel area has now been turned into apartments. This woman has often been seen at the foot of one’s bed, and in one case apparently entered a shower with a man to only disappear once noticed.
Whether these electrical failings, and ghost sightings are the work of supernatural forces, or simply manufactured stories and unfortunate events that exist as a result of the age of the bar is a matter of opinion and belief. However, despite which side one chooses, 172’s storied history seems to permeate all aspects of any business that chooses to reside there. For better or for worse, Nickles’ “leakages of the past” is an adequate description of how the bar exists, and operates.
Whilst owners change, the building’s ‘energy’ seemingly has not. 172 has always existed as a spot for those who are prone to hiding away, finding comfort in their own spaces. The essence of this place is once again aligning with the occupants, billed by Warman as “a bar where can come as you are”.
We hope that occupants can find a home within Retro’s, and that Warman and his business have a home within the walls of 172. For a long while, 172 has been occupied by guests, a revolving door of visitations, and guest room sleepovers. In Warman’s Retro’s, 172 seems to have found a permanent resident.
Thanks to Trent Valley Archives and T.H.U.G.S for their help locating information for this piece, as well as Andrew Warman and Chris Nickle for their wealth of information and opinion. TVA is hosting a pub crawl entitled Scandals and Scoundrels, which includes 172 Simcoe Street as one of its stops.Tickets are $22 and can be found on their website under the events heading.