My favourite moment at The Only was when Chris mistook the door-high patio window for the open doorway next to it, careening into it at a pace that was too brisk for a bar but just about right for walking along the sidewalk. I like to think the mark of his forehead is imprinted on the window now, just as his facial expression seared itself into my subconscious. The window pane had bent with just enough elasticity to absorb the blow and to smoosh Chris’ face into a wonderfully bemused form.
Chris collected himself pretty quickly, with a disproportionate lack of embarrassment for the social fart he had just let off. Soon he was comforted by an arm around the shoulder and a shot from Rusty.
It was The Only at its best.
There’s a joke amongst my Peterborough friends that since leaving Canada—and the reason I have twice returned (and why I’ll return to run for the next Arthur editorship with Josh)—I have missed The Only more than anybody else.
More than my girlfriend, more than any of the friends I’ve made …this is partly true.
The Only, if you haven’t been there, is on Hunter Street: opposite Black Honey and tucked away next to Kettle Drum. If you didn’t know it was there you would have to look for it. When you get inside, you’ll find yourself searching for something that isn’t entirely clear, although the not knowing isn’t what’s important, because the searching leaves you content. Or, if you aren’t a pretentious idiot like me, you’re looking for somewhere to sit, as well as a beer and maybe some food.
If an evening, you’ll enter into polite hipster hordes that are firmly milling around. If a weekday, you’ll roam more freely, gently shoved towards your spot by whichever Bob Dylan or Nick Drake album Emmott is playing.
Ultimately, it is the pictures that grab your attention.
The walls are covered in them: musical and literary icons throughout the years, interspersed with the odd cartoon and the political (go find the picture of Mao, it is great, [Donald Trump voice] so great, believe me). Regardless of when you go, it is always the pictures.
The pictures are kind of a mess, but you know what the pictures mean, a kind of collective knowledge we’ve all entered into that is always just about to reveal itself. One friend, Olly, with whom Chris and I have hugged The Only’s bar for more time than was reasonable (but it was only just enough time), far more eloquently described this as:
The delightful moment of managing to notice a poster or painting on the wall you somehow hadn’t noticed before. At one glance these pieces over the wall look like a disorganised mess and in some sense they very well might be, but it’s The Only’s mess and I wouldn’t want them arranged in any other way.
The Only’s mess is the owner’s attempt to reflect himself in the bar, and it inspires you to find something of yourself reflected in there. Amongst the preposterous sandwiches and the friends acting in bad faith and playing as staff, there is a space in The Only for everyone.
The Only is like home to many of us non-Canadians regardless of whether you’re from Istanbul or a sleepy English suburb. That’s the beauty of the place; it offers both comfort in what you have and inspiration to something or somewhere beyond.
So, what really is The Only?
Josh Skinner, practitioner of journalist chicanery and hats, offers: The Only is like a mosaic of popular culture layered in a malaise of acceptable alcoholism that serves as a refuge from wanton male aggression.
Reading Arthur scribe Berfin’s assessment of The Only, I worried the tea I was choking on was about to flow out of my ears: “The Only is like dirt”. Who’s this heretic I used to call my friend? (I decided to keep reading)
The Only is like dirt. Neutralizes anything that might have had a negative effect outside. In the bar, anyone from any background is able to feel at home.
It is great to be able to sit at the same table as Maryam Monsef as well as a punk dude who you might feel shy or uncomfortable around if you were at, like, Starbucks.
The Only, then, is a very specific anything: a well-defined, a bordered everything. There is no outside, we are all in this together. A refuge for all.
Rather than looking out across the sea beyond the border, you’re looking up at the cliff, wondering about the person who’s wondering about you down on the beach.
This is The Only place that could manage it (surely you realised I was going to make that pun?). After all, where else can you make a carefree dash into a window pane?
And this is why I always miss it.