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The Pig's Ear Tavern as it looks today | Photo Credit: Sebastian Johnston-Lindsay

Meet The Locals | The Pig's Ear Tavern Returns Under New Management

Written by
Irene Suvillaga
and
and
February 23, 2023
Meet The Locals | The Pig's Ear Tavern Returns Under New Management
The Pig's Ear Tavern as it looks today | Photo Credit: Sebastian Johnston-Lindsay

Known to be a place of joy, where families, students, elders, travellers, artists, and the community at large all came together to share a beer and forget their daily struggles. Among trays of Labatt’s 50 beer and trivia nights, something magic happened behind closed doors: all these characters became one single entity under the cherished wooden roof of the historic Pig’s Ear Tavern. The Brock Street bar has been standing for 152 years, dating all the way back to pre-confederation, slowly but surely becoming one of the most beloved and memorable spots in Peterborough, Ontario. 

Its closure in 2017 was farewelled with tears, live music, and lots of booze. A memory that to this day still weighs heavily on the minds and hearts of the Peterborough community. Still standing today, largely untouched, the closure of this bar meant many different things to many different people. For locals, it meant the loss of the heart of downtown and a crucial establishment of its well-known landscape; for artists, it symbolised the beginning of the end of unrestrained live music as other popular bars like The Spill and The Garnett slowly disappeared; and for students, it meant the loss of one of the bridges that connected them to the wider community  - something that has been almost completely lost now.  

In other words, the legendary pub was somewhere where ties were made, relationships fostered and where community and life as a whole were celebrated every night of the week behind the doors of the long-cherished Peterborough staple. 

But the tragic loss of such an iconic spot and the void it left in Peterborough’s downtown will be alleviated as life will soon be restored at ‘The Piggy’ thanks to four investors - two of whom I had the pleasure of meeting. 

Steve Robertson and Ashley Holmes are the masterminds behind the re-opening of the pub. As Trent Alumni, both had fond memories of the legendary bar. Although students at different times, Ashley and Steve were brought together through Trent’s rowing team and later by their love for The Pig’s Ear. As both expressed during our interview, the bar was an indispensable feature of their time at Trent.

Robertson recalls as a Trent student, “The Pig’s ear was a staple of our experience…Thursday night, Friday night, Saturday night, you would go out and inevitably make your way to the Pig’s Ear, meet up with a bunch of friends, have a great time.”

It is this love and gratefulness towards such a lively space that inspired their fight to purchase the pub and re-open it with the goal of giving back to the community what they once had: a constant sense of fellowship and companionship and a place where people could create new memories and have an outlet for their art and their woes over trays of beer. 

“The whole idea behind [purchasing the pub], like, even in those first conversations, was like, ‘Okay, we have this opportunity to bring this thing back to the community. Can we do it?’ And then we're like, ‘Well, we need to try, we need to try and do it.’ And then the universe was just like, ‘Okay, you guys are doing it, you're bringing it back to the people.’ And now here we are, we actually have the keys. And we actually get to bring it back to everyone,” Holmes explained to me. 

Something that came up in every conversation I have had regarding The Pig’s Ear is that the bar seemed to possess a natural magnetism. Its magic appeared to stem from its ability to bring people together for over a century. 

And I think Steve’s words encapsulate this perfectly:

What I always found special about the Pig’s Ear was that it was a meeting place where people would just go, whether you could pre-arrange it or not, you would just walk in the door and there’s always going to be someone there. You could spend some time with different groups. Maybe you joined them, maybe you sat with somebody new, but it was always a very welcoming part of my experience at Trent and I think this was the case for generations before me and then a few generations afterward until the bar was closed six years ago.

Part of the bar’s charm and probably the most characteristic aspect of it was its traditions. From the birthday pickled egg to Pingo (the tavern’s own version of bingo), The Pig’s Ear was a place where each day of the week had something for everyone. 

Tuesday nights there was open mic with free pool, free ping-pong, and $4 pints; Wednesdays were student nights with karaoke; Thursday was trivia night; Fridays were Pingo; Saturdays would be live music; and finally, Sundays would sometimes hold a matinee. 

Being one of the city’s oldest bars, the tavern’s checkered floors and wood panelings are filled with the memory of  people from all walks of life. From children who came in the early evening to the family nights; to the regulars who sat at the bar or waited for their next victim at the pool table; to fellow artists and musicians who came for the open mics and live music on Saturday nights; and birthday people eagerly awaiting to blow the single candle pressed into the pickled egg so they could get their very own Pig’s Ear birthday shirt. The bar was the popular hangout spot for Trent Students, families, and individuals. 

These traditions, most set in stone, did not hinder the possibility of new ones. For example, the Hank Williams night, also known as The Night Hank Drank. As the story goes, this relatively new tradition came from the time when Hank Williams, a very well-known country singer, played his only show in Peterborough to later get piss drunk at The Pig’s ear, falling off the stage and having to be safely escorted out of town. The Night Hank Drank became a tradition held once a year on the supposed date this happened. 

Another beloved tradition was that if you graduated from Trent, you could go to The Pig’s Ear and get your very own piggy diploma. There is no doubt that The Pig’s Ear was a very special place not only to the local community, but to Trent students during its time. The unique ties this pub had with the university are like nothing seen today. 

The plans for re-opening the bar this summer are to keep it the way it was as much as possible with a few new additions. 

As Ashley explains, “there are definitely ways where it can be improved from when it was opened before, you know, and that's just adapting to how the drinking culture has changed, and how that, like the going-out-culture has changed. You know, not just being a beer hall. Not everyone drinks beer, or some people just don't drink. So we want to be able to cater to everyone and make them feel comfortable and not feel like they have to drink a pitcher.”

Steve also added that wanting to keep it like it was as much as possible is a priority:

A lot of people just can't really understand the draw. It is not a fancy place. It's a simple venue, but we want to bring that back, because that's what made it attractive to the students and the population of Peterborough. And like you said, the music scene as well. But the look and feel of it will remain as it was before the doors were closed.
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