The Seahorse Tavern matters. Whether at the old address on Argyle Street or its new digs on Gottingen (in the space formerly known as Hell’s Kitchen, downstairs at the Marquee), it’s the heart and soul of the city’s music community and the stage to play for artists in Halifax.
Last summer rumours started seeping up the Seahorse stairs that the ol’ girl was moving. With so many venues closing downtown in the last few years it left many in the community with an uneasy feeling. When official word was released that it was indeed moving to the North End some felt robbed, hesitant, and skeptical.
Others felt positive. At least it wasn’t closing for good.
The reason behind the move was simple: the lease was up. Instead of renewing, owner Victor Syperek, chose to revamp and reopen the venue underneath the Marquee Club.
“Business has definitely slowed down… especially during the day,” Syperek explains, pointing to the disruptions caused by the construction of the new convention centre across the road. “The rent’s been going up annually as per our new lease and we realized we were spending an enormous amount of money for the space downtown. I own [the Marquee] so I decided to make the move. I think we’ve taken the oldest venue in Nova Scotia and put it in the hippest part of Nova Scotia.”
Mike Campbell, owner of the Carleton and long-time neighbour of Syperek’s old Seahorse knows the struggles the bar has had on Argyle Street. “It’s a pretty bold move,” he says. “I’ve talked to Victor and I totally understand why he’s doing it and that’s probably as good of place as any to do it. It certainly makes sense economically from his point of view and I think the rooms are a comparable size. From my point of view I think the Seahorse is going to be missed horribly on Argyle Street but I hope it can find a supported new home on Gottingen Street.”
Insiders think the Seahorse’s fans will make the move too. “I know the Seahorse has a lot of faithful patrons and the staff who run the place understand their market,” says former Seahorse sound engineer Kirstan Moore. “I expect that many of the faithful patrons will follow the move, and the bar will also draw in more of its new neighbours. Its patrons may evolve over time but I have no doubt that the new location will be just as successful as the old location.” Moore manned the soundboard for close to a year before moving on himself last fall.
Five-year veteran bartender Lindy Johnson has had nothing but good vibrations since opening night on New Year’s Eve. “When I first heard we were moving I was indifferent about it,” she says. “I love the location downtown, but I was excited for something new. [It] felt like the public was a bit upset by the move. There’s a lot of history, especially with the older regular crowd…but most of our regulars live in the North End anyway.” Johnson adds that business has not slowed down and the rest of her co-workers are over the moon with the new venue.
“It’s like we physically took the old bar, added a few touches, and put it on Gottingen. The new bar has the same feel as the old one,” Johnson says. She adds that the space is larger than the cozy old space, with capacity for 81 more people.
Like Johnson, solo artist and Matt Mays’ guitar player Adam Baldwin and up-and-coming singer/songwriter Natalie Lynn are looking forward to a brighter future in the North End.
“If it had to happen, that’s a great spot for it. It turns that corner into a type of Mecca for live music,” says Baldwin over the phone from his home recuperating from vocal cord surgery.
Lynn, whose single “With Me” is sat at number six on CKDU’s local music charts (in early February) says, “the Seahorse is the stage to play whether you’re an emerging or established artist/band, no matter its location. I think the move puts a new and exciting perspective on its timeless legacy.”