Friday, January 14, 2005

The Red Shoe Returns to Mabou

Nothing like a little good news to greet you in the morning.

I spent last May 2-4 weekend driving the backwoods of the Cabot Trail with Blair Stransky, dipping into the frigid Atlantic and dancing along to the late night chords of Smooth Herman's. But alas, we were forced to steer clear of Mabou due to the closure of the Red Shoe Pub, a classic favorite. But now, word has come down from on high that the clarion call of the fiddle may be soon heard there again (via Blair Stransky and the National Post):

Rankins to revive music lovers' pub - Cape breton's Red Shoe
by Graeme Hamilton

Cape Breton's musical Rankin sisters are stepping in to resurrect a pub in their native Mabou that had become a destination for Celtic music lovers across the continent before it closed last year. Musicians on the island mourned the loss last summer of the Red Shoe Pub, which a transplanted Torontonian had opened five years earlier.

"It's kind of the heartbeat of the village," Raylene Rankin said yesterday in an interview from her home in Halifax. "It became, in a very short time, a tradition, and a meeting place to hear live music and socialize. When it closed it was really missed by the locals and also by people who made it a destination."

One of the five siblings who made up the Rankin Family, credited with lifting Nova Scotia's Celtic music onto the world stage, Ms. Rankin said she and her sisters wanted to return something to Mabou, where they began making music as children.

"I don't know what kind of a business venture it's going to be. It's too early to tell, but I think we're very happy to be able to give back to the community in this way. I think it's a constructive way to invest in the community," she said.

The property sits on Mabou's main street, just up the way from the mural welcoming people to the "home of the Rankin family" and the museum displaying their gold and platinum records.

Before Rob Willson, who previously worked in advertising in Toronto, opened the Red Shoe, the building had long housed Mary Beaton's general store. "Growing up, I remember it was the place to go to get sneakers and clothes," Ms. Rankin recalled.

Kinnon Beaton, a Mabou-raised fiddler whose aunt ran the general store, said the Red Shoe was sorely missed last summer. "It seemed to be the topic of conversation everywhere you went," he said. "What's going to happen to the Red Shoe?" He said it is "great news" that the Rankin sisters plan to reopen the establishment this May.

"We need it back," he said. The place was special because of its "small, cozy atmosphere" and the diehards it attracted, he said. "Everyone who was in there really knew the music."

Designed to hold 70 people, crowds would often spill out on to the sidewalk. Performers included Ashley MacIsaac, Irish tenor John McDermott and occasionally one of the Rankins would take the stage.

Coming from a family of 12 children, Cookie, John Morris, Raylene, Heather and Jimmy Rankin performed together professionally for 10 years. Starting out recording independently and selling records from the trunk of their car, they had five platinum albums when they decided to quit in 1999. In January, 2000, John Morris Rankin was killed in a car accident.

Raylene, Heather, Cookie and Genevieve Rankin are the partners in the pub. Raylene said they plan to build on the Red Shoe's reputation for live music and emphasize good food, enlisting the innovative Halifax chef Craig Flinn to craft a menu.

She laughed when asked whether the owners, who are now spread from Nashville to Halifax, might occasionally sing a tune. "We're going to be busy slinging hamburgers," she said, before adding: "I think we will be involved in many capacities."

Ms. Rankin said the sisters closed the purchase of the Red Shoe from Mr. Willson last Friday. She declined to divulge the price paid.

Back in December 2001, Tim and I made the Red Shoe a "destination" and I highly look forward to going back. Just click those ruby red shoes together three times, and say "There's no place like home..."


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