“Good old Randy.” That’s what we always say. Don’t get me wrong, the dude is a fuck up without equal, but when shit goes down I can always count on uttering that phrase; “Good old Randy.” He is always helping to pick up the pieces after a chequeday weekend, or mending relations with Tammy and Crystal. Whatever goes down, he probably had something to with it, but he’s always helped to clean up the mess afterwards. Years of hard living, and being that guy who hovered just under the cusp of acceptable social status, has left Randy a wee bit rough around the edges. It’s only been the constant anxiety relief brought on by Gary’s wares that’s kept him off the bell tower.
Randy never did very well in school. He did well if he put his head down and did it, because the guy’s no fool, but there’s something about people who just rubs Randy the wrong way. He ended up graduating, but that was as far as his education took him. He did have a pretty brilliant money-making scheme when he was about 15 years old though. He had figured out that if you paid someone 10 bucks or so to get you 24 beer, and you stuffed said beers into a cold ice-cream cart, you could ride around construction sites at the end of the day and make a killing. This worked real well until he got greedy and tried to market the beach into his plan. The Britannia Beach in the west end is awesome, but it has that killer hill. Killer was right! Randy was half way down the friggin hill before he realized he was about take flight because of the speed he was gaining with a front-loaded ice-cream cart full of beer. He woke up two days later in hospital to questions from the police and his crazy father. But, when he finished high school, he mainly worked doing odd jobs and cleaning construction sites. I have recently found him a decent gig working with our good buddy Chris doing bathroom ripouts before renovations. Chris has coined the nickname Ripout Randy, and it’s stuck. He works hard and gets the job done, but needs to be told to fuck off from time to time. I think we all need to be told to fuck off from time to time, but that’s just me.
Even though Randy is quite open-minded when it comes to marijuana and politics, don’t go asking him what he thinks of skinny jeans or well-groomed beards. You probably don’t want to ask him about 2 refs in hockey or hockey in California, for that matter. And, don’t try to hand him a PBR or Pilsner or any of those hipster beers; if it doesn’t say Old Milwaukee on it somewhere, Randy won’t drink it. All I’m saying is he’s become quite a bit more stubborn after 40. You know that old dude sitting at the tavern, staring into one of those little glasses they give you with your quart of Export, taking forty minutes to finish that last glug of beer; this is where Randy is heading. Frankly, it always has been.
Randy has five favorite things in life, and nothing else matters; his west end bungalow, Old Milwaukee beer, hash, Black Sabbath, and Gary. Everything else falls under his customary response; “I don’t give a fuck about that.” This list used to be six things. Yeah, losing that sixth one really set Randy back. That one hurt.
A few days ago I got a frantic phone call. The display said Count Fuckula so I knew it was Randy calling. When I answered all I could hear was “Fucking Fuck Fuckers, Fuck sake”, all very staccato and sharp. After some coaxing, I was able to ascertain that he was only a block away from me, but he was right fucking pissed about something. I left my drink at the bar and went outside to find him before he started to melt down in the street. He was laying down on the ground at the corner of Somerset and Bank, waving his fists at the sky telling something up there to fuck right off. The good thing in all of this is that ranting and raving about nothing in particular at the corner of Somerset and Bank has become somewhat of an acceptable behaviour as long as you don’t hurt anyone. Frankly, those Red Cross hippies were getting worse looks than this idiot yelling at the sky. I grabbed him and brought him back to The Atomic Rooster, where I was trying to have a quiet beer.
When Randy gets in this kind of state, the best thing to do is throw beer down his throat until he calms down. With a few tears in his eyes, Randy asked me if I remembered those days with all the glorious tacos at “the Lock.” I told him that of course I remembered, and that those were some of the best times in all our lives. Well, Chris had dropped Gary off on Bank Street after work today, and all he wanted was a taco. A simple Old El Paso taco is all he wanted. He walked all over and couldn’t find one, and it made him think about that sixth favorite thing – the one that got away. I’m talking about The Lockmaster Tavern. To understand the true awesomeness of this historic landmark, we need to take a wee look back.
Back, in what may be described as the late-Victorian age, the Somerset House was built in 1896 at the corner of Somerset Street and Bank Street in Ottawa. This housed a department store for many years, a 4-storey apartment building was added to the rear of the building, and in 1936 it was purchased by C.W. Mitchell and turned into a hotel; The Ritz Hotel.
The Ritz Hotel was one of the finest drinking holes in Ottawa. The entertainment district in the 30s, 40s, and 50s was on Bank Street, and the Ritz was always packed. At some time in the 1970s, the name was changed back to The Somerset House for a spell, but soon became The Lockmaster Tavern with The Duke of Somerset downstairs. The only place we ever knew was The Lockmaster, but there were many of the old timers in there that still called it The Ritz.
The Lockmaster Tavern was the most glorious of drinking establishments. I have always likened it to a Terry-Gilliam-esque world. This was a magical place where eras were blurred; a place where you could lose yourself in time. This was an old timey western tavern with a trough urinal in the men’s room, wooden rickety tables and chairs, old men drinking quarts of beer smoking Export green-death’s wearing toques and corduroy hockey jackets, a matriarchal power structure denoted by seating rights, male waiters with belt-mounted coin machines who could easily kill you with their bare hands, and an extremely territorial juke box that you just stayed away from; this was the greatest place on earth for many of us, especially Randy.
Wiping a few tears from his eyes, Randy reminded me of the time we ganged up on the karaoke crowd. These folks traveled all around the city to all the various places that did karaoke, and sat together with their hands in their laps while waiters brought them pitchers of Coke and Sprite. For years we grumbled at these assclowns; at least have a fucking drink you morons. I get that some folks don’t drink, but doing karaoke sober is like watching hockey sober; just dumb. Our good friend Scott drank with us here from time to time, and he’d had enough of this shit. These karaoke fiends also frowned upon anyone getting up there and not giving it 110 percent, taking it as seriously as they felt appropriate. It’s fucking karaoke! Scott went over to the table where you signed up for your turn and scribbled something on a piece of paper. All of sudden, all of us were on stage, shitfaced, singing Elton John’s Benny and the Jets. “BENNY! BENNY! BENNY AND THE JETTTSSS!” None of us new any of the words except for the asinine chorus, but we belted out a pure pile of shit for them. I think Randy was staring at them pretending to do the sign language for the song in case any of them were deaf. They sat grimacing with their hands clenched together, ignoring their flat soda pops. Like a dog that smells fear, we sensed this disapproval and proceeded to do not one, but three victory laps around the tavern upon the conclusion of our “turn.” I’m not sure, but I think some of them might have seen our bums that night. There is nothing better than being able to go have a pile of beer, eat some good drinking food, watch some hockey, ruin the night of someone asking to have it ruined, and maybe even a see a fight between the brawling grannies at the fireplace table.
The Godfather had Vito Corleone, and the “Lock” had the brawling grannies. The true power structure, that probably dated back to the days of The Ritz, was routed right there at the hierarchical structure of the seating plan by the fireplace on the south wall. These crazy ladies were old, real old, but you could bet once a month, usually around chequeday, there would be at least one good punch up between at least 2 of these 80+ brawlers. Good ol’ Chequeday Chad took a picture of some rather nasty walker-swinging-hair-pulling one weekend, and had it ironed on to a t-shirt. He wore it every Chequeday he went to The Lockmaster. Pure joy.
On this day, Randy was rather upset about losing this treasure. It was that taco night we’d go to before he’d come and watch us work on the Phantom Shifters set that was making him tear up this day. I remember eating so many tacos. There were some times we loved it so much that we would gorge ourselves before practice only to return after to finish the job. I can’t remember exactly, but I think the tacos were 50 cents each. I would order a quart, and get 5 tacos. No, my stomach was never happy about it, both inside and out, but I didn’t care. It was the greatest time on earth. Today, Randy is sad to see it gone.
Say what you want about the idiot that was trying to do renovations that let some other idiot knock down a wall with a backhoe of some sort, but it was the non-smoking bylaw that killed the taverns in this town. Hey I got an idea, let’s tell all the old folks, many of whom fought in the war, they can’t continue to enjoy their afternoon beers with a smoke. In retrospect, it is much nicer in bars now that you can’t smoke inside, but at the time I worked in a place that had a main clientele that was over 60, and it wasn’t nice at all. They all just went home to drink and we all lost our jobs. We all lost The Lockmaster Tavern.
At first I said I would never try to replace The Lockmaster, but as years have gone by I have tried to replace it, but have failed. There is no place that has it all in one place. Sure, there are a few taverns still alive, but nothing like the “Lock”. We stumbled out of the Rooster onto Bank Street, and I convinced Randy to head with me to Elgin Street. I’ve heard there might be a good place called El Camino at Elgin and Gladstone that might be able to silence the taco rage. Randy agreed to come along, but said, “there better not be any fucking fish in my taco or I’m gonna fucking cut somebody!” Hopefully these tacos are okay, I’ve heard they are. The one event that consistently took shit a little too far was when Chequeday landed on a weekend when Jimmy George was playing downstairs at The Duke of Somerset. Watching Chad do a bare-assed jig in front of a drunken Micheal Eady always sent us over the edge, but that’s a tale for another day. We miss you Lockmaster… we miss you a lot. – FATS