OPINION: Scrambling for life and limb in the old Pine Room bar

In its heyday, the massive Vendome Hotel was considered the most luxurious in the entire region. Photo courtesy, Lambton County Archives. Sarnia Observer Negative Collection, 6O Hotels, Restaurants and Inns.

Phil Egan

Back in the late 1960s one of the hottest rock ‘n roll taverns in town was the Seaway Room at the old Vendome Hotel.

But there was another watering hole in the Vendome, a quieter bar downstairs in the basement. It was called the Pine Room, and it was my bailiwick. I tended bar there many nights in my years between university semesters.

Normally, is was a quiet place and seated about fifty. You could access the Pine Room via an entrance on Cromwell Street or by climbing down the stairs just inside the Vendome’s Front Street entrance.

Working with me was waitress Shirley Armstrong, a hard-working, friendly lady beloved by the band of regular patrons. They were an easy-going and convivial lot who sat in twos or threes, sipping their “Blues” or “scotch rocks” and quietly conversing.

But when a stranger came in to sit alone and drink, it could get chippy. Cutting off someone who’d already had enough might produce a torrent of abuse, but rarely anything more than threats.

Except for one night.

A Norwegian sailor in his 30s had been drinking for hours when he started getting sloppy and knocked over a beer.

“That’s it, buddy,” I told him. “You’ve had your last drink here. It’s time to head back to your bunk.”

It turned out; he didn’t like being “sent to his room” by a 21-year-old barkeeper. In a torrent of profanity, he lurched up from his table and came ominously close to Shirley.

As I moved from behind the bar toward him, the sailor grabbed an empty bottle and smashed it into the table. Picking up a large, jagged shard in a bleeding hand he came at me, arm swinging.

“Yikes,” I thought, circling the table.

From the corner of my eye I saw Shirley Armstrong race for the hotel stairs. The man kept swinging furiously at me with the glass, and I kept circling the table to try to grab him. Finally, I lurched the table at him, and can still remember thinking, “that wasn’t very bright.”

The barrier between us was gone.

Just then, someone flew down the stairs from above. It was the Seaway Room bouncer, the formidable Caspar Bass.

With one arm he disarmed the sailor, and with the other picked him up by the neck and pinned him to the tavern wall.

Caspar, who bore a resemblance to Mr. Clean of TV-commercial fame, removed him from the tavern.

The fearless Caspar Bass was a genuine Sarnia legend.