“A little early isn’t it, Woody?”
“For a beer?”
“No, for stupid questions.”- from ‘Cheers’ television show.
John Atkinson is getting the retirement itch. The owner of Atkinson’s Sports Bar – located off Highway 148 – has been at it for 22 years. He’s started to think about bringing the businessman adventure to an end.
“If my health was a little better, I would stay with it,” he says, but sounding firm on sticking with the bar through the winter season. “I mean I feel good now, but I don’t know how I will feel in the spring. I’m going to be 65 next year and if I can get the bar sold in the spring, I’ll retire.”
The bar first opened in 1986 under the helm of Bill Atkinson and his wife, Dixie.
“We opened the bar with the purpose of people to come and relax after a day’s work,” says Dixie. “People can talk with friends over things on the community or just to get a group together and today, I think the feeling is still there.”
Bill eventually sold the bar to John’s brother, Les and operations moved to Paul Thomson and to Brad Barr. John entered the picture when he bought the bar from Brad.
“It worked out alright for me, I made a living,” says John. “I didn’t make a lot of money but I met a lot of nice people. I had worked 20 years for somebody else and I thought I would work for myself. I’m not sorry I did it and that’s how I started.”
John put in time at a dairy starting when he was only 10. He went onto a bakeshop, funeral home and grocery store, all in the area before going to the city to work.
A major sports event helps John remember his first day at the bar. The Toronto Blue Jays won the World Series on October 24, 1992.
“When I first started there were five tables and 20 chairs,” he says. He expanded in 1995 and again in 1998. “I figured I had to get bigger or miss all these parties.”
For The People
John has a system when it comes to functions like stag and does. He pays the band or DJ, whatever the couple wants. He gives them a $40 bar tab, and buys the couple their first drink. When the night ends, whatever they make, they get to have it. John only keeps the money that comes at the bar.
“So most places for stags, they pay for the hall, pay the band and pay for the beer,” he says. “At Christmas, I always treat the customers to a free drink. I figured if I can’t do that for guys who supported me all year, I’m not much of a businessman.”
“My baby shower was held there as well as our stag and doe,” says Jodi Lee Atkinson, who married John’s nephew, Philip. “We have attended three family stag and does at Atkinson’s. It’s also a great place to see an awesome band and have a good time! You will always see someone you know and it’s great to support a local business that gives so much back to the community.”
In The Community
Back in 2004, Philip, who was a Shawville Lions Member at the time, presented Uncle John with the Helen Keller Fellowship Award during the Club’s 55th Charter night. John is the only non-Lion to have the honour. He was chosen because of his great sense of community, for giving his bar for fundraising organizations and his support for causes.
One cause, John feels strongly about is the Ottawa Heart Institute. Through the many years, the bar’s involvement, along with the curling club has raised about $150,000. The bar hosts the golf tournament. The last few years have been in memory of Randy Powell, who died of heart disease. A hockey team photo with Powell as coach, hangs on the wall. This year led to some generosity. The course at Mickey Creek was donated for play and the costs of steaks from Valu-Mart were split in half. About $3,500 was raised so far and John hopes the amount will be up to $7,000 when the curling comes in the winter.
“Willard Smith, Rick Allen and Royce Richardson and I always went down to give. Now we let the younger ones do it like Erin and Sheena Powell.”
The name Atkinson’s Sports Bar has popped up for hockey teams, curling teams – another name can be Atko’s Army. John has even coached baseball, which Sheena Campbell remembers playing for him.
“I do know that Johnny K, at least at one point had our ball team picture at the bar,” she says. “I think I was like 11. We won every game that year, except the last one.”
“I’m sure half the people don’t know my last name, just Johnny K,” John laughs. The nickname caught on because of a man named Donnie Knox. “Donnie thought Commando started with a K, so he started calling me Big K.” The rest goes on from there.
Atkinson’s Bar opens at 10 am every day and goes till at least 11 pm, while Fridays and Saturdays go till one in the morning. “If someone’s still drinking at 11 we will stay open, so, we say those times so people know not to come out, but if they call ahead we will stay,” he says.
The business has a contract with Labatts. “I sell a lot of draft because I got a lot of variety and the price is reasonable. I would say I sell a lot of Bud Light in pints and quarts.”
There is also Molson, O’Keefes, Guinness, Sleemans, Pabst Blue Ribbon and Rolling Rock to choose for beer. Rye and vodka tend to be big sellers for liquor. Caesars also have been poured along with the odd strawberry daiquiri.
“If anyone can tell you about beer, I can. I drank enough of it,” he laughs.
There can even be food to go along with the drinks. Jerry Hannaberry enjoyed eating chicken wings at the bar. John recently added cheeseburgers, chuckwagons and pizza subs to a menu. The food is really only meant for the nighttime crowd like ball or hockey players.
The Final Stretch?
“I never thought I would stay this long, but I have really enjoyed it,” says John. “I have got a great group of girls and I’m surprised they have stayed as long as they did.”
John made sure to mention those girls, who work as bartenders – Jodi Wickens, Amanda Yach, September Hamilton and Katie Gagnon, along with a group of guys, who help out on the weekends – Paul Scheel, Will Armitage, Phillip Holmes and Andy Henderson.
Another surprise has been his loyal daytime and nighttime customers. Some of those people have given him hockey sweaters and photographs – one from 1914, which all hang from the walls.
What will he do, joining his wife Linda in retirement? “Absolutely nothing,” he jokes.
When the retirement decision becomes final, it also will be well-deserved. Perhaps, a person or two will a raise a glass for Atkinson when the time comes.
Cheers, Johnny K.
By: Scott Campbell