Behind the mike

Photo: Split Crow Pub

This story was originally published in the April 2013 issue of  Bedford Magazine.
Since opening its doors in November 2011, Bedford’s Split Crow Pub has already become a fixture in the community.
“We have a fairly strong local and loyal clientele and that’s been supplemented with people coming in to try us out,” says Chris Chisholm, who shares ownership of the Bedford location with Damian Byrne. Chisholm explains that Byrne is the majority partner of all the Split Crows across the province and that each location has a hands-on proprietor. “We have an operating partner in each area, so that way, when somebody walks in the front door, they’re most likely going to…have a chance to meet the owner,” says Chisholm.
He jokes that he has 20 years experience on “the other side of the bar” at the original Split Crow located in downtown Halifax. But in addition to partaking in the pub’s “eat, drink, be social” mantra, as a former professional in commercial real estate, Chisholm has helped Byrne acquire new Split Crow properties, particularly in Truro and Antigonish.
Chisholm says the best part of running the Bedford Split Crow is meeting new people and the regulars that come through the door, whether they’re coming to enjoy one of the 26 types of draft, some appetizers, a hearty meal or live music. Chisholm is also excited about the launch of Split Crow’s revamped menu, designed by some “new blood” at the executive chef level. “Some of the favourites are still there (we’re keeping all of our lunch specials which are pretty standard), but there will be a lot of interesting new items,” says Chisholm. (When Bedford Magazine caught up with Chisholm in early March, the new bill of fare was just weeks away.)

Photo: Split Crow Pub

Specifically for the Bedford Split Crow, Chisholm and his team have been focusing on entertainment. “We’re trying to become the music venue for Bedford,” says Chisholm. “We’re concentrating more and more on that by trying to get some bigger acts in every six weeks of so.” Recently, they’ve booked a variety of musicians, including The Mellotones, Jimmy Flynn, Hawco, Ray Mattie and Signal Hill. They also have a stable of musicians who perform Friday and Saturday nights and Friday matinees.
The Thursday night Open Mike, which runs as a contest, has also been very successful. Votes are tabulated each week and the top four acts enter a “play-off” during the last month of each four-month competition. The winner is awarded a $1,000 cash prize sponsored by Molson Coors.
Established musician and Long & McQuade salesman Danny Banfield hosts the Open Mike, which averages between 10 to 15 performers per night, representing a variety of genres, ages and skill levels. “We get individuals that have literally never played in front of people before right through to people that are working on their new CD,” says Banfield. He adds that anyone from beatboxers and acapella singers to bands with electric drum kits, fresh 19 year-olds or a retired physicist in his 60s all come out to participate.
“The talent is awesome and we’ve seen people develop,” says Banfield. “The Tres are a great example of musicians that have really used the Open Mike to mold their craft.” Banfield shares that one of The Tres’ members bought his very first guitar just last January, and when he started playing at the Split Crow, he was quite unsure of himself. Now the duo is being hired to play gigs and is thinking of recording a CD.
“The way the community has gotten behind this Open Mike has been really amazing,” says Banfield. “It’s sort of grown into this community of musical friends where everybody’s been meeting and playing, recording or hanging out together…I’ve seen open mics all over the city and, with as much modesty as I can muster, I’ve got to say I’ve never seen one that’s anything like this.”
Banfield credits the Open Mike’s “community vibe” to the fact that the Bedford Split Crow is a “community pub.”
Chisholm concurs. Although the Split Crow is now an empire (with pubs in Halifax, Bedford, Antigonish, Truro, Wentworth and Springhill), each location has its own individual appeal. Chisholm says having a good staff that make customers feel at home makes the Bedford Split Crow special. “There are some very familiar faces both behind the bar and out front,” he says. “People come back because they develop that one-on-one and like that recognition.”

This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.

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