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Pub reopens with comeback show

THUNDER BAY, ONT. — “We’re back and let’s party,” says Onur Altinbileka, who is more than ready to throw open the doors at his pub in Thunder Bay to welcome back patrons after a long, two-year absence.

On March 14, 2020, the Black Pirates Pub closed its doors for an unprecedented 19 months before reopening with heavy capacity issues on Oct 14, 2021, only to be closed again, two months later.

Exactly two years later, the popular live entertainment venue reopened Thursday with a spectacular home-grown lineup.

“We had a full schedule of shows that week, two years ago, starting with St. Patrick’s Day,” Altinbileka said.

“It was our first five-show week of the year. The (COVID-19 pandemic) news came pretty severely the week before and it was just clear that things were shutting down, so we voluntarily closed.”

Altinbileka took to multiple social media platforms announcing their closure and the next day the provincial government and health units shut everyone down to lessen the spread of the virus.

“That was literally two years ago today,” he said earlier this week.

“We opened up for those two months and then we went back into lockdown. We weren’t doing any concerts or anything. We just tried to open up the bar and see how it would all go. I guess a lot of people felt safe enough to go. But the bar nightlife scene wasn’t really there yet. We did our best to have different theme nights and what have you, but at most we were drawing 20 or 30 people a night.”

On a regular weekend the pub would host at least 100 people and more than 200 when they featured a big show.

With capacity restrictions and proof of vaccine mandates lifted, things are hoped to return to normal with the pub ready to host a five-night, 25-act comeback show.

“It starts Thursday night where we’re doing five acts a night for five nights. It’s split over two weekends; March 17, 18 and 19 and March 25 and 26,” Altinbileka said.

“We were only going to do this weekend for three nights but then I got over 30 requests and I thought, ‘geez, let’s make this two weekends,’ which I was blown away by.”

The music will feature all local performers with many different styles.

“There’s duos, there’s full bands and there’s DJs. There’s all different styles of music, so we’re looking forward to hopefully bringing the arts community back together for one giant welcome-back party,” Altinbileka said.

One of the performances kicking off the five-day event is the duo of Jamie Smith and Kyle Shushack.

“We have a little bluegrass sort of folk duo and I guess we’re gonna be the first act back after two years — which is kind of funny, because I think I was one of the first people to play that stage in the first place, which is showing my age,” laughed Smith.

“It’ll be a nice little book end, and the cool thing too, is they’ll be able to have five or six nights and it’s all local bands. I think it speaks volumes about our arts and culture community here in Thunder Bay.”

Smith said the Black Pirates Pub has been a great home for Thunder Bay’s local music scene for so long.

“Onur struggled to keep the doors open during the pandemic and tried everything he could. He held fundraisers and everything else to stay afloat,” Smith said. “We’re just so grateful that he was able to keep the doors open and we just can’t wait to get back on that stage.”

Smith figures that the Black Pirates Pub is the oldest running stage in the city’s north end since the Apollo shut down and the Finlandia Club was tragically lost to flames.

Altinbileka and his staff will be celebrating the pub’s 14th anniversary this May.

“I opened this bar in my 20s, 14 years ago, and we’re still here. Let’s not look back, let’s do it. Let’s have some fun. Let’s be safe,” said Altinbileka.

“We still have to wear masks for this weekend, which is fine with us. We’re all about having a clean, safe environment where people come and enjoy themselves. But my message is we’re back and let’s party. I want everybody to have a good time. I want them to come out of their shell. I want them to feel like they belong. I want a diverse crowd. I don’t want anybody to feel like they’re too old or too young or their style isn’t here or whatever the case. We just want to have a good time.”

Kicking off the five-day show tonight is The Bay Street Bastards, Archanger, Psycho Therapy, Jamie Smith and Kyle Shushack and DJ Sugarman.

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