Call The Office and the Richmond Tavern are vital venues for London’s music scene and are rich in heritage
Anyone eager to check out local bands and local history should stop in.
The posters and stickers at Call the Office are a who’s-who of groups that have played there over the years. It’s neat to look at the memorabilia and recognize the bands that played at the York and Clarence building.
A Call The Office concert contains all the great elements of live music – like a sense of community amongst fellow patrons, the joy from seeing passionate performers on stage, and the rush you get as a concert patron. The show is also more intimate because of the size of the venue, bringing you as close to the bands as you could possibly get.
There’s a strong sense of community at the Richmond Tavern, as anyone who has ever hoisted a pint can tell you. You can even feel it when you walk by the Richmond on sunny days when the windows are open and the conversations drift into the street.
There are plaques to honor dedicated patrons like Marie Morton, who attended the bar every day since 1918 for 40 years.
During a show at the Richmond, you can sit down and mellow to the music while enjoying a drink and watching fellow patrons get up and dance. Since the stage is nearby the window, you can also watch life outside of the bar go by.
A house of many names
Researching two of London’s oldest surviving bars is the best way to find out the history behind them.
Kym Wolfe and Cheryl Radford’s book “Barhopping into History London, Ontario” is chock full of information about the past behind many of London’s bars, including Call The Office and the Richmond.
Call The Office had many names before it became a household name for local concerts in the 1980s.
The building was first the Atlantic Hotel and stable yard in 1881. Other purposes for that space include the Salvation Army Military Hostel, Salvation Army Home for Girls, and the Hotel Bodega.
It was the York Hotel in the 1960s and 1970s. Wolfe said the York Hotel was filled with creative people such as authors, poets, and musicians.
“It was just a real hangout place and the culture there was very unique,” she said. “People still talk about it with great fondness.”
172 King Street: From a grocery store to a tavern
The Richmond Tavern also served under different names. The building wasn’t even a hotel to begin with, and was first used as a grocery store in 1852. Then, it became the Arkell’s hotel in 1860 and the Revere hotel in 1861. It has been the Richmond Tavern since 1893.
Owner Mark Dencher comes from a family that has owned the Richmond Tavern for many generations.
Dencher said the bar’s main clientele in the past was the working class. Although there are still tradespeople stopping in for brews and chats with their friends in the afternoon, there are different crowds in the morning and evening.
“When we open at 11 a.m. there will be half a dozen people who walk through the door instantly,” he said. “These are usually the retirees, pensioners, and vets who will come in here for a couple of pints of beer after doing their morning chores downtown, then head home.”
Pulling through the Prohibition Era
Many bars of London’s past have come and gone as Call The Office and the Richmond stay. Other bars mentioned in “Barhopping into History,” such as the Wreck’d Room and Downtown Kathy Brown’s, closed after the book’s release in 2013.
It’s not the first time Call the Office and the Richmond survived while other establishments closed. Both bars survived the Prohibition Era, after all.
Wolfe said that before the Prohibition Era, there were 170 operational bars and taverns in London. After Prohibition, 17 of those establishments survived.
During the bleak time for that industry, patrons still stopped by.
“Even if there wasn’t any alcohol to be purchased, it was still a social gathering place,” Wolfe said.
Patrons still attended for hotel services, to get their news fix, and to hear salesmen pitch products and services.
The author added the location of these taverns were convenient for travelers stopping in London. Call the Office, for example, was nearby the Thames River and the railroad, which was also convenient for railway workers. Likewise, the Richmond was in London’s core, another easy stop for travelers.
The corner location of both bars also play into their longevity. According to the book “Downtown London: Layers of Time,” hotels to built on a street corner are ideal. Buildings located there attract customers and grab their attention.
Both Call The Office and the Richmond are examples listed in the book. It looks like the street corner location paid off for both bars!
If you haven’t already, check out either bar and enjoy your drink of choice, great music, and great company, all while appreciating local history.
Be sure to watch the Histories of London: Bars and Taverns Mini-Documentary.