I wonder how often people take the turnoff to Bradwell, I mean, besides the people who live in the little town. Depending on which way you’re speeding down the Yellowhead Highway, Saskatoon is barely 15 minutes behind you or ahead of you. If you’re in a hurry, as most people seem to be these days, you’ll just blow by the Bradwell access sign like it’s not even there.
I like taking the turnoff. As soon as you leave Highway 16, you feel the pace of life change. The road to Bradwell is a narrow ribbon of pavement winding a quiet 6 km into town. If you’re on that stretch of road just as the last drops of a late-day summer thunderstorm sizzle on the pavement and the sun lights your way with a pristine brightness and clarity that you only find after a prairie rain, you can’t help but think to yourself, Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.
That’s just the kind of day it was last Saturday, when we stopped in at Hank’s Tavern in the Bradwell Hotel on our way back from Manitou Beach. We’d been meaning to stop in for some time, ever since I heard that this little bar had been named “Nightclub of the Year”, third year in a row, at the Saskatchewan Country Music Awards in April. It’s not that I’m into country music, but I was intrigued that a small town tavern could earn such a prestigious award and wanted to experience the place personally. I like stopping in at small town bars to see how life moves in our communities.
We got there in the late afternoon, getting on to suppertime. A long row of pickup trucks, SUVs and cars lined the street in front of the Bradwell Hotel. There were also several mud-caked ATVs filling out the spaces to the end of the block. Next to some of the ATVs, men tugged T-shirts over their heads before sauntering down the sidewalk and into the open door of Hank’s tavern. As we stood surveying the signs near the entrance, the last of the ATVers excused himself as he sidled past, remarking that the group had got caught in the downpour. I admired their foresight at having packed a change of dry clothing along for the ride.
Hank’s was busy, but not full. We found a long row of empty tables, and picked a couple of chairs near the far end. Most of the guests were seated at the tables along the walls. The ATVers were standing around the pool table, chatting, taking leisurely turns clacking the balls with their cues. Pink Floyd was blaring out of a jukebox in the corner near us. A while later, it was Nirvana — pretty eclectic tastes for a bar known for its country music.
“Where ya from?” a guy called to us from a seat near the door.
“Saskatoon,” Sandra replied.
“We just had to see this place after hearing that it was made Country Nightclub of the Year,” I added.
“Yeah, it’s quite the place,” the guy said. “Hank really takes care of it. She brings in some great bands.”
Bands come from all over, he said, all across western Canada, as well as locally. Audience, too, he added.
As we sipped our drinks, I looked around the room, trying to figure out how they fit a band and audience. The pool table gets moved out for concerts, so that opens up a lot of room for the band, a dance floor and a larger crowd. Someone said they get 300 people in there. I’m not sure if that’s possible*, but I bet it sure feels like that many or more when the band gets going.
Some small town bars have a happy vibrancy that you can feel in the staff, the guests and even the decor. Hank’s Tavern is like that.
“This reminds me of the Arlington Hotel,” I remarked to Sandra. The Arlington is a popular watering hole in Trail, BC, where we grew up.
A minute or so later, I overheard a woman at an adjacent table say to her companions, “This reminds me of the Arlington Hotel.”
It’s a different Arlington Hotel, it turns out. This group was visiting from Burlington, Ontario, and Hank’s reminded them of one of their favourite places.
I guess you could say that Hank’s feels like home.
We finished our drinks and started toward the door. A new song came on the jukebox.
“Whoa! You can’t go now!” the guy by the door said as we walked past. “They’re playing Johnny Cash! You gotta stay for Johnny Cash!”
We promised we’d play Johnny Cash on our car stereo on the way home.
It occurred to me as we were driving out of town, that if they really do get 300 people in for live music, that would about double the town’s entire population. Maybe that little road into Bradwell is busier than I thought.
- Hank’s Tavern Facebook Page.
- Saskatchewan Country Music Awards.
- “Bradwell Hotel: Two-Storey Outhouse and All”, Hotel Histories Blog, May 1, 2011.
- Bradwell Census Profile, 2016.
Hank’s Tavern in the news
- “Hank’s Tavern in Bradwell SCMA Nominee for Second Year”, by Angie Dukart, Discover Humboldt, April 4, 2016.
- “Hank’s Tavern in Bradwell Wins SCMA Award”, Discover Humboldt, May 1, 2015.
- “Hank’s Tavern in Bradwell up for SCMA Award”, Discover Humboldt, April 22, 2015.
*Updated July 4, 2017: Hank’s Tavern confirmed that capacity is 150 “inside and out on deck combined.”