Hillbilly Highway – Beer break at Big Bad John’s

by Sheldon Birnie

Holidays are a time for visiting family and friends. My folks have moved on out to Vancouver Island, and so I hit the Highway last week to visit them and spend a couple days in Victoria. There are a few good folk and country acts out of Victoria, like the venerable Carolyn Mark and the up and coming Northcote. For me, Victoria’s music scene is dominated by NoMeansNo and the Dayglo Abortions. I’ve played a couple gigs in Victoria over the years, but the city lacks a central honky tonk. The Lucky Bar‘s a good joint, but it’s no Times Change(d) or Albert.

To quench my craving for cold ones when I hit Vic, I mosey on down to Douglas Street and deke into Big Bad John’s. What a beauty of a place. The walls are covered with 50 years of dirty limericks, graffiti and proclamations of undying love. Bras a plenty hang from the rafters, proof positive of the wild nights this place has seen over the years.

XXX lager is almost always on special, and at $3.75 a pint, it’s a dang good deal for BC, where the price of everything is driven sky high by the “Tourist Tax.” Country music is always pumping on the stereo, a solid mix old school and new hits, and the couple who propriet the place always mosey about in coveralls and plaid collared shirts. They’ve owned the place for 20 years, or so the old lady says.

When you order your drink, you get a container of salted peanuts, the shells of which you discard to the well worn floor boards below. When you walk up to the bar, the shells crunch beneath your boots and it is as though you are in an older time, when men were men and ladies were honky tonk angels; a time when partying was king and country music was the only music, when Buck Owens was the Man and Kitty Wells the Queen of the jukebox.

The only downside to this place is it doesn’t play live music. If it did, it would be a must play to anyone riding the Highway, a sort of devil’s hybrid of the Times and the late Beach Club Bar. Gritty, rowdy, and wild. Regardless, I’ll be rolling into Big Bad John’s when I cruise the Highway back to Victoria in a couple weeks, to hit up the debauchery of fun and learning that is the Canadian University Press annual NASH convention. If you’re ever out Victoria way, friends, and have any sense, you’ll be there too. See you there, turkeys.

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