North

Where have old men been drinking coffee?

This article ought to provoke some good laughs down at the coffee shop. And it just might, now that restaurants and diners are slowly beginning to reopen. 

Decades old routines, shattered by the pandemic, come back to life in Yellowknife

Al Rossignol, second from left, was back in action with his regular crowd at the Gold Range Bistro Friday, after a months-long hiatus. The group was slightly smaller due to physical distancing. (Sara Minogue/CBC)

This article ought to provoke some good laughs down at the coffee shop. 

And it just might, now that restaurants and diners are slowly beginning to reopen, and the regulars who frequent them are beginning to resume their positions.  

Al Rossignol got the call Tuesday: the Gold Range Bistro would be opening Wednesday morning. 

"I've been going there for breakfast for years," he says. 

Among other things, the pandemic has interrupted men's coffee-drinking circles, some of which have been going for ages. 

About 30 years in Rossignol's case. He likes to start his day at 5:45 with a group of guys that meet at the Tim Hortons on Old Airport Road. 

"We take the big table there and it's pretty well full every morning," he says. 

Next, he heads uptown for breakfast with a different group of eight (where he generally switches to green tea — "two coffees is enough," he says).

Rossignol with his wife Ghislaine. 'He comes back and tells me the news,' she says. (Sara Minogue/CBC)

The shutdown had less of an impact than you might think. When Tim Hortons opened back up for takeout, Rossignol and his friends would go get coffee on their own, then park their trucks out front and visit through rolled down windows.

Ghislaine Rossignol, Al's wife, doesn't complain. 

"I bring her a coffee," Al says. 

"He comes back and tells me the news," says Ghislaine. 

Perry Campbell, though on the younger side of the crew, sometimes joins the Tim Hortons regulars.

'I calls it a BS session,' says Perry Campbell. 'It’s so great to have everybody together and laugh.' (Sara Minogue/CBC)

The restaurant recently reopened to sit down customers, but only at single tables. Campbell's still waiting for the regulars to be able to reconvene. 

"I can't wait to get back together," he says. "I calls it a BS session. It's so great to have everybody together and laugh. Who knows what flavour the morning is gonna be and who's gonna get picked on, but at the end of the day you just have a good time."

The pandemic has been easier on Lou Covello than on some. 

For the last several years, he's been drinking coffee at what's known to friends as the "Bush Rat Cafe." 

Lou Covello enjoying the 'Bush Rat' cafe moored alongside Joliffe Island. (Sara Minogue/CBC)

The "cafe" is actually a barge across from government dock. Owned by Dave Smith, it features an Atco trailer that contains a small kitchen and living room, and ample outdoor seating. Visitors brew their own coffee, and wash their own cups. 

The innovation followed the closure of the diner next to the Gold Range Hotel (formerly Nettie's Perogie Palace) a few years ago, in the building where the Fat Fox later opened. 

"Before that we were at the Miner's Mess in the Yellowknife Inn," Covello says. 

This spring, the Bush Rat kept going — with some more careful behaviour to steer clear of public health rules.

Covello brews a cup at the 'Bush Rat' cafe. He isn't the type to make special plans. 'No one is.' (Sara Minogue/CBC)

Like many of his fellow coffee drinkers, Covello admits he isn't the type to make special plans. 

"No one is." 

But getting together for coffee, he agrees, is important.

"Not many people know it," he says, "but when Roger [Warren] bombed Giant [Mine] there ... the first thing he did after that, or one of the first things, is he came into the coffee shop that was run by ... who was it before then? Anyway, Lynn's predecessor. 

"And someone recognized that he was extremely distressed and he phoned the RCMP right away.

"They knew something was wrong. And this was before the news [of the explosion] had got out. 

"So, it serves many purposes."

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