Hanging out at the Ship

“I’m well steeped in the Ship” says “Ship Girl” Nicola Trolez. The Ship and Anchor’s marketing and promotions manager has been with the Calgary institution now celebrating its 25th anniversary since the very beginning. “Talking about the Ship is pretty natural for me.”

Trolez started as a server eventually cycling through just about every job there is at the pub from bartending to booking the first bands. “I’m a creative individual and there are many ways to be creative here. It keeps you young.”

The Ship and Anchor — affectionately and occasionally called the Sore and Chancre Whip and Spank’er and various other names but generally known to locals simply as The Ship — is a 17th Avenue S.W. landmark. But when it first opened in the ’90s it was one of a handful of places like the old Republik where you could go for a friendly pint outside of the notoriously rowdy Electric Ave (11th Avenue S.W. between Fifth and Sixth Streets). Trolez says the Ship which was half the size it is now was one of the few places in particular that a woman could go for a drink and not worry about getting relentlessly harassed by drunken bros.

The well-worn wooden floors tables tucked into dark and intimate corners and plethora of nautical bric-a-brac are like a second home for many Calgarians. As for the ocean-themed vibe of the pub Trolez says she doesn’t know where that comes from — when owner James Ballantyne opened the Ship in 1990 it inherited the name and some of the decor from the previous owner.

Though any bar will tell you that its most important asset is its customers the Ship is one of those rare Calgary hangouts where that’s the honest truth. The pub has hundreds of regulars that share a unique sense of ownership. “Some are real characters” says Trolez. She mentions one of her favourites Cal who would always hang around in the back alley shooting cap guns trailing a bunch of belts behind him like a tail. “I’ve seen people come in here dressed up like knights and gingerbread men. We’re fortunate to have such a diverse and eclectic customer base.

“We believe that every person who walks through the door contributes whether you’re a professional student hipster straight bi gay in your 20s or 80s have three kids and want brunch on a Sunday or are just looking for a good time” she adds. “We’re like a community centre a hub a home away from home.”

Some of the regulars can get a bit touchy when things change at the pub — Trolez says they did renovations on the bar station slowly over a period of months to give people time to adjust — but otherwise few things have changed in the Ship’s 25-year history. You can bank on the patio being packed whenever the weather is tolerable regardless of season. They never charge a cover for shows with the exception of charity events. “We decided that we were a pub so people should be able to come whenever they want to have a pint and not worry about having to pay extra” she says. The number one menu item the reliably tasty and cheap Ship Burger ($7.50) has only increased $2 in the last 20 years. “We’re lucky in that if there are busts or booms in the economy people will still want to come together for a cheap pint” says Trolez.

She adds that sense of community spirit helps when a steady flow of booze causes some patrons to get a little rowdy. “Those people stick out like a sore thumb.” Also if you visit the Ship on the weekend be prepared to wait in line for a bit. “Reviews always talk about that” she says.

Asked for the secret to the Ship’s success Trolez says it’s due in part to the pub’s continued commitment to local arts organizations and charities. Among them are the regular Show Up and Ship Out events loading pub-goers on a bus to attend local theatre and film events; the Saturday jam sessions and biweekly band nights; and the annual songwriting contest for the Calgary Folk Music Festival. Additionally the pub continues to raise money for local charities and fundraisers including an annual cancer benefit each January that has raised more than $130000 since 2006.

Trolez says she’s currently brainstorming ideas to celebrate the Ship’s 25th anniversary. “I want to do baby onesies for all the families that come here with their children spawned from relationships that started here” she says with a laugh. The pub is also considering reprising the mid-90s “Cocktail Series” a series of recordings (along with Sloth Records and Cry Baby Records) that saw vinyl releases from bands like Placebo Loudmouth Forbidden Dimension and Huevos Rancheros. “This is a project we could see ourselves investing in again this year for our 25th” she says. “We also plan to put out some sort of tribute to hosting 25 years of free shows.

“We’re called an institution and with good reason” she adds. “And with history comes authenticity.”