New owners of historic Douglas Tavern mull mattress-pub combo

Douglas Tavern

An entrepreneurially minded couple has purchased Eastern Ontario’s internationally known shrine to Irish revelry, the Douglas Tavern, with plans to turn it into a mattress showroom for their growing business.

Over the decades, the old-style tavern – which still sports a “Ladies & Escorts” sign out front – developed a reputation as the place to gather for wearing of the green while belting out Auld Lang Syne and crying in your beer. People came from everywhere. Every now and then, you might run into somebody directly from Ireland who had somehow heard of the Douglas Tavern.

Getting into the act, the Renfrew County village – located just outside Eganville, slightly more than an hour west of Ottawa – in which the tavern is located became the self-described “Home of the Leprechauns.”

New owners Amanda and Dan Peters are licensed auctioneers, as well as furniture and bedding dealers, who have been based in Smiths Falls for the past 17 years. They’re also expanding into the nearby Town of Renfrew with a small warehouse opening this spring.

When they bought the building on Douglas’s main drag, the couple had no idea of its colourful history. 

They stumbled upon the Douglas listing while shopping for an expansion property in Renfrew. While at first it seemed like an unlikely fit and “weird purchase,” they decided they could make it work and draw customers to the village.

The new owners’ plan for the tavern building is still evolving. The couple was inundated by appeals to maintain at least part of the tavern in its original use and now say they might combine the two businesses if they can with agreement from liquor licensing authorities. They’re considering at least opening for post COVID-19 St. Patrick’s Day celebrations after temporarily clearing out the mattresses.

As someone who has done his share of drinking but gave up the habit, Dan Peters said he has no great desire to be in a room full of boozers. On the other hand, both he and Amanda have experience working in restaurants and bars and enjoy the occupation. Both have a growing interest in honouring the Douglas Tavern tradition.

While festivities were sadly cancelled in 2020, St. Patrick’s Day in Douglas is – in non-pandemic times – St. Patrick’s Month, with live music, a parade and assorted other events throughout March.

Presiding over the shenanigans for the past 49 years have been Terry and Evelyn McHale, the previous owners of the Douglas Tavern who listed their business for sale prior to the COVID-19 outbreak because, they maintain, it’s an occupation designed for younger owners. Still, Evelyn is saddened because they’re exiting one year short of 50, and Terry says he would do another 50 years in the Douglas Tavern if he had the stamina.

Reflecting recently in the empty bar where the dominant colour is green and the décor upholds the four-leaf clover theme, the McHales expressed nothing but positive memories about their years welcoming celebrants, many of whom didn’t have a drop of the Irish in them. 

Terry McHale
Terry McHale displays "The Equalizer."

With all those people milling about, sometimes things got unruly; Terry said all he had to do was bring out “The Equalizer” and not even use it to restore order. He joked that his greatest fear was that Evelyn might use the bat on him. However, the luck of the Irish was with him and that never happened.

It may turn out to be gone, but the Douglas Tavern won’t be forgotten. A GoFundMe campaign is now underway to raise $5,000 to fund a documentary called “The Diddley” – the tavern’s nickname – telling the story of the McHales, the Douglas community and the bar’s positive impact over several decades.

“There’ll never be another place like it,” said one fan in a Facebook group with more than 600 members devoted to the tavern. “It was where friends and family gathered to make the most incredible memories that will last more than a lifetime.”