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ARTS AND CULTURE

4 MIN

The Joel Plaskett Neighbourhood Resurgency

Nova Scotia musician creates an excellent reason to cross over to the Darkside (That Is, Dartmouth). Come for the vinyl, stay for a haircut by Plaskett's bassist.

Downtown Dartmouth, located just across the harbor from the Halifax Waterfront, used to have a bad reputation. Notoriously sketchy, and nicknamed “The Darkside,” there was no real reason to venture over the bridges to go there.

In the past few years the tides have started to turn and Downtown Dartmouth is teetering on the edge of being the next trendy Halifax-area neighbourhood. There are plenty of reasons to check it out. Musician Joel Plaskett’s new business venture, the New Scotland Yard Emporium (45 Portland St.) is most definitely one of them.

Plaskett handled vocals and guitar for the rock outfit Thrush Hermit back in the 1990s; these days he heads up the Joel Plaskett Emergency. After touring for 20 years, most recently for the album The Park Avenue Sobriety Test, he was ready to diversify his interests. He’d bought a rundown old building on Portland Street in the middle of Downtown Dartmouth four years ago and built a studio in the back of it. The front was a retail store, and when his tenant gave notice last spring, Plaskett decided to renovate and turn what was a pretty dilapidated space into the bright and airy New Scotland Yard Emporium, which houses a café, a TAZ Records satellite location, and Elk’s Haircutting (“Elk” is in fact Plaskett’s bass player, Chris Pennell).

Lola Augustine Brown

The coffee is delicious, the selection of vinyl is hip, and even if you don’t need a haircut you’ll be tempted to sit and chat with the warm and welcoming Pennell anyway. New Scotland Yard is a fab space to spend a little time in. We caught up with Plaskett to find out why he decided to set up this rather lovely new business in this not quite yet up and coming ‘hood.

Q: How is this new venture of yours going?
Joel Plaskett: We’ve been going four months, and now we’re in the dead of winter, but it’s holding its own. If it keeps ticking along and making a little money, great … I believe that a stable thing is more important than a super hip thing for a while that just falls off. I’d rather have it tick along and slowly build.

One of the things I’m loving is creating a space where people congregate. I’m having way more conversations with people in the flesh rather than through text and social media. You can isolate yourself in the digital world and still feel connected, but there is something about this that feeds me.

So, why Portland Street?  
When I got into the building, Portland Street was pretty run down. This was a bustling street in the '60s, and then it took a downturn. Now there’s talk of resurgence and it’s nice to see new businesses starting up here, but it’s also really nice to see the balance on the street that reflects the history, and all walks of life around here. There’s a real mix, with old dive bars and new businesses side by side.

This is a rundown historic place (and) I want to contribute to keeping the scale of Portland Street. … Part of the appeal is the tether to the past. I love the neighbourhood because of this attachment to history.

There’s a lot of development going on in Dartmouth and Halifax. Do you think we need to be careful about erasing too much of the local history?
A lot of the old buildings are coming down in Halifax and it’s breaking my heart. It makes me sad walking through parts of Halifax that I no longer recognize.

I remain skeptical of the massive new convention centre that they’re building. It's dramatically changed the feel of the most lively in downtown – (including) Argyle Street, a long row of bars and restaurants – and the businesses down there are struggling to survive through the construction. When it's completed, I hope I'm proven wrong. I love the small, independent businesses that make up downtown and I'd hate to see them replaced with franchises and chain restaurants. I suppose time will tell. 

You’re pretty committed to the East Coast, and both Halifax and Dartmouth feature in your lyrics …
I have a deep love for this place, and in my songs I’ll chide people for leaving but in reality I don’t blame anybody for going because I get to travel and see the place from a distance and know what I love about it. 

Why is it that Halifax has such a reputation for live music?
Because of its isolation, Halifax operates outside of the trends happening in bigger cities. We’re in a little bit of a bubble because people have to entertain each other here. Sometimes bands will punch a bit above their weight, because you have to get through the noise of the universities and find a way to entertain because it’s a port town, you can’t just gaze at your shoes and hope! There is something unique here. Halifax has its own sound.

What else should people check out if they make it over here?
Two if by Sea (66 Ochterloney St.) has been here since before I bought this building and they brought espresso to downtown Dartmouth; they were trailblazers in that regard. Upstairs from them now is a lunch spot called Canteen, which has great sandwiches. Evan’s Fish and Chips at Alderney Landing (2 Ochterloney St.) has gluten-free fish and chips, and it’s super cool. The girls who run it, their dad and uncle, catch the fish on the French Shore down Digby and Yarmouth way. Battery Park (62 Ochterloney St.) is a new beer bar, and Staggers Pub and Grub (26 Portland St.) was a real dive bar but is a great lunch option. Wooden Monkey Dartmouth (2nd Level, Dartmouth Ferry Terminal) is always good.

There’s a great new vintage store, King’s Pier Vintage (13 Kings Wharf Place), where I just scored a great '70s snow coat. If you want to see live music, then Jacob’s Lounge (106 Portland Street) has great local shows in the basement.

A final note: If you’re planning to visit the New Scotland Yard Emporium on your next trip to Halifax, we suggest you do yourself a favour and take the Dartmouth Ferry across. You’ll be rewarded by fantastic views, and get to see how many locals commute across the harbour. 

Published Wednesday, February 17th 2016

Header image credit: Lola Augustine Brown/Billy

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