Cornerstone of Nelson’s vibrant nightlife

The patio overlooking the West Arm of Kootenay Lake is one of the big draws at Finley’s Irish Bar & Grill. - Bob Hall photo
The patio overlooking the West Arm of Kootenay Lake is one of the big draws at Finley’s Irish Bar & Grill.
— image credit: Bob Hall photo

On a corner of the city known for getting the good times rolling, Finley’s Irish Bar & Grill will again be rocking tonight. But for owners Brent Holowaychuk and Tayna Finley, the party will be a little more special than most.

Eight years ago this week, the couple purchased the old Civic Hotel. Long known as one of Nelson’s seedier establishments, the pair had a different vision for the prominent corner of Vernon and Hall streets.

“It started out as The Zoo,” Finley explains. “It was a terrible place with lots of drug dealers and transient people. We decided it couldn’t be this way and we kicked all of that element out.”

They officially took over on May 1, 2003.

“It wasn’t just that there was a lot of bad people, it was also the place where good people would come and behave badly because that was the norm,” says Holowaychuk. “It was an education process to get people to behave in an appropriate fashion. People embraced it and some people fought against it.”

The diverse crowd that heads down to Finley’s now is a testament that their grand plan worked.

“There are so many different people in Nelson that you need to offer something else. Each night of the week it’s different people in the bar,” says Finley.

The weekly line-up of special events and regular themes spans the spectrum. There’s salsa lessons on Mondays, college night on Tuesdays, karaoke on Sundays and Wednesdays, hip hop and local bands on Thursday and regular bigger ticket shows consistently booked at the bar.

Add to the mix is that Finley’s is calling itself Stanley Cup Playoff Headquarters. You never know what you are going to get when you wander through the doors.

“It’s a locals bar where Nelson wants to eat and party,” says Finley. “People are comfortable and it’s not pretentious.”

Finley’s has certainly come a long way, but it hasn’t been easy.

In January,2005 the couple was just starting to get the place in order when a bitter cold snap burst the sprinkler system and caused massive damage.

“It was shocking to us because we had no money,” says Holowaychuk. “But it turned out to be a good thing because it gave us the opportunity to renovate and change the name to Finley’s.”

Despite the fact they did not have the proper insurance, the couple borrowed more money to do the renovations that helped provide an atmosphere more in line to where they saw the place heading.

Finley’s emerged from the disaster stronger than ever. And in the last few years the bar has become one of the main go-to establishments in a city where there is no shortage of nightlife.

“Right now in Nelson there is only room for first and second place because there are only a certain number of people going out,” says Finley. “So if you are not doing it right then you are going to lose. That keeps it exciting and competition is healthy, but I’m glad we’re on top.”

Another major part of the couple’s philosophy is community involvement.

Finley’s sponsors 10 local soccer teams, rugby and flag football. They also open their doors to community groups trying to raise money by hosting burger and beer nights about three times a month.

“Our bar is a place where people come when they have a need. If they need it we will help support them through it,” says Finley. “People get what they need and we are able to showcase our room.”

The couple — who also own Sage Tapas & Wine Bar — are also very involved in the Nelson and District Chamber of Commerce and Nelson Rotary.

“I like to have a pulse on things and not sit on the sidelines,” says Finley. “When you have an active business and you want the community to thrive you have to get involved.”

Finley and Holowaychuk are still only 33 and 34 respectively, yet they have learned so much over the last eight years. Part of the education process is how to get along with a spouse in a working environment.

“It has its challenges for sure,” Finley laughs. “It took us six years to not fight everyday because we have two totally different work styles. Our beliefs for the business and our goals are the same, but our processes are different so we try to avoid each other at work.”

Finley’s is celebrating its eighth year by holding a customer appreciation party tonight. There will be complimentary burgers between 5 and 8 p.m., live entertainment and prizes.

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