Not many people know that an annual winter tradition in Dawson City started seven years ago as a joke.
In 2006, Bombay Peggy’s, a popular pub, closed down for part of the winter for the first time since opening in 1999.
“I felt totally guilty,” says owner Wendy Cairns. “But winter is a long haul and Dawson had become much quieter during the season.”
Dan Sokolowski, a visiting teacher at the Klondike Institute of Art and Culture, suggested as a joke that someone should have a party in order to continue Peggy’s popular Friday night happy hour beer-and-pizza tradition.
“I was worried that people would be wandering the streets not knowing what to do,” he says with a grin. “It was all about safety.”
A short time later, Sokolowski and his partner Laurie, who were living in staff housing, decided to turn the joke into reality and threw a party on Friday night; they called it Bombay Danny’s.
The only rule, says Sokolowski, was that it was open to everyone, just like at the pub. Guests were to bring their own booze, and they provided pizza. Sixty people showed up.
The following year, when Dan and Laurie moved to Dawson permanently, they bought a house and hosted several more Bombay parties. Eventually, other people started expressing an interest in hosting, and a sign-up sheet was introduced.
“That was fine by us,” chuckles Sokolowski.
Soon, every Friday night from November until end of February was booked.
The scheduled time for these happy hour Fridays was from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. “We made it right after work as we didn’t think people would show up later,” says Sokolowski. And besides, “five hours in someone’s house is enough!”
As more and more hosts signed up, pizza evolved into a potluck.
“In the old days it was all about a box of beer and a stereo,” says Sokolowski. “But the community drives it, so it changed and became more exotic.”
Today, you may be invited to such soirees as Louisiana Lulu’s, Guandong Greg’s and Bombay Kathmandju.
Though the parties have become gastronomically fancier and technologically advanced — prospective partygoers can now get onto an email mailing list, check out a Facebook page, or refer to a blog — the concept of the evening remains the same.
“It’s a place for different social circles to mix and mingle,” says Sokolowski. “It’s a good way to meet people.”
Dawson newcomer Andre Legault agrees. He liked the camaraderie of Bombay Peggy’s and got used to being around the people he had met there. To him, the Bombay evenings are like revisiting the pub.
“I’ve never lived in a town where you can go by yourself to a stranger’s house and feel welcome,” says Legault.
Hosts can expect up to 40 people strolling through their doors during a Bombay evening. People are also coming later and staying longer – some Bombay Fridays can last as long as one in the morning.
Sokolowski always hosts the first Bombay party of the season. He also helps to organize and email the host schedule, update the blog and customize the Bombay logo on the advertising poster that promotes the next host.
At one point, he tried to retire, but was not allowed.
“Apparently it was my community duty to continue,” he says with a laugh.
Cairns gives Sokolowski all the credit for continuing the Bombay Friday night tradition. And now she doesn’t feel as guilty for closing in the winter.