Charlene Boyce was a “Moon Girl.”
She recalls the first time she went to the Misty Moon at its location on Barrington Street. It was 1988 and Boyce had just arrived in the city as a student. She was living in residence with another young woman named Jenny, who introduced her to the cabaret that for years had hosted local and international bands on its stage.
“We went downtown fairly regularly, as you did, and we went to the Misty Moon,” Boyce said. “We were Moon Girls. There were Palace Girls. And then there were girls who went home at 1am, which I can’t even imagine.”
The Misty Moon was the city’s rock bar and Boyce said it had been built up as this dangerous place. But Boyce said she quickly learned that wasn’t the case.
“It was awesome,” Boyce said. “There was always the feeling we were being watched over. It never felt dangerous when we were going there.”
Boyce, a graduate student of Atlantic Canada Studies at Saint Mary’s University, spent the last two and a half years working on her thesis, Music, Money, Memory and Cultural Identity: An Oral History of the Misty Moon Show Bar.
On Friday, she defended that thesis and on Saturday she chatted with the Examiner about all the research she put into her work.
For Baby Boomers and older Gen Xers, Boyce’s thesis is a fascinating, fun, nostalgic, and even tragic walk down memory lane of a bar that lived in three locations over its 25-year history, and was a staple of Halifax’s nightclub scene.
“Everyone in Halifax is like one degree removed from a Misty Moon story,” Boyce. “You can drop that name into any assorted gathering of people over the age of 45 and stories will emerge. It’s kind of phenomenal.”
Boyce’s thesis is not just a history of the Misty Moon. She ties it back to the cultural identity as a dangerous city with a lot of bars. For years, Haligonians took a sort of pride in its city with the most bars per capita in Canada (Tim Bousquet wrote about this in The Coast in 2011).
“I think Halifax has this split personality, this dichotomy, where it’s the progressive city and everything is modern and we’re building up and forward,” Boyce said. “And then there’s this ‘we’re a historic city.’ We have this history, and we have universities, and military contingent, so therefore there’s a lot of drinking. The clash between the current financier and the pirates and busty wenches personalities of Halifax is really interesting.”
Boyce interviewed 13 narrators for her thesis: Norma MacNeil, Gay Kennedy, and Allie Fineberg, who all worked at the cabaret’s three locations; Ron Bone, a doorman and server, who worked at all three locations; Geoff Palmeter, manager and owner of the Moon at its Barrington location from 1986 to 1992; Hazel Ferguson, who worked the coat check at the Barrington location; Paul Eisan, a musician with several bands who played all three locations; Wendy Brookhouse, who was a doorperson at the Barrington location; Eric McDow, a musician, Missy Searl, a patron, Scott Rogers, a musician, Bill Hollis, a police sargeant with Halifax Regional Police; and Sam Moon, a musician who played at all three locations.
The Misty Moon Show Bar first opened in a location on Gottingen Street in 1969. There were already a few big nightclubs on that street, including the Derby, El Strato Lounge, and the Lobster Trap. The Panagiotakos brothers Andy (Andreas), Peter (Pierros) and Terris (Terry) owned and ran the Misty Moon (their brother, Louis, would join them years later).
In those early days, the Moon, which had a cabaret licence so it could stay open until 3:30am, was frequented by African Nova Scotian residents who lived on or near Gottingen Street, as well as white patrons.
The location moved to Kempt Road in August 1980 in a building the Panagiotakos brothers purchased and renovated. As Boyce wrote in her thesis, at this location, the Moon was ” a state-of-the-art nightclub. This location increased the bar’s reputation as the go-to place to catch live music.”
After only four years, the owners moved the club again, to its final spot at the corner of Barrington and Sackville streets. Radio station Q104 had tight relationship with the bar as the two feature much of the same music.
Over those years, the Panagiotakos brothers expanded their bar business, buying the The Palace Cabaret from Seymour Offman in the late 1970s, and opening Secretary’s Pub in a spot just beneath the Moon on Sackville Street.
Boyce said there’s a social history of Halifax in how the city developed, and the story of The Moon and its three locations follows along. She puts the story of The Moon in the “planning and history intersection.”
“The three locations change the history of neighbourhood development,” Boyce said. “But there is also the business history of Halifax and the impact of the bar industry of Halifax and the recognition of the Panagiotakos family, in particular. That is another story I’d like to see be told better.”
In 1988, the brothers sold the Moon to Geoff Palmeter, a 25-year-old business student, who worked as a manager at the Moon. He renamed it The New Misty Moon Cabaret, and continued to bring in big acts.
And there were lots of big acts that played at the Moon over the years. Boyce’s thesis includes a crowd-sourced list of 425 bands and acts that played at the Moon from 1969 to 1994.
While the Moon was known as a rock bar, as Boyce wrote in her thesis, the cabaret hosted Black acts like the Platters and Tower of Power; LGBTQ acts like a cappella group the Nylons and Long John Baldry; and women performers like Pam Marsh, Sass Jordan, Sara McLachlan, and Lee Aaron.
Most of those bands on the list can be found on a post at the Friends of the Misty Moon Cabaret Facebook group. That group’s members also share photos and newspaper ads for bands that played at the Moon.
While Boyce’s work includes many stories from the Misty Moon’s history told to her by the 13 narrators, she focused on two defining stories of the cabaret.
The first was the murder of Michael Young at the Gottingen Street location.
In the early hours of December 22, 1979, Young was stabbed by two men, Harry Crann and Michael Graham, in the washroom.
Five narrators shared their memories of the murder with Boyce — musicians Paul Eisan and doorman Ron Bone were eyewitnesses; Sam Moon, who was playing that night; server Allie Fineberg; and Eric McDow, who was a bandmate of Eisan’s and at the club that night. All of their memories of that night vary in detail, but it was Eisan and Bone, who Boyce interviewed together, who recall the most vivid details.
Paul Eisan: There was — remember the time, the night on Gottingen Street. This was the Gottingen Street Misty Moon. I was by the door with Ronnie, Ronnie was running the door. And this guy comes out of the bathroom and says, “you better get in the bathroom.” He says, “There’s something going on in there.” So Ronnie and I go in the bathroom. Here’s this guy on the floor. And this other guy. I freaked.
Ron Bone: Big knife hole in him.
Paul Eisan: I froze against the wall, so Ronnie goes in, grabs the guy, starts yellin’ and I’m just freakin, so, I was against the wall just a total mess, and the cops come in and grab me, and, [I] said “I didn’t do anything!” That was bizarre.
Ron Bone: “I’m innocent!” Long story short, he’s buried just over there. He’s buried down in, in — off Musquodoboit Harbour.
Paul Eisan: God, that was an awful night.
But there was another story that stood out for the narrators in Boyce’s thesis, too.
“When I was interviewing folks, the Doobie Brothers story is the one everyone wanted to talk about,” Boyce said. “It’s the coolest thing that ever happened to them. It’s so fondly remembered. There’s a warm bubble of emotion when they talk about that story.”
And while it doesn’t appear that way, Boyce said those two stories are connected.
After Young’s murder, over the course of a few months, the Panagiotakos brothers decided to move from the Gottingen Street location. Boyce said she wasn’t sure the murder was the reason. Sam Moon, certainly a musical legend in his own right, played the last night at that location when the Doobie Brothers showed up at the club. They were in the city for the beginning of their world tour and stopped by the Moon. Sam Moon saw them in the audience and invited them up on stage to jam. The band said ‘yes’ and Moon detailed that story for Boyce:
Wow. Now Mike McDonald played piano, of course, and sang. The band I was in with Terry Hatty and Pat Riley and George Antoniak, we had two guitars, bass, drums, and myself. We had no keyboard. And Pam Marsh was a local legend, a singer. Talented lady sang with, uh, she toured with Sylvia Tyson and she, she’s on a lot of the background vocals of big hits by April Wine, Coulda Been a Lady, and she’s also one of the female voices on Minglewood’s famous recording Caledonia. Anyway, she was, she was there, and she didn’t live too far from the Misty Moon. And she overheard us, and she says, “I got a piano at my place.”
So Michael MacDonald and a roadie and Pam went to Pam’s place to get this piano, and if anybody remembers the Moon, the long steps going up, right? Yeah. Very, very steep climb. Anyway, came up with this keyboard and we’re in the middle of, we already started in like our second or third set by the time they get back or whatever. So Michael MacDonald started screwing the legs into the, into the Rhodes piano.
And, no roadie helping him, he just did it himself. And he had it set up and he was tinkering around a little bit and somebody picked him up on the soundboard, got a sound and, it was the last song I did in that set. He actually played piano and it was just something I’ll go to my grave with. Yeah, I played a song with Michael MacDonald… it was one of my own tunes. He had no idea of what it was, but he played it perfectly. Anyway. They did a whole set, had some beers and everything like that, and we had a great time.
Those brushes of fame weren’t uncommon between bands and staff or even patrons. Boyce also interviewed Missy Searl who told Boyce, “I’m a Black girl, but I’m a rock girl.” The Moon was her bar, too. She told Boyce about the time she made it on camera when MuchMusic was filming at the club. And Searl was at also the Moon when Sass Jordan played. She still has the ticket stub for that show and sent a photo of it to Jordan via Twitter. Searl told Boyce:
And she was like, “Oh my God!” And then we just started communicating. It was really cool. And then she sent me a link for a book that she did with women around mindfulness and self-discovery kind of thing. So like, it’s really cool, because I can, I like, literally have like, DM conversations with Sass Jordan.
Boyce has her own favourite stories from The Moon, too. She remembers walking in with her roommate and the DJ played AC/DC’s Back in Black. Boyce said she and her friend “danced in like they owned the place.” The two discovered the dressing room and signed their names on the wall. And she remembers seeing big name bands there, too, notably The Tragically Hip, The Northern Pikes, and David Wilcox.
For the staff, the Moon was more than the music. There was money to be made working at the Moon. Boyce talked to Norma MacNeil, Allie Fineberg, Gay Kennedy, and Ron Bone, about the money they made as servers. And it was considerable for the time: Kennedy said bartenders were guaranteed $150 a night.
“That’s a story that we don’t hear about Halifax,” Boyce. “That in at least one industry, money was flowing like water. You have to imagine the staff who were reporting this were fairly young at the time, so what impressed them at the time was not what would impress us.”
Boyce said she got “schooled” at how much better the cabaret was at its first two locations. She said the club was likely at its peak when it was at the Kempt Road location.
“They carried that energy when they first moved to Barrington Street and the Panagiotakos brothers knew when to get out. They sold it at the right time,” Boyce said. “Right after that, you start to see a decline. I feel like I came in at the end of a rich story in terms of when I started going to the Misty Moon.
Boyce said she’d like to see more research done on other storied clubs in the city like the Seahorse, The Oasis, and Ginger’s Tavern.
“What I hope comes of this is more research and more story gathering about that,” Boyce said, “because everyone in Halifax seems to hold dear the idea of all the bars. We have such variety and so many. In terms of the name going beyond Halifax or being recognized instantly in a crowd and people having stories, the Misty Moon seemed to have that across-demographic appeal.”
Boyce said last went to the Misty Moon around 1990 or 1991. At one point she said she “switched teams” and started going to The Palace instead. She does remember going back to The Moon one night, but it felt “like it had lost something.””
The bar scene in Halifax was already changing by then. Drinking and driving laws got tougher and people’s attitudes and priorities were changing. Baby boomers, who were long the Moon’s biggest customers, weren’t going out to bars so much anymore.
In 1992, Palmeter sold the bar to developer Ralph Medjuck, who renamed it the Roxbury in 1993. That club only lasted a year.
Boyce said when the Marquee opened in 1998 it filled a void left behind by the Moon as a place for bands, but she added that club served a different musical generation. Other clubs opened across the city, including all-ages clubs that weren’t The Misty Moon crowd.
Boyce’s thesis is now online at the Saint Mary’s University archives and she told the Examiner about the many “side quests” in writing it. But for this former Moon Girl, her work also connected with her own memories, too.
“It was so fun to sit back and listen to these people talk with each other about their memories because really it’s like hanging out with the cool kids,” Boyce said. “Meeting these people has just enriched my life.”
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I remember visiting the Gottingen Street Misty Moon more than its other 2 locations. But I was a more regular visitor to Gingers. My roommate waited there and had a huge circle of friends and acquaintances there. I remember joining the group one evening. An older woman was sitting with them. She had a wig that was on somewhat lopsided, bright red lipstick over more than her lips and she was staring at me with what hinted at hostility. When I went to the washroom, she followed me. I can’t remember the conversation exactly, but the gist was that I was to stay away from a young man in that group. and it dawned on me, she was threatened by my youth. She clearly had mental disabilities but Gingers attracted everyone. And we all hung out together.
The Seahorse was much the same, though it didn’t have live entertainment then (late 70s/early 80s). There was also prejudice. A bartender I knew working at the Seahorse, asked me to watch as he approached two Transpeople (dressed as women). He asked them for ID, which, of course, they couldn’t provide, presenting as women. So, he made them leave. That always bothered me. That diversity of people was part of what made this bar interesting and inclusive feeling.
After being a regular at the Arrows Club, I could never get that excited about The Moon. I mean, after The Platters, The Unifics, Ike and Tina Turner… Actually, I left town shortly after the Arrows closed and only visited The Moon when I occasionally visited Halifax.
Incidentally, owner Billy Downie had a side gig as a porter on the CN run between Montreal and Halifax.
I’m waiting for the story on Ginger’s. We went there every time we were in Halifax. Til we didn’t.
…and before the Moon rose there was the Arrows Club
The Misty Moon contributed hugely to my ending up in this harbour city. In the summer of 1979 my best friend and I drove to Halifax from California in my VW van to visit my draft dodger brother. Being young and full of bull we went on the hunt for some night life and we were told that the Misty Moon was the place, but ‘it’s rather a rough place and possibly unsafe’. Well, we went straight to the Misty Moon. Sam Moon was playing and so was Matt Minglewood and we had a ball and met a bunch of Haligonians, some of whom declared, ‘We don’t like Yanks’, but nonetheless embraced us fully and became fast friends. I never left – 43 years later, minus the Yankee accent, plus an additional passport (Canadian), here I am and here I’ll stay.
I’ll never forget that first night in the Misty Moon.