Under The Lights: An Evening of Patios in #DTK


‘Check out how amazing that looks,’ I blurt out to TOQUE Partner Cai Sepulis when we turn off King onto Queen Street in downtown Kitchener. ‘It’s like the lane is alive.’ Straight ahead of us, about halfway up the block between King and Duke Streets, warm light and the sounds of live music spill out into the darkness of Queen from the alleyway between the Vidyard building and its next door neighbour. Goudie’s Lane. Our final destination on what has been a most amazing evening – downtown Kitchener’s annual #DTKPatioCrawl.

When we get closer to the lane Cai quickens her pace. As do I – albeit with much greater effort. These past few hours have had us walking from one side of Kitchener’s sprawling downtown core to the other – from patio to patio to patio – and my legs are killing me. As is my shoulder, straining under the weight of the oversize camera bag slung over it. And to make matters worse, I’ve just turned forty – which has become my excuse for almost anything challenging nowadays.

As we turn into the laneway, I’m immediately captivated by everything that’s going on. The live music – featuring the charismatic Blackie Jackett Jr pounding out a boisterous rendition of The Band’s ‘The Weight’. The busy bar – replete with whiskey and Wellington Brewery’s finest, including the dreamy ‘Upside’ IPA. The lights – strung up in long glowing rows above our heads. The crowds – friends, neighbours and colleagues packed together at picnic tables, standing in tight groups, or simply wandering. Chatting. Laughing. In tune with the joyful ambience. And the dunk tank – where those eager to dispatch one of their own have formed a line. And, indeed, over the next forty minutes or so, lionhearted individuals are released into the drink, for the crowd’s amusement, with seemingly increasing frequency.

‘Pretty awesome, eh?,’ shouts J&P Grocery’s Sarah Pepper over the din, jogging past with more rations for the bar. Before I can answer, she disappears into the crowd. From where I’m standing I can see Sarah’s husband and J&P co-owner, Johnny, dispatching balls to those folks eager to nail the dunk tank bullseye. ‘Pepper’ and Johnny are on the clock, doing what they do best: hosting a wicked event.

Officially, Goudie’s Lane is an extension of J&P for the evening – a one-night pop-up bar that’s materialized out of this once underutilized, drab side alleyway for the downtown patio crawl. Tonight, I think to myself, that re-configured laneway represents an extension of the vision of downtown Kitchener itself, which, through City efforts and community collaboration, is now a wonderfully-animated space reclaimed by the citizenry for the citizenry.

I spot Downtown Kitchener BIA’s Breanna Crossman, one of the organizers of the patio crawl, flitting through the crowd. I flag her down before she vanishes on me, eager to hear her impression of the evening’s events. Her smile anticipates her answer. ‘Amazing.’ She’s beaming. ‘With thirteen participating patios this year, we couldn’t have asked for more.’ Interrupted for a second by the splash of another dunk tank casualty, she continues: ‘I’ve been from one side of downtown to the other, and it’s shimmering tonight.’ Indeed, it is. Buskers on motorized unicycles and stilts greeting folks on the streets. A magician mesmerizing groups of patio crawlers. And the participating patios themselves – eager to provide special offerings on this special evening.

Like Abe Erb at The Tannery, where Cai and I enjoyed dinner and pints earlier in the evening, which tapped a cask of immediately popular orange-infused Buggy Whip IPA specially for this event. And Taste – also at The Tannery – where Waterloo Brewing was giving away swag all night long. And The Crazy Canuck, which was providing Railway City Brewing treats to the masses. Not to mention the live music and entertainment at almost all of the other participating patios. We’d seen much of this earlier in our evening. At Abe Erb. The Rich Uncle. B@TheMuseum. And more.

And now we’re here – at the J&P Grocery Pop-Up Patio. In Goudie’s Lane. Along with what seems like everyone else in town. Having a fantastic time under the lights of this beacon of what downtown Kitchener once was – and where it’s headed. I finish off my last ‘Upside’ and locate Cai by the dunk tank. It’s time to call it a night. A great one. We say goodnight to Breanna and wave at Johnny and ‘Pepper’ before heading back out onto Ontario to catch our ride back to Guelph. And we agree that the Downtown Kitchener BIA has once more done an amazing job. As they’ve done with so many other events like it that they put on throughout the year.
Animating. Reclaiming. Embracing. Repurposing. Celebrating their community. Together.