New York’s first hockey sports bar, Canuck, opens

New York City has always had a number of sports fans who follow professional baseball, football, basketball and hockey and wear their Yankees, Mets, Knicks, Giants, Jets, Rangers hats with pride. And they often gather at various sports bars to watch games.

But Denis Ladouceur, a Canadian and former Wall Street firm CEO and New Yorker transplant, felt the city was missing a major meeting place: a sports bar dedicated to hockey fans. In December 2021, he opened The Canuck on Ninth Avenue in Chelsea to appeal to the legion of hockey fans in the New York area who follow the New York Rangers, New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils, as well as other Canadians who are fans of the Montreal Canadiens or the Toronto Maple Leaf’s.

He said The Canuck appeals to a wide range of demographics, including “Canadians, ex-pats and visiting Canadians, hockey fans, sports fans and locals looking for a clean, friendly neighborhood pub.”

Although professional ice hockey has been Canada’s national sport, Ladouceur noted that “Madison Square Garden has over 20,000 fans at every Rangers game.” Additionally, most sports bars prioritize baseball, football, and basketball, including hockey.

“The city desperately needed a place where hockey was the first priority, on big screens, where hockey fans could gather and watch hockey together,” he said.

New York’s first hockey-focused sports bar has generated word of mouth, bringing in crowds to watch hockey games and building a niche but loyal audience.

When Ladouceur quit his finance job during the pandemic, the time was right to take the step towards fulfilling his dream. Having no restaurant experience, Ladouceur did his “homework” by meeting with an insider group of restaurants to “better understand the costs, downfalls, benefits and demands associated with the industry.”

He wanted to open a hockey bar in Chelsea because of its proximity to Chelsea Piers and the ice rink. He says there are about 1,500 people involved in his amateur hockey league, and many of them find their way to the Canuck for dinner or a beer, “almost every night,” he said.

He hired a restaurant consultant who pointed him in the right direction for hiring the right staff, both front and back of house, to design the menu and identify the necessary caterers.

The memories at The Canuck go beyond hockey and into Canadian culture. He pointed out that “there are numerous pictures of iconic Canadians, Canadian sports moments where the consumer can enjoy their Canadian beers and eat poutine (fries and cheese topped with gravy). Everyone orders poutine, not just Canadians, he said.

He financed the opening of The Canuck with his personal funds supplemented by investors who were friends and family.

The restaurant is 2000 square meters, filled with twelve tables, with 65 seats. The bar area has 15 stools, and there is outdoor seating with three or four tables for eight to a dozen people.

Ladouceur says the menu specializes in hamburgers, club sandwiches and Caesar salads. It also offers some signature cocktails like the Caesar, the Canadian version of the Bloody Mary, made with Clamato juice instead of tomato juice, and the Maple Old Fashioned, the classic whiskey but made with maple syrup.

The menu includes pulled pork sandwiches, chicken tenders, buffalo chicken wraps and an Impossible burger. Draft beer includes a variety of Canadian brands including Labbatt Blue, Collective Arts, as well as American and Irish beers.

“We wanted the food to be appropriate for a Canadian pub. I don’t want to reinvent the food industry, but to offer simple and quality food,” he explained.

Business boomed in late May and early June as the hometown New York Rangers made a playoff run, defeating the Pittsburgh Penguins and Carolina Hurricanes before falling in seven games to the Tampa Bay Lightning, who had won two Cups. last Stanley. “The arena would reach full capacity for every Rangers playoff game and the energy of the crowd and the games was amazing,” he said.

Ladouceur used a variety of strategies to spread the word about The Canuck’s opening, including targeted ads to certain Canadian groups on Facebook and Instagram and sponsorship of local hockey teams at nearby Chelsea Piers.

When the pro hockey season ends at the end of June, he aims to host events such as birthday parties and work parties, weekly things nights that will keep regulars going until the next National Hockey League season begins in the fall. .

He expects the summer to be slower, although he also predicts Yankee, Mets and Blue Jay fans will keep the bar dancing. He introduced Saturday and Sunday brunch and added more outdoor tables.

When I visited The Canuck on the night of Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Finals, the joint was hopping. Ladouceur is preparing for the crowd of hockey fans, wearing a Moosehead Beer T-shirt and looking relaxed but busy.

The bar is filled with Canadian and hockey memorabilia with pictures of Canadian-born celebrities from Celine Dion, Martin Short, John Candy and William Shatner, and hockey cards for the 1994 Rangers team, his last Stanley Cup winning team .

He estimated that about 20% of his clientele is Canadian. “Canadians drive by, see the flag and have to stop, and there are more Canadians in the neighborhood than you might expect,” he said.

Asked if it will show the Yankee game that night, Ladouceur says, “We’re a hockey bar, so it’ll be the Stanley Cup on every screen.” The Yankees will have to wait until the NHL season is officially over.

He said the keys to its future success are “consistency, making sure we maintain the quality of the food and keeping our staff, because of the atmosphere and the energy they create.”

Ladouceur is working hard, but having a fun time in the first six months of owning the city’s first exclusive hockey bar. “I want it to embody the Canadian spirit, to be a Canadian bar, so when Canadians dine out they feel at home,” he explained.

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