‘Life goes on’ for Halifax wine bar owners – Obladee clicks with 25-45 crowd

Co-owners of Obladee, siblings Heather and Christian Rankin

Heather Rankin and her brother Christian are co-owners of the Barrington Street wine bar Obladee. (ERIC WYNNE / Staff)

“YOU DON’T want to pull it out with a pop,” Heather Rankin says after I uncork the Argentine Merlot with a window-rattling bang.

She pauses politely and then adds in a lowered voice: “It should be more like a whisper.”

It is a grey, wet Thursday and we are holed up inside Obladee, a wine bar, the hot spot she and brother Christian own at the corner of Sackville and Barrington streets in Halifax.

It is three hours until opening time when the crowds arrive. But the siblings have agreed to show up a little early to provide some pointers on the proper way to serve wine.

Frankly, it is high time. The grape and I are acquainted. Yet I can still struggle when it comes time to do battle with a real cork.

Years ago, I mistakenly drilled in at a 45-degree angle in my zeal for plonk.

I hauled like a powerlifter. Then, when the cork came out, I slapped myself in the face vigorously enough to draw blood.

This, I discover, would not cut it at Obladee, which Heather and Christian opened a year ago. She had developed websites in New York for Nature magazine and in London for the BBC, while he is a white-collar veteran of the Calgary oilpatch.

I had only been here once before, with their aunt and uncle.

Along with the cool, casual vibe and the much-coveted 25-to-45 demographic, I noticed the all-concrete, 1916 Andrew Cobb design and the old safe, once used by the Tramway Building’s longtime tenant, Charles Brown Furriers.

It also seemed like everyone who worked there was a Rankin.

Christian, who is tall, bespectacled and sports a close-cut beard, grins when I point this out.

“We have, let me see, nine people working here,” he says. “I guess a few of them are related.”

Three of the staff, in fact, carry the Rankin surname. One of them is a MacInnis, but his first name is, you guessed it, Rankin.

It is a handle that carries some weight in this province, particularly in Inverness County where the odd person bearing this name is known to pick up a violin or guitar or to sing a few bars, sometimes in Gaelic.

A few years ago, some distant cousins, including three of the five siblings who made up the Rankin Family, bought the wondrous Red Shoe Pub in Mabou.

Now there is Obladee, which means Rankins own two of the better places to get a libation in this province full of watering holes.

“We wanted to create a place with a coffee shop or a pub feel that wasn’t pretentious or stuffy,” says Heather, 36, the trained sommelier of the pair who has a mass of dark curls and is svelte for a woman eight months pregnant.

And a place where you could drink a little wine, since Halifax, with its multitude of liquor emporiums where college kids drink themselves mad on cheap grog, was sadly short on such establishments.

Things still have to be done right. The siblings have already told me about ensuring that the label is always in view when you are serving someone a bottle.

Heather shows me the right way to slice the foil — “with a little theatre” — using the little knife on the waiter’s corkscrew without maiming myself.

She tells me how to insert the screw a little to the left of centre and then give the bottle a couple of elegant turns until it is deep enough in the cork.

Since the corkscrew is double-hinged, I use the miracle of leverage to pull the cork half out and then lay the next lever on the lip of the bottle and pull again until it emerges with a thunderclap.

Haligonians, and I say this with deep pride, aren’t much for sniffing the old cork; they like to get right to it.

So Heather instructs me to pour a couple of inches in Christian’s glass — “usually you just count to two, it’s about a second an ounce” — without laying the bottle on the edge of the glass like barkeeper Sam did on Cheers.

Christian knows his way around the vino. He sniffs, swirls and sniffs again.

Then it is down the hatch in a manner mercifully short on the chewing and backwashing that I have seen from wine snobs at dinner parties

“The host gets filled up last,” says Heather. “Pour to the widest part of the glass. That’s usually about five ounces.”

We move to the front of the room and hunker down at a table fashioned from a whisky keg from the Glenora Distillery in Cape Breton. (There is only one table-for-two in the place to engender social interaction.)

I ask them how the idea came about.

“We were at a Lebanese restaurant in Camden Town, planning a trip to Rome,” Heather says.

She told Christian, who was visiting her in London, England, about this idea she had for a small intimate casual wine bar in Halifax. (The pair spent their early years in Dartmouth before the family moved to Newfoundland and Labrador.)

“I said I’d be willing to help you with that,” Christian recalled.

Now, three years later, here they are trumping the overwhelming odds against surviving in the bar and restaurant business.

They are way ahead of the projections in their business plan. Christian still works in the energy world. But Heather gave up the telecommuting for the BBC long ago.

“My biggest worry is that Halifax wasn’t ready,” she says. “Would they get it? Would they come out?”

Then I head for the door and the fat wet snowflakes, leaving the owners of Obladee to prepare for the onslaught.

La la, how the life goes on.

( jdemont@herald.ca)

The Chronicle Herald | Halifax, Nova Scotia