Medieval Reminiscence

More wine, wench!

This was the drunken cry that hounded me every weekend for two years at the Medieval Inn.
It was the 1970s and this was my first official job in the service industry. I contributed to many a horrid hangover, pouring all-you-can-drink B.C. red to adults wearing bibs, which we the wenches courteously secured around their necks.
Set in an old creepy brick building in Vancouver’s Gastown, authenticity was paramount and we took our jobs seriously. Dark, dank and overrun with mice, two floors of the building were reserved for private functions where we worked our wenching magic.
We would festoon the rooms with candles and incense, issuing each guest with a bowl, a glass and a steak knife, a bowl of nuts and basket of oranges for sharing.  After setting the stage we would tart ourselves up for the evening. A low cut white blouse with puffy sleeves, a long red skirt and a wide leather belt that laced up beneath our bosoms.
Being young and naive certainly helped our enthusiasm, but it was the promise of getting high each evening with either the minstrels, the “lord” of the evening or the drunken revellers.  We felt that being stoned helped us get into our roles and made us more efficient. Or so we thought. Our boss didn’t quite agree when he caught 10 wenches sharing a fatty one evening.
If none of you remember the Medieval restaurant experience, the dinner went something like this: you and your friends could rent out one of the party rooms and drink as much as you wanted for a nominal fee. Dinner was included and consisted of four courses: cream of leek soup (or cock-a-leekie), one trout with head and bones, half a Cornish game hen followed by roast beef.
Each course, or rather, “remove” was presented with much pomp and circumstance. Entertainment was provided by a wandering minstrel – in tights no less – and a lord who officiated at the head of the table, conducting the show.
The lord, an out-of-work Shakespearean actor, also took his role seriously. He entertained the party with ribald jokes and songs, getting drunk alongside everyone else. If he could no longer speak or capture the attention of the drunken and unruly crowd – which was more often than not – he would resort, like any other trained actor would, to improvisation. This usually took the form of standing on the table, lifting his lordly gown and flashing the guests. Now, that’s entertainment!
As I mentioned earlier, the table was laden with nuts – which you had to crack with your bowl – a basket of oranges and a steak knife. These oranges were rarely eaten and more often became weapons for that jolly medieval game of bean-your-neighbour-in-the-head. We, the wenches, became inadvertent targets along with the merry wandering minstrel. The food fights usually became particularly nasty by the second remove of the evening – Cornish game hen.
Standing in the middle of the room, with a platter of steaming roasted hens, we would announce, ” Lords and ladies, the second remove of the evening is Cornish game hen.” We would then impale each half with a dangerous and medieval looking fork and fling them onto plates, assembly line style. While dodging flying bullets, we would fling with lots of hearty enthusiasm – or resentment – depending on the guests. Besides, the flying juices only added to the theatre and those bibs helped a lot.
If there were any bones left on the plates we would wander the room with a large metal bucket calling, ” alms for the poor, alms for the poor.” (Oh, brother). The guests would scrape their scraps into the bucket and away we would go for more jugs of wines.
This continued on for at least four hours, food flying, with many guests removing clothing or throwing up their removes. At this point the damage had been done, we had done our duty and took it as a cue to scurry off and smoke a fat one in the change room.
At the end of the evening, in an altered state, the wenches duties continued as we scrubbed the thick wooden tables with a bucket of soapy water and a stiff brush. A forgotten guest would be inevitably be found passed out somewhere in the dark room and had to be carried down the stairs and into a cab.
Cleaning up one particular evening, we discovered a camera with film still left in it. Inspired, we decided to do a little “flashing” of our own before depositing the camera to the lost and found.
It was our way of saying, “thanks, for the memories.”
The Wench
Fill shaker with ice
1 0z. Spiced Rum
1 oz. Amaretto
Shake. Strain into a shot glass.


6 Responses to “Medieval Reminiscence”

  1. Maggie says:

    Hah! Thanks for the memories, Shelora. I remember going there myself as a young wench, although I guess I was a lady of the court. Good to know you prepped yourselves with fatties. So did we. It was the 70s after all.

    Funnily, I remembered the fun of the Medieval Inn when my kids were small, and oddly enough it became a motivator for good behaviour. The deal was that if they were very, very good at the table and used fantastic manners, we would have a medieval picnic once a month. No cutlery, sit how and if you want, belch – whatever. Watching a four year old go nuts is actually pretty funny, especially when you know the next 30 days will be fantastically polite.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I was one of the first minstrels, but I don’t remember tights. We wore monk’s robes, the better for concealing up the wide sleeves a flagon of wine. I recall Helen Shaver was a wench at the time, and also recall making up rude songs about the owner. This must have been early 70’s.

    Jon Bartlett

  3. David Jones says:

    These stories sure bring back memories. My father, John Jones was the owner and my brother and I felt the Mediaeval Inns was a great place to grow up as kids. I do not believe it was Mr. Jones that caught anyone smoking pot as I don’t believe he would know what it was. All and All it was a fun place and a great piece of history for Vancouver.

  4. Lennie Ross says:

    Thanks for the memories — I went there as a kid.. Part of our social studies class

  5. Andre Tardif says:

    Great memories indeed! I was bartender for many years starting in 1975. I remember JJ as we called him and his 2 sons and their mother.I have quite a few photos too in my archives as well as super 8 film.

  6. Eric Ruff says:

    Hi,

    I’ve just sent a poster of the Medieval Inn to the City of Victoria Archives. I have an image of it if you’d like it – front is a ‘wench’ with cleavage, reverse is a menu. I love the price of the house red – 50 cents.

    Please contact me if you’d like photos of the poster.

    Cheers!

    Eric

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