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Wine bar Sanford’s new wheelhouse - Lifelong fisherman opens unique Mad Hatter Wine Bar at water's edge in Annapolis Royal


ANNAPOLIS ROYAL, N.S. —

Paul Sanford sits on the patio at the Mad Hatter Wine Bar in Annapolis Royal, looking down the Annapolis Basin where Samuel de Champlain and Pierre Dugua, Sieur de Mons sailed into the new world in 1605. You can see Goat Island. You can almost see the Habitation.

Sanford knows those waters. As a fisherman most of his life he sailed them and on the 150th anniversary of Confederation in 2017 he was called on to sail the Dutch tall ship Wylde Swan down the basin to Annapolis Royal.

But he always wanted to own a bar. Now he does. Somehow the transition from the wheelhouse to the wine bar works for Sanford.

“It feels good. We’re getting great feedback from the locals,” he said. “They’re enjoying the product we have. It’s going to allow us to stay open in the off-season. Tourists are good, but if we can get the locals coming in and being here year-round, then that will allow us to stay open. Our goal is to be open year-round if we can.”

Charts are featured on the wall. Photos of schooners. Local art. Some old jugs that might have had rum in them at one time. Bean crocks.

“A lot of the ceramics, the stoneware we have, I’ve been collecting for years,” he said. “A lot of it is Nova Scotia pottery. It’s all stuff I’ve been collecting myself so it has special meaning to me. So I’ve really got a lot of my interests in this. And yes, I did want to have a nautical feel to it. I spent my life on the water. I was a commercial fisherman for 43 years.”

It’s cozy and inviting with the wall behind the bar featuring some wooden wine racks. The big mirror with an etched portrait of The Mad Hatter in the glass is the work of Bruce Longmire. Pine walls are in navy blue and black with the pine ceiling and some of the walls varnished. It’s new but it feels old, and once you walk outside to the patio on the edge of Annapolis Royal’s famous boardwalk, you could slip back in time if you’re not careful. He’s a stone’s throw from the wharf and King’s Theatre in one direction and the famous little lighthouse in the other.

WORLD WINES

Sanford is trying not to duplicate what the NSLC carries. He contacted a wine store in Halifax trying to locate great wines from around the world.

“I asked them where they got their wines and they gave me their contacts,” he said.

Advice Sanford has received has been to keep it simple so you don’t overstock. Just have three nice whites and three nice reds.

He carries that at any given time and rotates selections in and out.

He’s also carrying some local wines like Benjamin Bridge and some Grand Pré.

“We’re just slowly building our wine menu but our food menu is going to remain the same with whatever’s freshest that we can get and as local as we can get,” he said.

You can order up beer or cider as well. Perrier and coffee too. And yes, there’s food – charcuterie boards with meats and cheeses.

“We’re trying to get as much local as we can,” he said of the food. Crackers, jellies, and dips go with it. “We’ve been dealing with Peasant’s Pantry in New Ross and they have some great paté and salami from them. We’re also getting some smoked tenderloin out of Meadowbrook.”

Ciders are from Wolfville and New Ross.

The wine list will keep getting updated, but one day last week it featured an Argentinian Malbec, an Australian Shiraz Cabernet, and Italian Sangiovese. The whites included an Italian Pinot Grigio, an Australian Chardonnay, and an Argentinian Sauvignon Blanc.

Sanford was bringing some new bottles in from Chile and seemed to take great delight in searching the world and sampling new things.

“We’re having great feedback on the wines,” he said. “It’s something they can’t get at the local liquor store as a rule, and that’s what I kind of wanted.”

THE EXPERIENCE

Sanford said people are coming in either before or after concerts and other events at the theatre or happenings around town, enhancing their Annapolis Royal experience. That’s what he was aiming for. Or friends meet for a drink. People come in with laptops and do some work in an inspiring atmosphere. There have even been a few little meetings there.

Sanford’s brother-in-law built the bar and the wine racks and they put it all together. “He left me some tools and said ‘now you’re on your own.’” Sanford laughed at that.

The counter work area behind the bar is stainless steel, as is the fridge, giving the whole place a bit of a rustic, industrial feel. It works. Stainless is all business and the wood is all warmth.

On the patio, it’s all shrubs, flowers, and wood with access to the boardwalk and a view of iconic Granville Ferry that is post-card perfect. He calls it a million-dollar view. Recently he and wife Holly sat outside and watched the Lobster Bash fireworks in Digby.

“People who come here are so surprised because when you’re walking by you don’t even notice it,” he said. “For 13 years we’ve just enjoyed this ourselves.”

The plant life acts as a wind break if there’s more than a light breeze coming off the water and gives patrons just a bit of privacy from the busy foot traffic. And it was observing that foot traffic a few years ago after the boardwalk was revamped that kind of prompted Sanford to go ahead with his dream.

There’s a little lighting at night and a fire pit. In the cooler weather there will be heaters on the patio. The word snug comes to mind.

STARTED

Sanford started in January getting permits and talking to the town, building inspectors, and other officials. In February they started work, and in April he quit fishing.

While the Sanfords did it all themselves, they did received support from AIRO – Annapolis Investments in Rural Opportunity.

“Other than that we’ve financed it ourselves and we’re very pleased with what we’ve done so far,” Sanford said. “It’s still a work in progress of course.”

Mad Hatter Wine Bar is accessed through a sliding barn door at the back of Holly Sanford’s book store Bainton’s Books & Tannery Outlet. And of course access can be gained through the patio as well. And it’s completely accessible.

“It’s been great,” Holly Sanford said of her husband’s new venture. It’s been a lot of work but she’s enjoying it. And she’s not so surprised that the local people are supporting it.

“Our locals are so dedicated to making small businesses work that I’m not that surprised,” she said. “And I already have a good clientele of locals in the front part of the building. They were excited for us.”

She describes it as cozy, laid back, not stuffy.

“I don’t want people thinking a wine bar is some high-end spot that they won’t be comfortable in,” she said. “This is for everyone. This is for people who don’t like wine. This is just a relaxing atmosphere if you just want a coffee. If you just want to come and do some work on your computer. Very laid back.”

Paul Sanford gets the best of both worlds. He gets to own a bar like he always wanted right beside the water he worked on all his life.

“I figured it was time I relaxed,” he said. “Some days it’s not so relaxing but I’m getting a lot of enjoyment out of it.”

The biggest problem with the Mad Hatter Wine Bar is you might not want to leave.

GoOnline: https://www.facebook.com/Mad-Hatter-Wine-Bar-1297829127043209/

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