Sandwiches served with a side of fine art

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Lounge and gallery opens on Perron Street

Word on Perron Street is there a new cat in town.

Gracie Jane Genereux, a long-time mixed media artist, opened Gracie Jane’s Art Gallery and Lounge in downtown St. Albert earlier this month. Following a successful grand opening ceremony last weekend, the Gazette decided to check out what all the fuss was about.

As I enter the building located next to the Sturgeon River, the soft, slow notes of blues hit my ears. They are emanating from a flat screen – the only thing mounted to the wall that does not sparkle or dance in the afternoon light.

I’m shown to a seat, while Genereux serves a pair of customers who just arrived. While I wait, I try to take in the body of bedazzled work that decorates every nook and cranny of the rather spacious bar.

To my right sit 99 bottles of wine (on the wall, of course), each depicting a different celebrity. From my seat I can identify a young Queen Elizabeth and Marilyn Monroe, but there are many others – from Einstein to Clint Eastwood to Mick Jagger.

It’s not hard to see where Genereux draws her inspiration. Her favourite subject matter is pop culture, but she also enjoys painting religious icons, regardless of denomination. You’ll also spot the scenes of music and dance, and the occasional zebra print or martini glass.

Below the rows of bottles, is a special piece, a bejeweled wine bar painted with the likenesses of her former patrons and friends.

“I’ve got Wendy, Eleanor. Here’s Sheila Tequila I called her because she buys a round of tequila for everybody when she comes in,” said Genereux.

The self-taught artist has always tended bar in order to support her art and her family.

“Being an artist, it’s hard to survive. That was my dream as a child, to be an artist, but I had to pay my bills. That’s why I got into the cocktail business when I was 18,” explained Genereux, who decided to play hooky from art school at SAIT in order to hitchhike to San Francisco after high school to see Jefferson Airplane.

“I was always mad at myself for never going to art school. So what I did was take every course and practiced every day, even though I didn’t do anything with it at the time,” she said,

She stayed in the cocktail business for a number of years, taking art classes on the side, before opening Gracie Jane’s Wearable Art Store in the late ’70s.

Unfortunately, she was forced to close her business when GST was implemented. “People didn’t need wearable art, they needed food,” she explained.

It has long been Genereux’s dream to combine both passions – bartending and art – into a single enterprise.

After a recent bout with cancer, which she won, Genereux decided to revisit that idea. “I went back looking for a job in hotels and lounges,” she said, “but not many are going to hire a 65-year-old. So I thought ‘To heck with them, I’ll start my own.’ ”

She began to search for a location for her gallery/lounge in Edmonton, but didn’t have much luck finding a suitable location along posh 124 Street or up-and-coming 118 Avenue, so she broadened her search to include St. Albert.

In the past, Genereux has been commissioned to paint hockey legends Wayne Gretsky, Gordie Howe and Mark Messier, as well three Alberta premiers, Peter Loughheed, Don Getty and Ralph Klein.

Her gallery and lounge puts 250 works of art on display – an accumulation of her life’s work – as well as her bar skills.

While the food menu is simple – there will be one featured meal per day, something along the lines of chili, a Reuben or pulled pork – her drink menu is extensive.

As is the talent you will witness as you push through the doors.

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Michelle Ferguson