On one Sunday each month, Thunder Bay pub Red Lion Smokehouse transforms into a yoga studio for an intriguing beer-meets-fitness event, Pints & Poses.
Yoga is good. Beer is good. Put the two together and you have Pints & Poses, an hour-long Sunday morning yoga practice followed by a craft beer tasting. Marlo Ellis, a Thunder Bay fitness instructor who runs healthy lifestyle events through her company The Body Loft, came up with the idea when she was chatting with West Coast colleagues who offer similar events in craft breweries.
It’s a natural fit for Thunder Bay, she says – the city loves its beer and, increasingly, it loves its yoga events as well (you can go on a yoga-and-sailing day trip, for example, or a yoga-hike-botany tour to a Lake Superior bay). And the yoga-beer combo is trending elsewhere too: after all, yogawear giant Lululemon launched its own custom brew, Curiosity Lager, last summer, and Yoga Journal recently published an article touting the antioxidant health benefits of beer. “It’s a way to tie in the idea of fitness and fun,” Ellis says. “It’s just a funky, cool idea and it perhaps makes yoga a little more accessible and social for people who haven’t tried it before.”
Held about every six weeks at Red Lion Smokehouse, a popular English-style bar in the city’s north end, Pints & Poses ($35) was an instant hit. Yoga in a pub may seem a little incongruous at first, but The Red Lion, with its big windows, crisp white walls and high ceilings, transforms remarkably well into a yoga studio.
The day I visit, a cleaning crew has rendered the space immaculate after Saturday night’s last call, and the bright red chairs and tables have been stacked at the back, giving the 30 or so participants plenty of space to unroll our mats onto the wood-plank floor. We’re all a little giddy with the novelty of it all, but we soon settle into the yoga practice under the expert guidance of local yoga instructor Maureen Mauro. Designed as an all-levels class, it works for newbies and veterans alike, and there’s a mix of men, women and ages. We go through a litany of poses – up dog, down dog, warrior, plank – all with glasses on the bar, lined up tidily and tantalizingly in our peripheral vision.
When the sun is officially over the yardarm at noon, the mats go away, the buzz of conversation swells and we gather at the bar. The husband-and-wife team of John Murray and Alexandra Bono, who were yoga-ing right along with us, are now pouring five different beers, all from Sawdust City Brewing Co., a craft brewery in Gravenhurst, Ont. “This is a new line of beer for Thunder Bay,” Bono says. “We like to bring in beer that people haven’t tried before and we often go directly to the breweries to get it.” The Red Lion features more than 100 craft beers from all over Canada, the United States and Britain.
Murray is a Thunder Bay native and a trained chef, and the couple opened The Red Lion along with John’s cousin Dave Murray, about a year ago. It has quickly become a local favourite for its fun vibe, extensive beer list, and house-smoked food. The couple returned to the city after living in London, England for nearly a decade, where John honed his skills at famous eateries Formans and The Flying Pig. John Murray, who’s serving homemade hummus and chips to soak up the beer, pauses to give a quick kitchen tour. There’s a smoker, of course, to create their deliciously tender and flavorful smoked fish, cheese and meat dishes, and a Josper grill (a kind of indoor charcoal barbeque and one of only three in Canada), which infuses the gastropub fare with a smoky finish.
And what do they think of Pints & Poses? Alexandra Bono grins. “It’s my favourite Sunday of the month!” she says.
Red Lion Smokehouse
28 Cumberland St. South (entrance on Park Ave.), 807-268-0045