- by Dennis Thompsett

Just looking at this elegant old house on the corner of 16th Street and 7th Avenue East gives you no idea why it was packed most weeknights and mobbed on the weekends.

But this was Rat's. The most notorious spot on the East Hill.

Even back in the day people from other parts of town hadn't heard of Rat's. It was our place.  A gathering spot for working class teens from the bad boy end of the East Hill.

There truly was magic in that place. Brewed up by  a raging storm of teenage hormones,  hard-driving rock and roll, the frenetic plinking of pinball paddles, and the shrill sound of teenage voices trying to get attention. Because Rat's was also a news clearing house for our teenage working class world. Who went to jail. Who's getting out. Who pulled this petty crime. Who got caught for that one. Which girl ran away from home. Which one got pregnant. Who dropped out of high school and who was hiring high school drop-outs.

If you wanted to keep up, you had to go to Rat's.

There was a little restaurant inside - Simon's BBQ, I think. There wasn't much to it really. 3 or 4 booths, a couple of pinball machines and a big juke box. A counter to order burgers and chicken on a bun,  a shelf of cigarettes behind the counter and a rack of comic books out front.

It was called Rat's, because, if you caused any trouble,  the tough, gold toothed owner, Johnny Simons, would call the cops and rat you out.

And he earned that  name, too. There were police cars lurking  there pretty well every night along with all the hot cars and motorcycles that were parked nearby.

Big trees surrounded  it so the front yard was always dark and the 20 or 30 escaped cons, ex-cons and soon to be cons as well as many never cons, all friends and neighbours, , with their leather jackets and silly greased up hair were usually milling around down there. It must have  always seemed   very dangerous indeed.

That number was added to often when anyone got too stroppy and Mrs. Simons swept you out the place  with her broom, ass- over- teakettle down the stairs to join the rest of us down there in the darkness.

Good  girls felt deliciously wicked just nervously walking in to pick up food or cigarettes. But better girls wouldn't dream of being anywhere else. The flower of East Hillager womanhood with their ridiculous hair-sprayed do's, too much make up and the sexiest dress they'd been able to sneak out of the house i

They  took over the booths and every  hard smokin, hard talkin, hard Pinball playin Fonzie was in there trying  to impress them.

In the '50's and the '60's Rat's had a real aura of dashing, dangerous  magic.

But at some point that dashing, dangerous Rat's glow flickered and went out, taking the magic with it. Then it became Simons BBQ again. Then a hair salon. Now it's an office building.

The same thing, I guess,  that happened to all of us who were dashing, dangerous teens back then.

Photo: Sandra Mitchell-Smart


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