Within minutes of entering North Bay's Fox & Fiddle Pub, Andrea Horwath was the most popular person in the room. And she hadn't even mentioned the HST.
The NDP leader wrapped up a 2,500-kilometre day -- hopscotching from Toronto to Thunder Bay, Sault Ste. Marie and finally North Bay -- pouring pitchers for thirsty patrons Friday evening.
It was a potentially risky move in a less-than-friendly crowd: She's no bartender, and North Bay ain't New Democrat territory. Incumbent Liberal Monique Smith isn't running for re-election so it should be a wide-open race, but the Progressive Conservatives have former mayor Vic Fedeli on their side -- a huge advantage on the name-recognition front.
So before the NDP leader strode into the Fox & Fiddle Friday evening, few people in the pub recognized her name.
That didn't stop the riveted room from erupting in cheers as she made her way behind the bar and started pulling pitchers.
It wasn't the first time Ms. Horwath played server -- but the context was certainly different: She paid her way through McMaster University waiting tables, and while she'd never worked behind the bar before, she spent years watching closely.
“I never poured pitchers, actually,” she confessed afterwards. But “that whole atmosphere, being part of the staff on the other side of the bar, is quite a memory. I spent 10 years of my life doing that work. It was fun.”
Giving away pitchers (paid for by her campaign) is one thing. But then the would-be bartender started talking hydro and tax policy with patrons. That's what won over Val Spivey, Joanne Stokaluk and Darlene Chester.
The three don't follow politics and had never heard of Ms. Horwath before; while they'd seen signs for North Bay NDP candidate Henri Giroux, they were much more familiar with his rivals Catherine Whiting and Mr. Fedeli.
But then the woman behind the bar started engaging them in policy talk -- on hydro, the HST and the ever-present price of gas.
“We wanted to ask her about education policy,” said Ms. Spivey, who teaches elementary school. “Can you tell her to come back?”