PERFECT AND/OR PECULIAR POLAR PUB PURCHASE? Landmark Svalbar put up for sale, gets global attention as the site of a recent polar bear ‘pub crawl’

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Among its many colorful tidbits of the pub’s history is a polar bear really did wander right up to its windows this past winter – and that’s being used as a selling point, for a potential buyer with the right mentality.

Of course, there is the not-so-small factor that business lately has been decimated lately by the COVID-19 pandemic, but that isn’t showing in any of the now-gone-viral global media coverage announcing the landmark Svalbar establishment is now up for sale.

That “predatory” marketing pitch, captured rather dramatically in the video to the right by Marie Lørup Stenshøj when the bear wandered past the pub in the early morning hours last Dec. 26, is certainly enticing the media and causal readers – as well as some perspective bidders apparently responding to the coverage.

But while the media generally highlight the asking price of a “cool one million Euros,” in reality the price tag will be significantly more since it doesn’t include inventory and leases – and even the buyer is only acquiring the “rights” to the pub, so to speak, not the actual building and property.

The price tag isn’t the only myth getting widespread attention. The Daily Mail of London, in one of the more seriously moronic bits of reporting, states “the bar is on a route regularly patrolled by some of the 3,000 polar bears who call the Arctic islands home.” (For those who don’t understand why there’s “so much wrong” with that, there’s not even close to 3,000 polar bears in Svalbard despite the oft-repeated fib and they most definite don’t regularly patrol any “route” near Longyearbyen.)

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Svalbar, in addition to being a popular gastropub in Longyearbyen, also regularly hosts concerts and sports viewing events. Photo courtesy of Svalbar.

But the extraordinarily rare – perhaps unique – instance of the bear wandering past the pub during a trek through the center of town at around 5 a.m. is certainly every bit as dramatic as the photos and videos suggest.

“The polar bear came to the bar last year, during the night,” John-Einar Lockhart, the pub’s current owner, told the U.K. media publication Metro. “He walked past the bar and looked in the window. It was a cold night and he was probably looking for a warm place to have something to eat. He could smell the food. It was lucky that we were closed.”

While the timing of the sale isn’t ideal due to the pandemic, Lockhart told Svalbardposten the economic calamities resulting from it aren’t why Svalbar is being sold.

“We originally planned to sell in January or February and were a little delayed, and then the coronavirus crisis came and we put it on ice,” he told the newspaper.

 

Svalbar’s official sale announcement acknowledges “the COVID-19 situation has affected Svalbard through a stop in tourism. The pub as remained open throughout the pandemic and served the local population. This has led to a temporary reduction in revenue, but it is expected to normalize with resuming tourism.”

According to the sales pitch the pub:

• Has a sublease of 10 years with options for extensions through Svalbard Adventures Group, Lockhart’s parent company that owns numerous local tourism-related businesses.

• Is profitable business with an average 10 percent EBITDA margin the last four years with full outsourcing of the running of the pub.

• “Has delivered positive results year on year in a growing market. Revenue is split equally between tourists and locals. The growth forecast for the pub remains as tourism is expected to grow substantially.”

The pub and neighboring Svalbard Hotell were the only businesses owned by the company open during the first months of the pandemic, but the hotel lost 99 percent of business in April and laid off 85 percent of employees. While Svalbard Adventures Group earned a profit of about six million kroner in 2019, their forecasts as of late spring were for a loss of 13 million kroner this year.

But despite the potential pitfalls, there was no shortage of online commentary from those best described as non-serious prospectives about purchasing Svalbar. Among the “best” (as in, both really and sarcastically):

• “Wait, so I get to spend my days reading, studying, skiing and every evening is spent in a nice bar, pouring drinks, chatting to interesting people by a nice large fire? And I’m far far far away from crazy woke people? Can I sign up please?”

• “How do you get your drunk arse home or to your hotel without becoming bear food? If you get drunk and obnoxious, does the bouncer throw you out even if a bear is looking through the window? So many questions.”

• “I worked as a bartender there a while back. One night a polar bear walked in, sat at the bar and ordered a beer. ‘That’ll be 75 kroner,’ I told the bear. He sat and sipped at the beer. After a couple of minutes I remarked to him, ‘Y’know, we don’t get many polar bears in here.’ The bear looked up from his beer and said, ‘Yeah, and at these prices, you’re not likely to see many more.'” (Aside from being a mediocre joke, if the guy really did work here the high-price punchline is pretty lame given how alcohol prices here are among of the few relatively “inexpensive” items compared to other stuff and the mainland.)

• “100 days of darkness and freezing temperatures in the winter also means 100 days of 24 hours light and delightful summer temperatures.”

• “Nearly everyone speaks English in Svalbard” (follow-up: “…and better than most in New York City…or Detroit/Miami”).

• “is it just me or does the place look like some kind of snowflake yippy heaven – count me out – got enough of this crap everywhere else”

• “I’m sure a lot of booze is consumed in that Gawd forsaken place.