Overnight fire at downtown bar leads to $25,000 in damages

A Kingston Fire & Rescue vehicle sits in front of the Merchant Tap House on lower Princess Street on the morning of Thursday, Jan. 18, 2024, following a fire that broke out in the building adjacent to the bar and restaurant in the early morning hours. Photo by Daniel Tastard-Homer/Kingstonist.

Well before the sun rose on Thursday, Jan. 18, 2024, crews with Kingston Fire & Rescue were called into action when a fire broke out at a downtown bar in the early morning hours.

At approximately 3:38 a.m., firefighters responded to reports of a fire at The Merchant Tap House on lower Princess Street (just east of Ontario Street). Witnesses reported visible flames at the building that stands adjacent to the actual bar and restaurant, which is used by The Merchant, but not an area of the bar open to the public, the local fire department said in response to Kingstonist inquiries. Baja Craft Kitchen also operates out of the building.

In fact, smoke and flames coming from the building were visible at the on the City of Kingston Springer Market Square webcam, which overlooks the market square facing eastward. While The Merchant Tap House and the adjacent building are not visible from the camera, the bright orange of the flames, dark grey of the smoke, and vibrant blue-white of Kingston Fire & Rescue’s work lights could all be seen from the webcam over the course of half an hour. In that amount of time, firefighters had knocked down the blaze.

“Crews were on scene for three hours,” Kingston Fire & Rescue relayed in an email to Kingstonist.

“Fire prevention is investigating, and the Electrical Safety Authority has been contacted to review the area of origin, however, at this time cause has not been determined.”

This is the second fire within a week that has seen the provincial electrical safety regulation agency called in to assist with an investigation. The Electrical Safety Authority (ESA) was also called in by Kingston Fire & Rescue following an apartment fire on Gardiners Road, which occurred on Saturday, Jan. 13, 2024.

However, the estimated cost of damages from the fire at The Merchant were far less than the $165,000 in estimated damages caused by the apartment fire – Kingston Fire & Rescue said the cost of damages due to The Merchant Tap House fire were estimated at $25,000. The local fire department reported that there were no injuries as a result of the incident, nor were any residents displaced.

Kingston Fire & Rescue vehicles on scene around 9 a.m. at The Merchant Tap House and Baja Craft Kitchen, both of which were taped off by firefighters following the fire. Submitted photo.

Kingston Fire & Rescue closed off the lower section of Princess Street while addressing the fire, and during the subsequent investigation. A number of residents reported seeing a large firefighter presence at the downtown bar during the morning commute later in the day. The section of Princess Street was reopened as of 9:15 a.m.

While Kingston Fire & Rescue was able to say that the fire did not damage The Merchant Tap House itself, the fire department could not say whether the bar and restaurant would be open for business as usual the same day the fire broke out.

In response to Kingstonist inquiries, Dave McNamara, owner of The Merchant and Baja, said that neither restaurant was damaged by the fire. Baja Craft Kitchen will be open for business as usual at 5 p.m. today, Thursday, Jan. 18, 2024. However, despite the situation posing no danger to anyone, The Merchant Tap House will remain closed tonight pending completion of the investigation into the fire. Management plan to reopen The Merchant for 5 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 19, 2024.

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