I can hear the rain washing the city down outside. It’s a familiar sound to Vancouver, and the one lullaby I can always count on to whisper me to sleep. I’ve missed it. My travels the past nine weeks have tossed my body back and forth over continental USA, to Australia, over to Ireland and back to Vancouver. Forever either burning road miles or else spending time in airports so often that my overactive imagination has begun to embroider on them being spaceports, as if I’m living some Anne McCaffery-meets-Alan Dean Foster space opera. I think it’s a coping mechanism that your body comes up with when you spend a great deal of time hanging above the planet at 30,000 feet and hurtling through narrow corridors of airspace hither and thither. At this point, my internal clock has just given up on me which makes me some kind of Time Lord. I think.
But now back in my snug Burrow in East Vancouver, I’m reshifting all of my internal gears in said clock from my planetary tango dance, and I’m settling in again. Part of that means listening to rain and the meditation from quiet places it brings. It’s just as well that I find it peaceful – because living in a coastal rainforest you tend to get a lot of it. But as the clouds let their weepy passions loose on our city, rather than rolling our eyes and trying to remember where we last left our umbrellas, I enjoy it for other reasons, such as the incidental art it brings. When the rain washes down over Vancouver, her streets becomes black and slick, shiny and hypersexual. Where dry drab streets offer no magic, when the rain soaks them, they become bright and spangled, reflecting the neon signs and headlights.
It’s this natural state that we have where the rain cascades down and gives us the double layer of beauty beyond that of the mountains and the ocean. It can take a a regular night walking through Chinatown and turn it into a scene from a Bladerunner cyberpunk fantasy. It can make the quietest of nights on Granville street lively. It can give an eerie fae quality to a wet walk around the seawall by False Creek. And to think that we once in Vancouver had some of the best neon in the world. This was prior to local pearl-clutchers rallying to have the neon taken down due to the way it made Vancouver ‘ugly’. But thankfully there are some bastions left of those glory days when roaming Terminal City would make you feel like you are prowling in a living pulp novel.
The first of these is The Penthouse Nightclub. Owned and operated by the same family that bought that land in 1941, it is one of my two favourite Vancouver institutions for three reasons: it’s one of the few remaining businesses in Vancouver that has enjoyed success as the same business it was when it opened it’s doors to today. It also has a wonderful sign that adds to Vancouver’s colour and charm, especially on rainy nights. As well, I’m partial to it because I’ve performed on that stage in every capacity from pole jockey to sideshow magics. When The Penthouse comes alive at night, that old girl can smile into the glass and concrete around her with all the surety of a celebrated grande dame of the theatre grinning tolerantly at awkward starlets around her.
Another one of these that hits all three of these marks (OG business, great front lights, and I’ve stripped on the stage) is the Rio Theatre. It’s close to my heart resting at the cross streets of Commercial Drive and Broadway. Built in the late 30s she has dodged the wrecking ball that has befallen almost every other single-screen theatre in Vancouver. Like our own East Van phoenix, she’s dusted the ashes off of herself after the management’s tangle with the LCLB in procuring the right to serve alcohol and show movies, she’s ushered in a high volume of amazing live shows, and she continues to show and make room for independent cinema. She’s come a long way from those days of men and women in fashionable hats and coats gathering under her awning to see the silver screen stars.
However, like all of us, sometimes we don’t take care of ourselves the way we should. We get preoccupied and we let our looks go. And given that Vancouver is somewhat quick to point a finger and cry ‘wolf’ in the name of so-called eyesores, I’d prefer it not to be given a chance with a place like the Rio Theatre. This place is a safe haven and sacred space for so many artists, that giving her a little love back in return is a beautiful thing. After the long struggle with the LCLB, it dug a deep and nasty hole into the Rio’s pockets, which is shameful of the government doing this to a small business. The hit that the theatre took the old girl is struggling to keep up her appearance and they need to repair their iconic neon sign.
The front awning isn’t quite the same without the cheery art deco lights is sheds over Commercial and Broadway, but the folks at the Rio are doing an Indiegogo campaign to help raise the funds to restore her. While restorations can easily accept any and all money tossed it’s way, the breakdown they have on their profile shows where all the pennies go, so you KNOW every cent breathes fresh light and life into an East Vancouver institution.
There are photos on the walls of both of the buildings from another time. They depict happy faces, creating warmth, joy and wonderful memories. In both The Penthouse and The Rio these are tokens of nostalgia where we sit and sigh and think wistfully about what it was to bear witness to those events. I like to think that when those halls are empty and no human heartbeat is in those places that old memories come alive, and that by continuing to perform and keep these places open as gathering places for people, that we can generate a similar sentimental longing for what we have now.
If you’d like to donate to the Light Up The Rio click here!
Little Miss Risk