Under and Above Groundlevel…

I find it mildly amusing that my fellow Canuck, Bryan Adams, released a song in 1991 titled ‘Waking Up The Neighbours’. Amusing because you would think that with a title like that Canadians would be likened to rowdy hockey-watching hosers, sucking down a Labatt’s and blasting Rush til all hours. But ask any party promotor in Vancouver you’ll soon find out that even if the public wants to party, the city would rather you didn’t. While mainstream Vancouver likes to think they are more than ‘no fun city’ while City Hall is keeping a pretty good lock down on when and where you can have your hijinx.

For years the ladies of Sweet Soul Burlesque ran underground parties – some in their early headquarters in Babalong as I mentioned in one of my earlier blogs, and later Dollhouse studios. This was our rehearsal space and dance studio, but we established it as a main showcase space for the blossoming West Coast electronic scene. The problem being that ¬†is, if you’re au fait with and a lover of this genre, shows do not happen early in the evening. Usually the fashionable time to arrive to one of these is well after Cinderella’s ride had changed back into Jack-o-lantern bait. So this tends to raise some concerns with local pencil pushers at city hall and noise levels, possible drug consumption and alcohol licence violations and the chance that a large group of people might be having a really good time.

Sweet Soul sass pots in the DH

Sweet Soul sass pots in the DH

The city of Vancouver has faced for years this game of bureaucratic cat-and-mouse with the LCB and local party promoters. Licenses get granted to events only to have the fire marshall show up and shut it down. Fire inspections pass and security is being strict about body count inside and the police come and say there are noise complaints. Events get held on private land and the party gets busted for the owner running a bar. Are you seeing a pattern too? This isn’t to say it’s like this all the time. Just most of it.

I hate to say it, but the more I turn thoughts about this situation in my head the more I realize that this has been a problem in Vancouver for quite a while… Since Prohibition, I’d say. Because we are a port town and the youngest city in North America, we get treated often by our federal government like a small child. And like most small children when they feel they are being put upon, they bully things smaller than them. So the provincial government likes to flex it’s pipes to show us who’s boss; never mind that the contemporary social changes that have taken place since the 1920s – there are rules, and the BC government is going to make sure you follow them dammit! The vicious cycle continues in a downward spiral of shit sliding downhill til it stops in the lap of the average BC citizen.

But where there’s a will there is a way. Back in the 1940s, when Vancouverites were getting back into drinking socially again, there were a number of ‘blind pig’ operations in the city. These had existed since Prohibition, but with it’s withdraw we saw people opting out of dreary beer parlour drinking, to places with slightly more refined surroundings. These were the children of the beer parlour, evolved for the modern crowd. The most spectacular of these was, of course, one of Vancouver’s most beautiful buildings: The Marine Building.


















This art deco construct is the one thing that could possibly ¬†compare to Vancouver’s scenic natural beauty. It’s elevator was the fastest in the city travelling at 700 feet a minute when the others travelled at 150 feet a minute. These beautiful bronzed elevator were manned by young women attired in blue and white sailor uniforms and acted as their pilots. The 18th floor boasted a penthouse apartment, and though amazing the first owners didn’t stay, due to the wife’s fear of heights. They left in 1940s but what was unique for both owners was that every night their elevator operators knocked off work in the evening, making whoever was upstairs sealed in til morning.
















Now, most people would think that this was something of a problem. But the second owner, Mrs Mary Fisher, saw the upside to the situation: if they couldn’t come down til morning, that also meant the cops couldn’t come up til then either. So without anyone to bust the fun, the party could keep going until there simply was no more party to speak of. This caused it to be a much sought after location where one could gaze over the city’s views all night and drink til the place ran dry. But all good things come to an end and the 18th floor ceased to be a residence and now is an operations office for a group of land economists and the elevator is no longer manned by pin up sailor cuties. Yeah, I know: there’s no justice in the world.

But whether you were fox stepping or raving, it would seem that since her inception, the city of Vancouver has always had a desire to have a thriving night scene -whether above the board or not. While places like New York, Las Vegas and Los Angeles never seem to rest, Vancouver seems to be straining towards that, though it keeps tripping over it’s own red tape shoelaces. But it keeps striving in spite of itself. It makes it hard to be a world-class city if we have a curfew.


Little Miss Risk

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