Head to the back bar at the Bourbon, and you'll find a mostly covered-up tile floor inlaid with one of the most controversial symbols in western society.
"There's a strange mosaic where some of the floor has come up," Paul Roberts, the bar's current co-owner, says. "There's a bunch of swastikas. It's kind of weird–you can see parts of it under the dishwasher. That just shows how old the place is. It was there before that symbol became something bad."
Dating back to 8,000 BC, the swastika is considered sacred by Hindus and Buddhists, among others. As minor sociologists know, the symbol is meant to denote peace and good luck, which is why it was incorporated into structures around Vancouver in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The motif was likely there at 50 West Cordova Street when the building opened in 1893 as the Manitoba Hotel.
"It was built to accommodate loggers," Roberts notes. "The inside is all old-growth fir with big columns. The wood was logged on the North Shore and then floated over."
Loggers and other hotel residents finally got a watering hole to stagger downstairs to when the Manitoba Pub opened in 1936, with ladies and escorts required to enter through one entrance, and men through another. In 1977, the pub's name was changed to 50 Bourbon Street.
"In the mid-'80s it became a strip bar," Roberts says. "And somewhere along the line the hotel name was changed to the Hildon, which is what it is today."
By 1988, 50 Bourbon was again a Downtown Eastside pub, becoming a favourite hangout of Lollapalooza types in the early '90s. When Roberts took over a year ago, it had become something of a frat-boy magnet, packed on the weekends with well-liquored loogans. Today, the room is known as the Bourbon, and is gaining a reputation as one of the most promising live-music venues in the city.
"It was a pretty rough place, so we spent the better part of a year changing how things are done here," Roberts says. "We've been doing live music since September, and it's been going fantastic. It's a good, fun, safe place now. I'm open to doing live music seven nights a week. It's just a matter of getting the right bands in; I'm still being fairly picky."