From CBGB in New York City to the Smilin’ Buddha Cabaret in Vancouver, the best live-music clubs have been located in neighbourhoods that Charles Bukowski would have loved getting liquored up in. Not that long ago, the Balmoral was the kind of room populated by hard-core barflies, as well as other unfortunates who found themselves on the outside of society looking in. But that’s changed following upgrades to the room that have made it a burgeoning haven for Vancouver hipsters.
“We wanted to start promoting shows in Vancouver, and we had our eyes on the Balmoral,” says Jessica Labrie of Sister Surprise Public Relations. “We knew that it had just been renovated and that it would be great for live music. We went there last October, hooked up some dates, and started putting on shows there. Since then, there’s been so much interest-lots of promoters want to get their foot in the door, and bands as well.”
Just up the street from where the now-defunct Buddha stood, the Balmoral Hotel (159 East Hastings) opened in September of 1912. At the time, the hotel targeted a decidedly upscale clientele. The City of Vancouver’s Heritage Conservation Program notes that “This type of high-class establishment would have accommodated commercial businessmen and wealthy travellers to the area, rather than the seasonal workers who lived in less elaborate hotels and lodgings.”
Designed by Parr & Fee, the same architectural firm responsible for Gastown’s Hotel Europe, the Balmoral was noted for its Chicago-style cornice and Edwardian detailing. Its neon sign-one of the most famous in the city-was installed in the ’40s.
As the Hastings and Main area slowly slid from being one of Vancouver’s major retail hubs into the rundown skid road it is today, the Balmoral Hotel pub became just another Downtown Eastside flophouse bar. The recent overhaul-coupled with the fact that Vancouver isn’t exactly flooded with live-music venues-bodes well for the spot’s rebirth.
“The look of the room is great,” Labrie says. “There’s a huge dance floor-700 square feet-that’s all nice hardwood. There’s also a huge bar. The Balmoral has huge potential. Now all we have to do is pack the place and let people know that it’s okay to go there.”