Proof that location is everything, the Arts Club Backstage Lounge can almost make you glad you haven't quit smoking. With lighting up in bars being illegal in Vancouver, you have to step outside to satisfy your nic fit at the Granville Island venue. That puts you on one of the most beautiful promenades in the city, with a waterfront view of postcard-perfect False Creek.
The Backstage Lounge wasn't always located on Granville Island, one of the city's biggest tourist meccas. It was originally part of the first Arts Club Theatre, which opened in 1964 in a former gospel hall at Seymour and Davie streets.
“Seymour Street had a history of live bands after the [live-theatre] shows,” says long-time Arts Club artistic managing director Bill Millerd. “Rhythm and blues was sort of the standard of the day. It was a great place for musicians to drop in and jam after they had done other gigs.”
In the late-'70s, the Arts Club went looking for new digs, deciding on a warehouse space on Granville Island, which, at the time, was being transformed from industrial lands into a public market as part of a federal-government initiative.
“It was occupied by the Canadian Chain and Forge Company,” Millerd says. “It was used as a storage-and-transfer warehouse from where they manufactured their chains on Granville Island. Barges in False Creek would tie up to the warehouse to be loaded up.”
After a yearlong renovation, the Arts Club Theatre opened on Granville Island in 1979. “The building was open with no pillars to deal with, so it was an ideal space to transform into a theatre,” Miller recalls.
As nods to the past, a lamppost from the Seymour Street Arts Club spot””which was demolished in 1991””is located outside the club on the patio, and beams from the original building are exposed inside the theatre lobby.
Originally, live music wasn't supposed to be on the menu at the Backstage Lounge. “It was designed as a place for artists and the theatre crowd to hang out and socialize and have their own place before and after performances,” says Kelly Golby, who has booked the room since 1999. “It expanded into something more as a way to generate more income.”
Today, the Backstage Lounge is one of the most intimate live-music clubs in the city, hosting both touring (Garaj Mahal and the Cash Brothers are Golby's personal highlight) and Vancouver acts. The warmth of the room””which is all wood and giant windows””isn't the only reason the lounge is popular with local musicians, not to mention unrepentant smokers.
“I've tried to make it so that you aren't put on a bill with four other bands that you don't know,” Golby says. “It's a showcase room where I often only book one act and let them fill the bill with artists that they are familiar with and they know will help promote the show.”