If Doolin’s Irish Pub, in the heart of the Granville Street entertainment zone, is proof of anything, it’s that you don’t have to travel across the Atlantic to feel like you’re in Dublin’s Temple Bar district. Before Doolin’s opened at 654 Nelson Street in 2002, the site went through a number of transformations. The building that houses the pub was constructed in 1912 as the classy Barron Hotel. Approximately 10 years later, it changed to the Hotel Belmont. Known simply as the Ballroom, the room that now houses Doolin’s had an internal staircase down to the basement. Eventually, when the Hotel Belmont changed to the Nelson Place Hotel, the upstairs room became known as the Nelson Beer Parlor, while the downstairs was a strip bar called Champagne Charlie’s.
Blaine Culling, the current owner of Doolin’s, had faith in the location early on. “I was a great believer in Granville Street in the early years before it became the entertainment district,” he says. “I felt that we could convert the strip bar into a fun place and we could also convert the beer parlour into a classy, fun lounge.”
In the mid ’90s, Champagne Charlie’s was turned into a rock ’n’ roll–oriented American bar named Fred’s Uptown Tavern. Soon after, the Nelson Beer Parlour became the Babalu Tapas Lounge, which booked acts such as throwback-pop crooner Michael Bublé. Culling said he believes Babalu aided the singer in his decision to become a musician: “I think it confirmed the idea that he wanted to be an entertainer,” he says. “I think it gave him a good opportunity to continue his career with a good launching pad.”
In October 2001, a kitchen fire forced the entire structure to be redone. Fred’s became the Cellar and Babalu became Doolin’s. As happy as he is with his Irish-themed pub, Culling recalls Babalu with fondness. “A lot of business people in downtown Vancouver really enjoyed it,” he says. “I think it’s something that’s really missing in today’s marketplace. We probably should have remade it but we didn’t, so we may do another Babalu somewhere else.”