Having spent plenty of time in one of Vancouver's oldest neighbourhoods, Sean Heather knows his ghosts. The spirits at the Irish Heather, a Gastown public house he opened in 1997, tend to be of the benign variety. That's not the case, however, at Limerick Junction, located at 315 Carrall Street. Since taking over the former Brickyard a few months back, Heather has had some late nights and early mornings at the spot. And if he's discovered anything, it's that it's not the kind of place you want to be alone.
"Just like the Heather, the place has its fair share of ghosts," contends Heather, co-owner of the newly opened Limerick Junction. "But at this place they are kind of cold. At the Heather, they just kind of bumble around the place and no one pays any attention. Here, it's a lot more eerie. I've been here at 7 in the morning hearing all manner of noises from the hotel above, even though the hotel is empty."
Limerick Junction is located in the Downtown Eastside's Rainier Hotel, which was built in the 1920s and, as noted, currently sits vacant. In the 1960s, the ground floor and basement of the Rainier were opened as a combination watering hole/eatery called Paddy's.
"The bar was upstairs, and downstairs was an Irish-themed restaurant which had things like steak with whiskey sauce and bacon with cabbage," Heather says.
From there, the room began a gradual decline.
"For a while it was called Minto's-if you mention it to older guys down here, they'll go all glassy-eyed and go, 'Ah yes, I remember that place.'"
By the early '90s, 315 Carrall Street was operating as Samoo's, a bar that only Charles Bukowski could have appreciated. Inhabited by drunks and neighbourhood drug addicts, it was therefore a logical place to open a rock club. In 1997, Samoo's became the Brickyard, a room that helped kick-start a live-music revival that continues in the city to this day. Hosting hot-ticket shows by the likes of the Murder City Devils, …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, and At the Drive-In, the Brickyard got Vancouver excited about rock 'n' roll again.
Still, things changed at the start of this decade. With Richard's on Richards opened as a live-music venue, the Brickyard was no longer the venue of choice for underground-oriented promoters. Heather says the place was a mess when he took it over. And as happy as he is with the renovations, he admits that Limerick Junction won't make anyone forget the lounge of Dublin's Fitzwilliam Hotel.
"It's sort of like an ode-to-working-class bar," he says, noting that the stage has been recarpeted, the room scrubbed down from top to bottom, and the furniture replaced. Heather is confident that televised football and rugby matches, Guinness on tap, and live music ("But not the punk/trash metal") will draw patrons to the spot. And if visitors spend enough time at Limerick Junction, they just might see a ghost or two.
"There's a lot of things you hear like doors closing upstairs and footsteps down below," Heather says. "It's weird stuff."