Since the mid-'80s, the Yale has attracted some of the greatest musicians in the genre, earning a reputation for being the best blues venue in western Canada.
"All you have to do is go down and look at the walls-they're covered with people who have played the Yale. It's almost a who's who of the last of the best blues artists," says house-band leader Jack Lavin, who has also been involved with the Yale for 20 years.
The pub hasn't always been a home to the blues, but it has a history nearly as old as the music itself. The building was originally constructed as the Yale Hotel in the mid 1880s as a bunkhouse for CPR workers. One of the few structures that survived the Vancouver fire of 1886, it was quickly refurbished and renamed the Colonial. The name never really caught on, and the bar's name was changed back to the Yale about 20 years later. Through all of its history, through fires and name changes, the Yale remained a pretty normal working-class pub. That changed when the Chicago-born Lavin began to take an interest in the bar.
"There wasn't anything happening in those days. It was a blue-collar, working-man's pub, a pretty regular place. I got involved in it about 1985, when Sam Sorich became the owner; I think he inherited it from his father," Lavin recalls. "He started hiring some of the local bands. I got hired in there and it looked like a real comfortable place to play the blues. I convinced Sam to make it well known as a blues venue."
Soon after, Lavin turned his attention to his fellow blues musicians from the States. "I began to bring some of my friends and acquaintances to play week-long engagements with local musicians backing them," he explains. "This worked out really well, and when the current administration took over from Sam a couple of years later, they had a meeting and asked me to be there. They asked what I thought they should do with it, so I said, 'Don't fix it if it isn't broke. There's a real good following happening here.'"
Since then, the bar has hosted many blues musicians, including Pinetop Perkins, Koko Taylor, Eddy Clearwater, Jimmy Rogers, and Jim Byrnes. Even Jimmy Page has stretched his fingers jamming at the Yale.
"We've had a wonderful representation of world-class blues. Some from Chicago, some from L.A., some from other regions like Louisiana-I could just spout like a fountain for five minutes," Lavin says.