No Reservations: The Painted Ship inspired by a Kitsilano that once served as Vancouver's cultural hub

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      Vancouver music historians will instantly recognize the Painted Ship as one of the city’s first psychedelic bands—as important to the West Coast ’60s counterculture explosion as the Retinal Circus, Kitsilano, and, well, the Georgia Straight. So when Michael Brennan of the Heatley set out to expand west of Main with a new venture where both food and music both get almost equal billing, the name for the spot came easy.

      “I wanted something tying into the neighborhood, but also giving a little a bit of a nod to some of the musical history of those counterculture years in the late ‘60s,” he tells the Straight. “I was looking up different bands from the neighbourhood and came across this article talking about the Seeds of Time and the Painted Ship and all these cool garage bands that were playing West 4th in that era. The name ‘the Painted Ship’ resonated with me, even though it almost sounds like it could be the name of a maritime bar. I liked the connotation of it, and it just sounds nice.”

      As for what to expect from the Painted Ship, located in the former Yagger’s sports bar in long-gentrified Kits? Start with a eye-popping mashup of retro-psych, marine-chic, and West Coast cool. Beyond that, Brennan is happy to elaborate.

      The seed

      “I mostly spend my time on the East Side. And I went in and I kind of just saw the lay of the land of this place, and I thought, ‘The footprint is pretty good.’ I came back to East Van and I was talking to a few of my friends who live in Kitsilano and the pitch was like ‘What do you think of like a Heatley-style music-forward bar eatery? How do you think that would go over in Kitsilano? And every single one of my friends that I spoke to was like, ‘Oh man, we have nothing like that and we need something cool. We need something with a bit more of an East Van kind of flair to it out in our neighborhood because most of us have to travel to the East Side to kind of go for that kind of experience. So that was where the seed was initially planted.”

      The vision

      “I spent a few weekends going out to different spots in the area. It was cool to see the Hollywood sort of kicking off and getting some things going. But, you know, most of the other kinds of bars in the neighborhood were just sort of your standard, rather nondescript pubs, and I thought, ‘We could probably bring something with some cool character and identity and some live music and some DJs and kind of vibrancy back to the neighborhood.’

      One of the things that was an inspiration for me was that my uncle lived in that neighborhood for years. I certainly remember everyone talking about the heyday of Kits, and how they would describe it to me as being this wondrous place full of artists and musicians with all this creative stuff going on.

      I think over the years and certainly with like, the newer generations, nobody sort of sees Kitsilano that way anymore, and I think a lot of people sort of forget that was before any fan was kind of the working class area kits was kind of that was the place to be where all the all the music and things were happening. So that kind of became a part of the inspiration for the idea and the design of the space. So kids are having a little bit of fun with the idea of returning to some of those counterculture roots of the Kitsilano area.”

      The plunge

      “During the COVID lockdown the amount of outreach I got from Heatley patrons was incredible­--messaging me or running into me on the street and saying, ‘You have no idea how important these kinds of places are to us for music, for hanging out, seeing our friends, we’re just, you know, getting out of the house and meeting people from our community.’ And that actually totally reinvigorated me and I thought, ‘You know what, if there’s something that I can do, that I enjoy, it’s create these community minded spaces that hopefully people in neighborhoods can be proud of, and that gives them a sense of, kind of cool and belonging.

      So I said,’ You know what, I want to continue to do this. I want to continue to create spaces that aren’t just about selling a singular experience, but instead bringing in lots of different elements, like good food, good drinks, good music, and having the flow of the room such so it wasn’t one of those rigid, restaurant-style environments where you’re seated at your table, have your food, and then you get up and leave. Instead it’s a little bit more of a free-flowing kind of environment where we’re trying to encourage people to get to know their neighbors

      The hurdles

      “Taking over a space that probably hadn’t been properly renovated in 40 years. There was great assistance from the landlord really stepping up with regards to redoing the electrical and the plumbing and assisting with re-drywalling and covering a lot of the costs of the demo. He was pretty happy to have a new tenant that was ready to do the work and return that space to some former glory of what it used to be because it was pretty beat up. It definitely added a good two or three months of demo and rebuild that I hadn’t expected right out of the gate.`

      On the stereo

      “We’re not a pure music venue­—we have an excellent chef, and we have a great dinner program. So we want to encourage a dining crowd as much as we want to encourage a music-listening crowd. I think our hope is that we’re able to kind of split the night with a nice dinner rush from like six to nine. And then on specific nights we’ll definitely be more music focused—if it’s live music, probably more nine to midnight range and then DJs will kind of go 'til the end of the night. As far as DJs go, you know, we’re pretty open-ended to all kinds of genres. The live music will probably be slightly more scaled down to suit the size of the room, so we likely won’t be going into hard and heavy. But we do have room for a full band.”

      Open for business

      “It’s been great to see such a huge turnout from people in the neighborhood. The overall feedback on the opening weekend was resoundingly ‘The neighborhood has needed this type of space for a really long time.’ People were extremely impressed with the food, which is really exciting for us. And I think we’ve just succeeded in creating a really vibrant space. I was happy to see that it appealed to a really broad demographic—not just towards a younger or an older audience. We got tremendous response from all age groups and, and lots of different varieties of people coming into the space feeling it was a much needed addition.”

      The Painted Ship is located at 2884 West Broadway.

      No Reservations is a column where we look at how your new favourite spot got from the initial idea to opening day.