For the Georgia Straight’s 18th annual Best of Vancouver issue, our editorial team has spent months on the lookout for good deeds, weird urban details, and various howlers to highlight. Here’s our contributors’ picks for Best of Vancouver 2013.
Best collection of weird things in drawers
The Beaty Biodiversity Museum opened out at UBC (2212 Main Mall, close to the big bus loop; 604-827-4955) in May 2010, and it was featured in these pages once before for its beyond-spectacular atrium attraction: a suspended 26-metre-long skeleton of a blue whale, the largest creature ever to exist on Earth—wussy dinosaurs included. Once visitors go downstairs, though, below that two-storey glass atrium, they are confronted by 20,000 square feet of exhibits, most of them in parallel rows of wall-to-wall cabinets with sliding doors and pull-out drawers stuffed with two million reptiles, amphibians, birds (and their eggs and nests), fossils, mammals large and small, bones, skulls, insects, shells, and plants from here and far away. All of them are gathered there to represent, in the coolest possible way, how biodiversity developed on this planet. Seeing as how the contents represent UBC’s natural-history collection, it is also a working research facility for the university’s scientists and students. Get an annual membership and lose yourself on drizzly, grey winter weekends. Bring a kid; create a future scientist.
Best surprise opening act
Fans of Oprah Winfrey paid a pretty penny to see the long-time talk-show host in the flesh at a sold-out Rogers Arena on January 24. But although her “live your best life” message was expected, Stedman Graham was not. Oprah’s notoriously private partner made a surprise appearance at the start of the evening—allegedly, even Oprah didn’t know he would be there. (After he introduced her, she greeted him on-stage with a hug and chided him that she’d been trying to reach him all day.) Graham spent a few minutes talking about “the Oprah I know”: a “tremendous force” who, apparently, makes fantastic blueberry pancakes. The audience ate it up. Although Oprah didn’t hand out any new cars that evening, Graham’s appearance gave Vancouver fans a bonus gift with purchase.
Best celebrity visit
Comedian Russell Brand dropped by Insite, Vancouver’s supervised-injection facility on East Hastings Street in August, and he didn’t just do a walkabout. He also held a workshop with clients. Then he invited about 20 people from the in-house Onsite detox centre and the Ranier Women’s Treatment Program to his Messiah Complex show at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, giving them some of the best seats in the house. Brand cultivates a naughty-boy image, but the former drug addict demonstrated messiahlike qualities in our town.
Best demonstration of possibly crazy ambition
When they weren’t busy writing, recording, and releasing the amazing Violent album, the guys in local indie-rock trio We Are the City wrote a feature film. They then travelled to Norway to film it. The resulting movie is, not surprisingly, in Norwegian—a language that no one in the band speaks. The as-yet-untitled film will reportedly be submitted to various festivals once postproduction work is completed—unless we’re being pranked that is, in which case we say, “Well, played, We Are the City. Well played.”
Best improv show for horrible people
Improv Against Humanity
This high jinks–filled interactive improv series put on by the Fictionals troupe is guaranteed to tickle your funny bone. The premise is simple: audience members play a game of Cards Against Humanity, a grotesquely hilarious Mad Libs–style card game. The goal of the game is to come up with the most disturbing answer to a question—and then the Fictionals act out the always inappropriate winner. The show has proved such a hit with local fans that it outgrew its original location at the Drive’s Café Deux Soleils and now takes the stage at the Rio Theatre on the third Wednesday of every month. You can’t have more politically incorrect fun for $6 (in advance; $9 at the door).
Best place to hear live classic rock in the suburbs
Red Robinson, a veteran local broadcaster-turned-guy-they-named-a-venue-after, made his name in the ‘50s, spinning the latest Elvis Presley tunes, we presume. So he might not be a huge fan of the ‘70s- and ‘80s-era acts that frequent Coquitlam’s Red Robinson Show Theatre, located in the Boulevard Casino. The bands that have played or will play there this year include Boz Scaggs, April Wine, Whitesnake, America, Bad Company, Three Dog Night, Glass Tiger, and Bret Michaels from Poison. The venue would have probably scored even more classic-rock bookings if the PNE hadn’t scooped up Foreigner, REO Speedwagon, and Loverboy for its concert series.
Best reason to put on a hazmat suit
Calling it a dirty job might turn out to be the greatest understatement in the history of Vancouver nightlife. When the team behind Waldorf Productions announced it was opening a club in Main Street’s Fox Theatre, the last porn palace in Vancouver, somebody was going to have to go in there and clean up the mess. Straight contributor Michael Mann stepped up and, black light in tow, Instagrammed his way through the Caligula-esque rubble. We’re grateful, but haven’t let him visit the office since.
Best cheerleading boost for B.C. film
It’s been a tough time for the B.C. film industry. Once the third-largest in North America, it has slipped to number four, behind Ontario. Increased competition from other jurisdisctions with competitive tax incentives, a high Canadian dollar, and other factors have been chipping away at Hollywood North. Indifference from the B.C. government prompted the launch of the Save B.C. Film social-media campaign earlier this year. With high rates of unemployment in the industry, things were looking grim. So the Vancouver International Film Festival came to the rescue. VIFF stepped up its game by launching the first-ever B.C. Spotlight series, as part of its Canadian Images program. The selections included a dozen titles, including Chi, a documentary about late, great local entertainment star Babz Chula. And that’s not all: to help nurture domestic talent, two awards have been created: the B.C. Emerging Filmmaker Award and the Best B.C. Film Award.
Best lost concert venue Empire Stadium (Empire Field)
Empire Stadium offered an ideal location in Vancouver for outdoor concerts, hosting Elvis Presley, the Beatles, and Supertramp in their heyday in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, respectively. After its 1993 demolition, while B.C. Place underwent a very expensive facelift in 2010 and 2011, Empire Stadium came back as a $14-million, 27,500-seat temporary venue, dubbed Empire Field, for the Vancouver Whitecaps and B.C. Lions. Bryan Adams and the Beach Boys kicked off the 2010 Fair at the PNE with an outdoor concert there. But the fun came to an end when the park board converted the site to other uses.
Best lost theatre
The Ridge entertained Vancouverites for 62 years at the corner of Arbutus Street and West 16th Avenue. Sure, the lobby was cramped and the bathrooms harked back to the 1950s, but what a glorious viewing experience inside the theatre. The art deco touches, the proscenium stage, and the refurbished seating ensured the Ridge offered a uniquely precious single-screen experience until it closed earlier this year. There’s still the Dunbar, the Park, and the Rio, but too many others, including the Denman and the Dolphin, have disappeared.