Nearly a year to the day that the much-loved Railway Club finally closed its doors, the venue is set to reopen as the Railway Stage & Beer Café. Rescuing the lease after then-owner Steve Silverman failed to sell the business, the Donnelly Group—proprietors of local bars such as the Lamplighter, Library Square, and Tavern—have completed its renovations on the location.
Welcoming the first crowds to its revamped space this evening with a special opening show from the Zolas, the Railway Stage & Beer Café is ready to show off its new look.
“We’ve brightened it up a lot,” Paul Done, PR manager for the Donnelly Group, tells the Straight on a walkthrough of the venue ahead of its first night. “We’ve allowed much better sightlines to the stage, and added a lot of mirrors on the ceiling to provide more light. There’s a lot more tile. We’ve taken down the awnings outside, which has made a big difference to how much sunlight can come in, and we’ve kept the original bar, but taken off the top section that blocked people’s view of the performers.”
“A lot—and yet not very much at all—has been done to it,” adds Damon Holowchak, director of marketing for the Donnelly Group. “The room basically needed a fresh coat of paint and a little bit of love. It used to feel really claustrophobic in here, and that’s changed now. Some of the fundamental parts needed to be fixed—it just hadn’t been touched in so long. But the lion is still here, the rocking horse is still here, and so is the ‘bar parlour’ sign. There are a few things that are going to be the bones and heart of the place. Everything we’ve done is mostly cosmetic, because it’s always been a comfortable space, and we want people to still feel that.”
One aspect that will be different, however, is the sound system.
“It needed a technical upgrade,” Holowchak says. “A few owners came though over the last 20 years and just made the most of it. But in 2017, people want that quality sound. The single biggest investment we made was in the speaker system.”
“It was important to us to keep the stage, but improve the sound and lighting,” Done agrees. “There’s four nights a week of live music scheduled, there will be curated live comedy, and there’s going to be various live-music happy hours. We’re bringing back the Saturday Sessions, which was a regular feature at the Railway Club. We want the acts to be as Vancouver as we can possibly get, and if we get the opportunity to have some bands coming through that are international, then we’ll do our best to have them too. We want this to be the showcase venue where everyone wants to play.”
As well as providing a space for live performance, the Railway Stage & Beer Café is focused on providing exclusive microbrews from local vendors. Living up to the second half of its name, the venue’s very specific menu is set to offer a tightly curated experience.
“We do a lot of craft at our other locations, but the idea is to go crazy with Vancouver beer,” Holowchak says. “We have the classics at most of our bars, but we’re not even going to have those here. The standard has to be hyper-local. We’re going to have four cask-engines so we can pump beer straight from those. Normally, it’s rare to even see one. On top of that, we’re putting in 24 super-Vancouver craft beer taps. We’re going to have a continual rotation to pour from. The idea is that we’re rolling down in the van to places like Bomber Brewing, and saying ‘Hey, what have you got this week? Let’s see if we can put it on.’”
“We want it to be as quirky as the room is,” Done says. “The aim is for people to say, ‘Woah, I haven’t seen that before—I have to try one.’ That’s how it’s going to be differentiated, rather than having a lot of lines. Things like Fat Tug are around all year, but with the 24 taps here, we want it to be that every time you come in, there’s different beer. It’s like coming to see a live show—every time you turn up, it’s unique.”
With plans in the works to scoop up some of the downtown lunch crowd and offer certain days without performers, the Railway Stage & Beer Café might not be a full-time live venue, but it will retain elements of its predecessor’s original scheduling and character—and will be very different from the Donnelly Group’s other venues.
“We flipped the script on this,” Holowchak says. “The beer is different, and the music is different. We support live music at some of our venues, but nothing on this scale.”
Check out the images below for a first look at the new location:
The Railway Stage & Beer Café opens tonight (April 5) with a headline show from the Zolas. Admission is free.
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