The Commodore is a Vancouver landmark. No matter how old you are or how long you have lived here, the chances are that you have been to a concert, gone to an event or even worked at the grand old Lady of Granville Street.
She used to be one of many fantastic music venues in Vancouver- remember The Town Pump, The Cave, or Babalu’s? – but now she stands as a lone beacon in the city calling new artists and new music lovers.
As she approaches her 90th birthday, we thought we would take a look in the archives and dig up a few things you may not know about this lady’s shady history.
1. It was not always a music venue
The Commodore Cafe opened at 868 Granville Street in 1924. It was home to a modest restaurant on the main floor that consisted of multiple booths and a gramophone for background music.
2. Funded by American beer drinkers
The construction of the Commodore Cabaret, on the site of the cafe, was bankrolled by George Reifel. The Reifel family owned many breweries in Vancouver and made huge profits during the time of prohibition in the U.S.
3. Modelled on the British
The room was modeled on the glamorous British Art-Deco ballrooms popular at the time but Vancouver architect H.H.Gillingham, who drew up the plans, died just after they were finished. His son Bruce Gillingham was left to complete the venue and bring his father’s vision to fruition.
4. Growing City
When the Commodore Cabaret opened on December 3rd, 1930, two-thirds of the city was still comprised of dirt and gravel roads.
5. Illicit drinking den
In an age when liquor licenses did not exist you were not allowed to drink in any public setting, not even a restaurant or dinner club. However, because of its long staircase, the Commodore was the one place where you could get away with drinking with friends.
The police ‘dry squad’ would turn up for a raid and the doorman would press a signal buzzer. This alerted the staff upstairs, and they would signal the band to play “Roll Out The Barrell” which was the club goers cue to hide their booze.
By the time the police made their way into the dining room, all of the alcohol had been hidden. There is no evidence to suggest the cops found it unusual that every time they conducted a raid, the band was playing the same song.
6. The only place to hold a stranger
It became the only place in town to hold someone near to you in public and remain respectable. The local beer parlors still had their separate entrances for women and men, and it was not socially acceptable to be close to someone of the opposite sex.
7. Kept Afloat With Christmas Parties
Until the 1960’s, the Commodore was more of a function hall that a music venue. Although there was a house band and many musical acts played there over this thirty year period, it was kept afloat, in part, by Christmas parties, wedding receptions, and other functions.
8. Significant Changes
The name changed from the Commodore Cabaret to the Commodore Ballroom in 1969 when Drew Burns bought the lease, renovated the entire venue, and secured a liquor license.
9. The Beginning Of Punk
The week before Elvis Presley died in 1977, The Ramones played their fist Vancouver gig to the Commodores first group of punk fans. The 600 strong audience were witnessing only Vancouver’s second gig; the first having occurred a week before.
When The Ramones returned in January 1979 the Commodore was packed to the gills, the 1,000 patron limit reached while plenty of other fans waited outside in the hope of seeing or hearing their heroes.
10. Hardcore Concertgoers
The same month Bo Diddley was booed off stage when, during his special guest, warm up spot artist, he sang “Who Do You Love?” and the crowd loudly cheered “The Clash” (who were the main event) and pelted him with debris until he left the stage.
11. A mecca for unknown bands
When the then unknown Irish band U2 played in 1981 they didn’t have enough songs to play a full set and had to repeat some of their material in the encore.
Other bands to have rocked the stage during this time include; Kiss, David Bowie, Devo, The Police, Tom Petty, Blondie and Patti Smith.
12. A one of a kind
The Commodore is the only open floor venue of its kind with a 1,000 ticket capacity in North America, and when it closed for three years between 1996 and 1999 there was nowhere for up and coming bands to play larger gigs.
13. Still hosting newbies
Since reopening it has hosted promising new acts like Franz Ferdinand, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, and the Shins
14. An award winner
In 2011 Billboard Magazine named The Commodore the ‘Most Influential Club in Canada’ and one of the ‘Top 10 Most Influential Clubs in North America.