This story came to my attention over the weekend via Facebook. It seems that Van-‘No-fun’-couver is still living up to its anti-arts image.
Zak Pashak, a successful live music entrepreneur who is originally from Calgary, overhauled a formerly dingy hotel bar on Vancouver’s east side and transformed the space into a welcoming, quality, concert venue.
As NowPublic previously reported, The Biltmore Cabaret has quickly become one of the city’s best live music venues but it now being pressured to close after city inspectors have, seemingly unfairly, singled out the bar for minor violations.
Could this be the death of yet another Vancouver venue? At this rate of attrition, there will soon be few (if any) places to see live music, beyond arena rock shows and Live Nation-branded ballrooms.
If you live in the Vancouver area and are a supporter of independent, local music and culture, you can keep up to date on this issue by joining the Biltmore’s Facebook group.
The following is an ‘Open Letter to Vancouver City Councillors’ from Zak Pashak, the owner and manager of the Biltmore:
I know you are busy and I want to thank you for reading this. I am a young business person from Calgary who has recently opened a bar in Vancouver. In Calgary I run a venue called ‘Broken City’ that has been voted best live music venue each of the 4 years it has been open. We host local and touring rock bands for the most part. We also host Calgary’s longest running jazz jam and various community events, fundraisers and even political debates. I also run a music festival called Sled Island.
My mother lives in Vancouver when she is not in Calgary running the magazine Alberta Views (a political magazine). My father was an MLA in Alberta, and I am also politically active in Calgary. My bar in Calgary is frequented by a few of our city councillors and I have hosted events for them.
When I used to visit Vancouver people would complain that there were no good venues that supported the local arts community (the Railway and Media clubs being notable exceptions). One year ago an opportunity to do something here opened up for me.
I took the old bar in the basement of the Biltmore (Kingsway and 12th) – this was formerly a rough place- and did a small yet expensive non-structural renovation, including expanding the existing stage and installing a top of the line sound system. We hire local staff and bands and have already started to make some waves in Vancouver.
We were recently shut down on a technicality regarding the expansion of our stage. This came about after we had been shut down due to going over our posted capacity. Our posted capacity is punitively low- but we should not have gone over. Getting shut down, however, seems to be not in keeping with normal practices. Normally a fine is issued unless people are at risk (from my understanding). We are currently closed because the fire inspector then took issue with the stage being larger that it was on the drawings he had. That same inspector told us we would not likely get shut down again- but then came in at 4pm the night of a show to tell us we had to close. He then told us that if we got a drawing we could open the next day. We got the drawing and were then told we had to wait for them to process things for a few more days. Today I have learned that things have now been pushed over to a building inspector and it will take at least 10 more days. Now that I am in this process I know it could keep getting passed around endlessly. It is amazing how suddenly effective municipal employees can be when they are trying to make things hard for people/small businesses. This is not meant to be a threat- but my consultant is recommending that I initiate legal action. I would rather avoid this.
Apparently our liquor inspector (a seemly misinformed and unsupervised man named Edward) stated to one of my employees that he wanted to see the club shut down permanently. All of what we are being put through seems excessive and punitive. It is also costing me a lot of money. Bar owners are people too- at least some of us are.
There is a rumor that the Granville Entertainment Group is paying off civil servants. I don’t know if this is true- but that it is held to be true is troubling enough.
There are bars in Vancouver that have been in business operating as brothels for years. There are bars that lock the front doors and serve drinks until 7am. There is a bar that serves drinks all night, has no license, and deals with the city of Vancouver certain issues- and is still in operation. There are situations out there that could actually put people in harm’s way. In Vancouver I have been to filthy restaurants with public bathrooms in the kitchen. There is also a MASSIVE drug problem in the city. The Biltmore has been closed for weeks because of a technicality with our stage- an area not even open to the public. The amount of heat being put on us is completely out of scale. We are a well run, well intending bar that wants to do good things here in Vancouver and we are following the rules.
Our stage was approved in our initial inspection. It is true- we made non-structural changes and we increased the size of the stage, but it was approved already. It is under two feet high and from what I know about building codes it should not require a permit. Yet here we are having the book thrown at us.
I believe everything we have done is legal, other than going over capacity. We have paid piles of money in taxes. I feel we are being treated unfairly and I am writing to ask for your help. If you would be willing to ask a couple of questions to find out why this is happening to us it would be very helpful and very much appreciated.