Cory Weeds writes in re: “No Fun Town”, how liquor and licensing laws affect venues,… or do they?

3497008Hello, good morning, and welcome to the Saturday Morning News Post!

Readers, thank you all for the comments on last weeks SMNP, I would’ve replied to some of them but I was on vacation in Ottawa and Quebec City, which were both great to see.

Anyways, the subject at hand is Vancouver’s reputation as “No Fun City” and one of the things people seem to agree on are the “archaic” liquor and licensing laws in Vancouver. So I thought I’d ask my favourite club owner Cory Weeds, (The Cellar), just how ridiculous it was. His answer? Not what I was expecting, please read for yourself…


Well, as you know I have opinions on almost everything.

This issue is however a one that goes quite deep. Having said that, to be honest I don’t really have a problem with our laws, or I should say they haven’t had a great affect on me and/or my business.

There is an argument out there that the reason this city for the most part shuts down at 10:30 and 11:00 (other than the hooligans that are on Granville Street till 2:00 and 3:00 in the morning) is because of the antiquated laws etc. That’s an argument I can’t really speak to. It may in fact play a part but I think we’d be kidding ourselves if we blamed Vancouver’s sleepiness and it’s ‘time for bed at 10:30’ attitude on Friday night solely on liquor laws.

There is also a belief out there that there aren’t more live venues in this city because of the laws. Really? That’s the reason? C’mon! If the city wakes up Monday morning and says “okay, you can now open a bar without serving food, you can know how live music of any sort as late as you want and you can open till 2 AM.” Is anything really gonna change? My thoughts are absolutely nothing would change. The reason there aren’t more live venues in this city is because there isn’t enough support, commercial real estate is out of hand and the taxes in Vancouver for small businesses are astronomical. Those are the reasons but I speak more to the ‘support’ issue. People more so in Vancouver don’t place live music high enough on their priority list. I of course am not talking about The Cellar. We have a wonderfully loyal customer base and a growing customer base and my intent is not to call out those people of course. I’m just suggesting that the reason there aren’t more live venues is because there is a lack of support or importance put on live music. That can also be traced backed to The City and it’s politicians. There is not a priority put on culture in Vancouver. I don’t want to use your blog as a platform to bitch about the Olympics but after that debacle, and that’s what it was, it’s quite clear where the Politician’s priorities are. Our arts funding got cut for one reason and one reason only…THE OLYMPICS. And until that debt is paid off (which is never) we can kiss any kind of serious arts/culture funding goodbye. Any politician, expert etc. who says that correlation can’t be made is a liar. An absolute liar.

What the bigger issue for me is that The City Of Vancouver and The Liquor Board has done an absolutely horrendous job at is creating a) a level playing field for all establishments, b) enforcing their own rules and c) even understanding what their own rules are.

9 years ago I had to spend literally thousands of dollars to get the ‘proper’ licenses to have our live jazz continue the way I wanted it to. I was upset but I played by their rules and did what was required and have never looked back. Explain to me how establishments around me can just decide to have live music and the city doesn’t care. They just turn a blind eye to it yet I had to almost go out of business to stay in business. So the playing field is not a level one. The city has rules and regulations but are so unclear as what they are, how to enforce them etc. that no one really knows anymore whats allowed and not allowed. If it’s not allowed they do it anyways because the enforcement in this city is so lame. Don’t take me the wrong way. I’m not saying that there should be restaurant and bar cops out there policing all the establishments…but again it comes back to my issue with the fact that they enforced all the bull shit rules on me, I played by the rules yet many many other establishments didn’t have to do what I had to do.

It’s an age old argument but the culture in this city won’t seriously change for many many years. Noah if he’s lucky will maybe experience a looser city a more fun city a more culturally aware city but at 37 years old and presumably with another 40 years or so to live I doubt I will be around to see that.

I am an honest, law abiding, tax paying business owner who plays by the rules and if the rules change then we’ll see where and how it goes.


Thank you all for reading and special thanks to Cory for guest-writing this SMNP. If you know a venue owner with an opinion on this, I’d love to post it. jd1

  • Gavin Walker

    Well stated Cory….it’s easy to blame just the liquor laws for this lack in our city but it involves many more factors and you addressed them well. Maybe Noah will see a great change in our city with regard to culture but you won’t and I certainly won’t in my lifetime.

  • John Doheny

    Shorter Cory Weeds:

    1.There’d be more jazz clubs in Vancouver if there were audiences to fill them.

    2. The city is inconsistent in it’s enforcement of existing regulations.

    I think that about nails it.

    Some cities have a tradition of getting dressed up to go out to cultural events, others don’t. That’s just the way it is and I agree it isn’t likely to change much in the short term. All the details; the lack of audiences, the minimal government support for fine arts (I recall that B.C. used to be at the absolute bottom in dollars expended by population in government arts support. Is that still the case?) and ‘inconsistent’ enforcement of existing regulations for live music venues all adds up to an inhospitable atmosphere for jazz specifically and the arts in general.

    No fun? Who knows? As I’ve said previously, it depends on what your idea of fun is. If you like to drink, sail, shop, ski, and go to comedy clubs, apparently Vancouver can accommodate you. Bob Buckley once complained to me that Vancouver had “no culture.” When I asked him to define that, he said “the things that interest me.”

    I disagree though, I think Vancouver has a culture. Unfortunately, it’s a puritan one.

  • Guy

    Not just comedy clubs, John. There’s tons of very good live theatre, both pro and amateur, in town. There are two ballet companies. There’s a great symphony. And two places you can see live jazz almost any night of the week (along with quite a few irregular places). And as Cory admits (and I’m somewhat skeptical of) Vancouver is known the world over for its out-there improvising scene. I don’t know. I just don’t get all the fuss. It’ll never be New York or Toronto or New Orleans, but that’s unrealistic given its population. I think people just like to complain when their own particular thing doesn’t resonate with the masses.

  • John Doheny

    “I think people just like to complain when their own particular thing doesn’t resonate with the masses.”

    I think you’re right there. People love to have a good moan, and that includes people in New York, Toronto and New Orleans. The municiple government here has a record of doing many stupid things that would appear, if your mind ran in the direction of paranoia, to be specifically designed to target live music, such as wildly inconsitant enforcement of existing regulations (sound familiar) and really over the top stuff like arresting musicians for playing music in the streets without a permit. This last inspired the Dr. John tune “My People Need a Second Line” and is largely the result of the gentrification of parts of the Treme, where affluent young white people, attracted by the proximity to the French Quarter and the beautiful architecture, move into the neighborhood and immediately start calling the cops to lodge ‘noise’ complaints about things like second ines, jazz funerals, and the chants of street vendors. This seems totally insane to me, like moving to the beach and then complaining about the surf, but these people are white and have money and political influence, so there you are.

    The thing is though, the culture here was strong enough to survive displacement after Katrina, so it’ll probably be able to survive a few pissy little yuppies. I hope so anyway.

    But I digress. Vancouver does indeed have a fine symphony. I think you’d be surprised what most of those people make though; you’d do better as assistant manager at a coffee shop. The “two places where you can hear live jazz almost any night of the week” consist of a restaurant where you can here live jazz if you sit close enough to hear it over the babble of the diners, and a serious listening club with a loyal audience run largely as a labor of love by a man who is a very good musician himself and is often forced, due the the economics of the business, to pay performers with the door receipts. The other place, BTW (I assume you’re referring to O’Doul’s) pays $100 per player per night, last I checked.

    What I’m saying is, things may look just peachy from the “consumer” end, but not so much from the perspective of a talented young artist or musician making decisions about where to make their life and career. The attraction to Vancouver USED to be low rents and a thriving (though badly paying), open local scene. Vancouver is now a very expensive city to live in. It is located in a province which spends the least amount per capita on arts support of any place in the country. As real estate prices go through the roof, it becomes harder and harder to present events outside of the marketable mainstream (and you’re sure as hell not going to get a gig at O’Doul’s playing anything boundary pushing, or even loud, for that matter. It disturbs the diners).

    I’ve often maintained that Vancouver has a higher quality arts scene than it deserves, given the anemic level of support from audiences and the provincial government. It seems to me that this level is bound to fall towards something more appropriate to the ‘middle tier’ city you describe (“it’ll never be New York or Toronto or New Orleans.” Kind of like Stuart Mclean’s “Vinyl Cafe” “we’re not big but we’re small” lol). From the perspective of young artists deciding where to spend their careers, what, precisely, is the attraction of Vancouver? Robson Street? Grouse Mountain? The beach (which, lets face it, is only really useful as a beach the 8 or 10 weeks out of the year it stops pissing rain).

    I mean, if you want to pay ridiculous rents and starve in a garret, why not do it in New York? Why stay in Vancouver? What does the place have to offer that would make it more attractive to a young jazz musician?

    I’m not being provocative here, I’d genuinley like to hear some opinions. Because there are two alternatives to staying in Vancouver and complaining, and we’ve heard from both people like Cory (who have taken the admirable route of effecting positive change) and the rest of us who voted with our feet. I’d be interested in hearing from young, talented jazz musicians. Not mid career guys like Brad Turner and Cam Ryga, who have deep family roots, but young, footloose people who could play jazz anywhere in the world. These people could live anywhere. If they choose to stay in Vancouver, what is it that keeps them there?