Vancouver city council unanimously approved a liquor licence, Feb 2, for a new gay bar to open in the old Denman Station space at 860 Denman St.
“It was a unanimous decision, even the mayor. I loved that,” Vince Marino, one of the investors in the venture, told Xtra West after the vote.
Marino and Steve Bauer, also investors in the PumpJack and Fountainhead pubs, and Randy Newburg who manages the PumpJack and operates Cruisey T boat cruises, are among those who want to open the new, but yet to be named, bar.
Although city staff seemed supportive of the idea at a Nov 22 community meeting, this is the first time a liquor licence application for a new queer establishment has come before the newly elected Non-Partisan Association (NPA)-dominated city council.
Marino and others in the queer community had to struggle every step of the way with previous NPA councils and city staff to open the Fountainhead and PumpJack pubs.
“I’m very pleased. It’s a new council, so it was an unknown,” says Bauer. “It obviously is a progressive council in the sense that they’re looking at the operator of a business, which I think is far more relevant than the history of the location.”
The sometimes dubious history of 860 Denman St was at the root of most of the objections raised by the few speakers who opposed the application.
Nadine Jumelle, a West End resident and queer community member, has co-owned and operated a business called True Confections immediately next to the entrance of 860 Denman St since 1988. In an eloquent presentation to council, Jumelle recounted years of problems with the location when it was called Club Da Bong. She said management at the club was unresponsive or unreachable much of the time.
She alleged the bass beat from the basement-level club shook tableware to the floor in her café. Jumelle also said Club Da Bong’s clientele intimidated her customers, made too much noise and was prone to violence.
Jumelle told council she was conflicted because she wanted, on principle, to support any gay business. She said she was confident that Marino and his colleagues would be good neighbours, but she questioned why the city needed more bars and what recourse she would have if Marino sold the business to someone who didn’t operate it responsibly.
“When [Denman Station’s] Gary Penny owned it, we had a very good working relationship with him,” Jumelle told council. “When the business was sold… This is my main problem: what if this business gets sold? The problems that occurred when Gary Penny owned the business were small ones and ones that we worked out.”
Marino responded that he lives in the neighbourhood and stakes his reputation on the venture. He pledged to work out any issues that may arise at the location.
“Our goal is to build a comfortable, community-run and oriented venue which fits into the neighbourhood,” he said. “I can’t guarantee after 20 years, if I’m still in business, what happens then, but it is a long-term project for us. The leases are long-term, and we have no intention of selling. We are very sensitive to the community and our response has always been that if we’re going to do something, we let the community know.”
Vision Vancouver city councillor Tim Stevenson moved to support the application, citing Marino’s distinguished service to the community and a relative lack of problems in all of Vancouver’s gay bars.
“The neighbourhood, as Vince Marino said, are right to have concerns,” said Stevenson. “I don’t think they’re going to find their concerns are going to be warranted as far as noise is concerned. It certainly wasn’t true as long as Gary Penny ran Denman Station. We don’t have problems with any of the establishments on Davie St. We don’t have problems with any gay establishments. It simply is a fact.”
Stevenson reassured Jumelle that, in the event there are problems with Marino’s bar, council will move decisively to address them.
“If we do have problems at 860 Denman, then I’d like to be one of the first councillors to hear about it,” he said.
Marino says there is some water damage in the space and plans are underway for renovations. There are still some administrative hoops to jump through with respect to building permits, but securing the licence was the biggest hurdle. He expects his bar to be open in June.
There are to be at least two new places for queer people to gather and tipple this spring. David Battersby leads another group of investors who were granted a liquor licence for the old Book Warehouse space at 1181 Davie St. His application sailed through council in record time last year before the civic elections.
“We’re in the process of getting all the [construction] bids in and the interior’s going to be very nice, very swank,” Battersby told Xtra West Feb 6. “We’re very psyched about it.”
Battersby says opening a new licensed establishment in Vancouver can still be tricky. “We got a little waylaid by the permitting process,” he says. “We mistakenly thought our development permit would be expedited given the fact we’ve gone through such a lengthy process for the liquor permitting, but that’s not exactly the case.”
Regardless, Battersby says his lounge, called 1181, should also be open in the first weeks of June.