Smiling Buddha Cabaret

Comments 7 by Rebecca Bollwitt

From the NEW Punk History Vancouver page.

People often criticize the city for looking “too new” and not having “enough history”. That by being in its infancy on the world’s stage, Vancouver has none of its own culture, just a melting pot of others. It’s not that we don’t have history, it’s that we’ve glossed over several chapters that might not have been the most prim and proper.

When I was a teenager growing up in Surrey there was nothing more bad ass than coming downtown on the weekend and cruising Granville Street. I’m not talking about ‘cruising’ down the bubblegum-peppered sidewalks in our stilettos, purchasing some designer sunglasses, having crepes, then going club hopping shaking our lovely lady lumps.

The Granville Street that I remember was dark, dingy, grimey, and we felt like we were stickin’ it to the man when we’d sit on the sidewalk listening to a busker play rockin’ tunes at 1am, hours past curfew. But we were just posers. We weren’t the first wave of teenagers looking for economical entertainment. Just a few years earlier the dusky atmosphere of Granville that I revered was amplified with even more disreputable bars and even shadier characters.

Vancouver is home and was birthplace of some of the creators and perpetuators of punk rock, and the founders of the hardcore sound.

“Even when the “grunge” scene in Seattle went huge, Vancouver was more like “what’s new with that?”

Not only was the city on the cutting edge of punk rock, it was held in such high esteem as London, New York and San Francisco when it comes to the cities that created and sustained this genre’s existence. Men with names names that contained “shithead” and “rampage” were held in the highest esteem, among several others:

“The Subhumans and the handful of other punk bands that exploded into being in Vancouver as part of the world-wide punk movement, built a local scene that was wild, raucous, and tempestuous. Venues came and went after gigs that left audiences exhilarated and club-owners and police appalled. The now-familiar punk ethos that held that anyone could be in a band, and that any band could change your life, was new and shocking.” []

Describing my peers and myself back then, I immediately think of a great article I read in The Nerve Magazine. It was an interview with Bev Davies, the photographer that captured the entire Vancouver punk scene like no one ever has or will.

“…I spent a little while taking shots of rocks and birds and then I went to my first DOA concert and went HOT DAMN! No more ‘still life with fruit-bowl’ for me!”. [The Nerve Magazine]

Bev was a regular at the Smiling Buddha Cabaret, which was was located at 109 East Hastings. In the Nerve article she talks about taking photos of DOA playing Friday night, go home and develop the film, then come back Saturday night with a box of photo postcards for sale. The Buddha was a dive and at the same time a mecca for local and international alternative rock acts. From The K-Tels, The Subhumans, DOA, or Mother Tucker’s Yellow Duck, to Jimi Hendrix and Jefferson Airplane.

Photo is property of Bev Davies on Flickr – Used with permission

Vancouver’s music community thrived in the 70s and 80s, experiencing a city full of dank corners, sticky floors and the darkest of alleys.

Artists were struggling, playing in dives, scraping together the dough to make albums themselves, and that’s what gave the city’s scene its character. This Vancouver was known for more than the Grouse Grind, organic produce and Robson Street shopping.

The downtown east side was home to seedy clubs in which groundbreaking bands would play for college students before they hit it big. Granville street hosted cheap beer and pizza slices, and Yaletown was for sketchy after-hours parties in warehouses nobody would recognize or remember in the morning.

For almost a hundred years Yaletown was the terminus for goods from back East, as they were stored in the areas many warehouses then shipped out at the port. Industrialized and abundant with manufacturing plants and mills, plastered in coal, dark wood and brick, these buildings budded up at the beginning of the century and polluted for decades to follow.

A world-class fair arrived in 1986, bringing with it months of construction, expansion, development and tourists. Expo 86 was built on a 207-acre wasteland of property at the south end of downtown, bordering and wrapping around False Creek, although concentrated in Yaletown. It painted the city with a new brush, one that would drive up prices, pump in tourism and push out squatters of all kinds.

“Then everything went teal.”

“With Expo, Vancouver’s character changed with modern buildings and the outside world paying attention to this fresh, fabricated, fashionable facade which evoked cynicism from many locals. Suddenly, Vancouver went from a grimy hardcore town to a hot bed for hair-metal bands coming up for the peeler bars and top producers.”

Afterwards, the Expo lands were vacant and displaced until foreign investors hopped into the ring and turned Yaletown into what you see today. No anarchists in sight.

Photo credit: Squeaky Marmot on Flickr

Warehouses were flipped into swanky office buildings while heritage houses, corner shops and live music meccas were demolished to make room for million-dollar homes, stacked and towering above the cracked cobblestone streets.

Punk-enlightened venues started disappearing and being replaced with glazed condo developments, one by one. No more Luvafair, Town Pump, Starfish Room, and the ‘Buddha on Hastings finally closed down in 1993.

“Venues like the “New” York Theatre closed down, changed formats and ownership and punk went back underground surfacing into the mainstream consciousness as protest music.”

Today, it seems like dark corners of Gastown are transforming into upscale furniture stores, and greasy spoon mom ‘n pop cafes are morphing into bistros with pretentiously cut yam fries. Old brick buildings are being gutted and filled with million-dollar loft spaces. Looking back at the last few decades, it seems as though this city’s record is skipping.

Vancouver has a culture, it actually has a sound and people who thrive off its community. We just need to remember just how far back this goes and that even the City of Glass has rebel roots that live on.

Read more in this series on the NEW Punk History Vancouver page. Quotes in this post were provided by Dave Olson.

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7 Comments  —  Comments Are Closed

  1. fotoeinsWednesday, December 19th, 2007 — 2:27am PST

    Thanks for the slice of (punk) history. It’s not often one thinks about Vancouver before Expo `86.

  2. nancy (aka money coach)Wednesday, December 19th, 2007 — 10:38pm PST

    wow – you captured a lot in that post, Rebecca. I’ll take a gastown with soul and grit any day over YaleTown 2 plus stadium.

  3. – The Blog Of A Vancouver Island Girl Surviving In The City World » Blog Archive » SORRY EXCUSEThursday, December 20th, 2007 — 10:47am PST

    […] you’re there, check out her piece on the history of punk in Vancouver – it’s well worth the […]

  4. knight AfterWednesday, January 30th, 2008 — 5:21pm PST

    I was there , the Buddha , the place on Granville with the steel dance floor , the club at the foot of Main street , RABID , DOA , SUBHUMANS , Miss Mustard ….DOA at UBC Sub with loads of fights afterwards … we had fun

  5. NeathSaturday, January 10th, 2009 — 8:48pm PST

    This was very nice to read. I went to the Smiling Buddha a few times in the late 70’s – can’t remember exactly which year – and it was exciting in a different way. Vancouver was already sort of established as a Punk town and this place was different, even for East Hastings. At the ripe old age of 23-24 I was, however, something of an old fart to the crowd there and was under much suspicion until they finally figured that I was A) not a cop, and B) actually open to the music, which I have to admit was far from typical of more traditional long haired rock and roll types of my age and older. Brings back some great memories. Thanks!

  6. bethThursday, February 5th, 2009 — 10:13am PST

    i have the stained glass piece that was pulled from the building after it burned down. It is in good condition and i’ve restored it. i am looking for pics and information of original owners.

    please send me an email and i’ll send a picture.


    Evergreen Glass

  7. Community Gardens in Vancouver » Vancouver Blog Miss 604 by Rebecca BollwittTuesday, January 12th, 2010 — 4:37pm PST

    […] been turned into a community garden. After some research I realized it is the old location of the Smiling Buddha Cabaret. The other day when I was writing a post about parks I stumbled upon so many listings for community […]

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