History hits the high notes at Vancouver’s live music venues. From converted kung fu movie theatres to Art Deco ballrooms, some of the city’s coolest spaces are the best place to head to catch up-and-coming bands and indie performers who are not on arena tours… yet. The “Granville Entertainment District,” home to many of Vancouver’s nightlife options, is just on The Burrard’s doorstep, but here are five of the city’s best live music venues where you’ll find musical magic any day of the week.
Commodore Ballroom – 868 Granville Street (Downtown)
Right in the heart of Granville Street’s strip of bars, pubs and clubs, the Commodore Ballroom (or simply “The Commodore”) opened in 1929 as a glamorous Art Deco style ballroom that hosted swing dances. Since then it’s been a “bottle club” in the times before Vancouver had liquor licenses, a blues and swing club, and a punk venue after the Ramones played there in 1977. It’s the best place to catch bands about to break into the big time; legends like David Bowie, Blondie, and U2 have played here, along with contemporary acts of acclaim like Future Islands and Spoon.
Vogue Theatre – 918 Granville Street (Downtown)
Built as an Odeon movie house in 1941, the Vogue Theatre’s Art Deco/Art Moderne style has stood the test of time and the venue’s much-loved neon sign earned it protection as a National Historic Site of Canada. The concert venue sat empty for five years in the late 1980s until former Prism drummer Rocket Norton reopened it as a rock venue in 1992. Today it still hosts major touring acts, with a focus on rock and punk artists.
Hollywood Theatre – 3123 West Broadway (Kitsilano)
From 1935 through 2011, the West Side’s art deco landmark operated as a neighbourhood theatre, entertaining generations of locals and tourists. After a few years of dormancy, new owners breathed life back into the place, from reupholstering the original chairs to restoring the Jazz Age neon sign and transforming the space that can accommodate different styles of entertainment. These days, you have as much chance of catching live music, comedy or dance on the stage while grabbing a cocktail from the buzzy bar, as you do of seeing a film. But no matter the entertainment, the Hollywood is once again livening up this stretch of Broadway.
Rickshaw Theatre – 254 E Hastings St (Chinatown)
Back in the 1970s you’d have to watch out for kung fu kicks if you came here — the Rickshaw Theatre was previously the Shaw Theatre, which showed kung fu movies from Hong Kong. It reopened in 2009 as a live music venue that now hosts indie bands and touring artists. The name is a nod to the time when the Shaw Brothers (Sir Run Run Shaw and Tan Sri Runme Shaw) had the theatre as part of their movie empire, which included Hong Kong’s most significant film production company.
Guilt & Co – 1 Alexander Street, Downstairs (Gastown)
Tucked underneath the lantern-lit, cobblestoned streets of historic Gastown, jazz, blues, roots and other music genres are always in full-swing in this cozy, charismatic room. There’s a solid menu of comfort food for sustenance, a good roster of craft beer, and themed cocktails as musical odes. These days we’re really digging ‘All Along the Watchtower’ – Hendrick’s gin, Cocchi Americano, Cynar, Yellow Chartreuse and lemon oils. For those that like their evenings on the early side, there’s a 7 pm show every night of the week.
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Feature Image: Show at the Commodore: The Commodore Ballroom Facebook page
Iron & Wine at the Commodore Ballroom: The Commodore Ballroom Facebook page
Vogue Theatre – Vogue Theatre Facebook page
Neon signage at the Hollywood Theatre – Hollywood Theatre website
Growlers at The Rickshaw – The Rickshaw Theatre website
Jen Hodge All Stars at Guilt & Co – Guilt & Co. Facebook page