Written by Joe Leary
To surpass the one year mark in the ever-changing hospitality industry can be considered something of an accomplishment. To celebrate thirty years is remarkable. And for a nightclub, it’s virtually unheard of.
Such is the case of Vancouver’s legendary Granville Street hotspot, The Roxy; known previously as The Venue.
“Before that it was called ‘Jack’s Hanging Tree’ which I didn’t think was a very good name to associate with,” says Founder & President Blaine Culling.
“The fellows who took it over – who were my business partners in another venture – called it The Venue. They put it together and it had new bands, literally four or five times a week. They would all be the same kind of amateur bands and in my opinion they sounded terrible so I suggested getting a house band that knows how to play really good songs from artists like The Beatles and Rolling Stones that everybody likes.
They said I was crazy and that nobody would want to listen to that stuff because everybody wants to hear the new stuff.
After about six months they went broke and they told me if I thought my concept was such a good idea that I should take it over. So I did.”
The year was 1988 and the Granville Strip had fallen on hard times.The Roxy was seemingly just what the old street needed.
“The first time we opened the doors I don’t think it
was more than just a dress rehearsal. I remember my parents were there and I was sweeping the floors and we just decided to open it. There were a few people that popped in.”
Who could have predicted, that three decades later The Roxy would still be cashing in on its tried and true formula? “I honestly thought if it lasted a year that would be great,” recalls Culling. “I really had no idea that it would last longer than that. It just seemed to go on.
It’s like the ‘Energizer Bunny’ that keeps going and each year it’s successful if not more than the year before.”
And it’s not just customers that have kept The Roxy vital through the years. There’s incredible brand loyalty among staff. Sasha Pocekovic has been there 26 years, having started as a doorman. “I was bartending in a restaurant called ‘Acapulco Joe’s’ and like everyone, you want to move to the next level,” he says, “and the next level is a nightclub.”
That was 1992. Sasha today is the legendary nightclub’s General Manager.
In fact most associated with the iconic Granville Street watering hole have logged serious time. “I came in at the 10th anniversary,” says Granville Entertainment Chief Financial Officer Ron Orr.
“By that that time it was pretty much already iconic. Blaine’s Granville Street ‘Empire’ was growing and expanding in all directions.
What I was interested in – all stemming from the success of The Roxy – was seeing a revitalization of Granville Street, which had gone through some pretty tough times. That’s how I came in; as the Roxy was morphing from a nightclub to a hospitality group.”
Consistency is the constant when talking of this hallowed venue and the Roxy experience of 2018 remains steeped in tradition.
“Trends come and go,” says Orr, “but people still go out for a good time. They want to be in a safe, comfortable place and people want a vibe.”
“It’s very much “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” adds Culling.
“Other than brand new carpets – which we just put down recently – it’s exactly the same look and feel as the old carpet; when we paint it, we paint it the same colour.
If you walk into the Roxy today, you recognize it as The Roxy from thirty years ago.” And in business; when something is a sure fire hit offers come cascading in.
“Maybe a dozen or so,” says Culling, laughingly as he tries to put a number on serious suitors attempting to buy The Roxy from him over the years. “Some of them were quite serious and most of them were totally capable of paying the price to do it, but I’ve never been tempted to sell it.
I figure as long as I’m healthy and happy and the crew is enjoying themselves and doing a good job and the City is continuing to support us, let’s carry on”.