Friday, August 22, 2008
an open letter from zak pashak to peter ladner

Hello Peter,

I know you are busy and I want to thank you for reading this. I am a young business person from Calgary who has recently opened a bar in Vancouver. In Calgary I run a venue called 'Broken City' that has been voted best live music venue each of the 4 years it has been open. We host local and touring rock bands for the most part. We also host Calgary's longest running jazz jam and various community events, fundraisers and even political debates. I also run a music festival called Sled Island.

My mother lives in Vancouver when she is not in Calgary running the magazine Alberta Views (a political magazine). My father was an MLA in Alberta, and I am also politically active in Calgary. My bar in Calgary is frequented by a few of our city councillors and I have hosted events for them.

When I used to visit Vancouver people would complain that there were no good venues that supported the local arts community (the Railway and Media clubs being notable exceptions). One year ago an opportunity to do something here opened up for me.

I took the old bar in the basement of the Biltmore (Kingsway and 12th) - this was formerly a rough place- and did a small yet expensive non-structural renovation, including expanding the existing stage and installing a top of the line sound system. We hire local staff and bands and have already started to make some waves in Vancouver.

We were recently shut down on a technicality regarding the expansion of our stage. This came about after we had been shut down due to going over our posted capacity. Our posted capacity is punitively low- but we should not have gone over. Getting shut down, however, seems to be not in keeping with normal practices. Normally a fine is issued unless people are at risk (from my understanding). We are currently closed because the fire inspector then took issue with the stage being larger that it was on the drawings he had. That same inspector told us we would not likely get shut down again- but then came in at 4pm the night of a show to tell us we had to close. He then told us that if we got a drawing we could open the next day. We got the drawing and were then told we had to wait for them to process things for a few more days. Today I have learned that things have now been pushed over to a building inspector and it will take at least 10 more days. Now that I am in this process I know it could keep getting passed around endlessly. It is amazing how suddenly effective municipal employees can be when they are trying to make things hard for people/small businesses. This is not meant to be a threat- but my consultant is recommending that I initiate legal action. I would rather avoid this.

Apparently our liquor inspector (a hapless and misinformed man named Edward) stated to one of my employees that he wanted to see the club shut down permanently. All of what we are being put through seems excessive and punitive. It is also costing me a lot of money. Bar owners are people too- at least some of us are. We have a loose cannon in Edward acting like a renegade sheriff.

It is a largely held belief that the Granville Entertainment Group is paying off civil servants. I don't know if this is true- but that it is widely held to be true is troubling enough.

There are bars in Vancouver that have been in business operating as brothels (the #5 orange, etc) for years. There are bars that lock the front doors and serve drinks until 7am. There is a bar that serves drinks all night, has no license AND deals with the city the city of Vancouver regarding plumbing issues- and is still in operation. They have dangerous wiring and actually could put people in harm's way. In Vancouver I have been to filthy restaurants with public bathrooms in the kitchen. There is also a MASSIVE drug problem in the city. But we are closed for weeks because of a technicality with our stage. The amount of heat being put on us is completely out of scale. We are a well run, well intending bar that wants to do good things here in Vancouver and we are following the rules.

Our stage was approved in our initial inspection. It is true- we made non-structural changes and we increased the size of the stage, but it was approved already. It is under two feet high and from what I know about building codes it should not require a permit. Yet here we are having the book thrown at us.

I believe everything we have done is legal, other than going over capacity. We have paid piles of money in taxes. I feel we are being treated unfairly and I am writing to ask for your help. If you would be willing to ask a couple of questions to find out why this is happening to us it would be very helpful and very much appreciated.


Zak Pashak
You'll have to wait until Monday. But if you care about live music in this city. Hell, if you care about bars that don't define themselves by how impressive their bottle service is, you might want to call or write the mayor or some of your city councillors.

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Corrupt bureaucrat bastards.

By Anonymous Dennis, at 8:19 p.m.  

i agree with calling bullshit on the city, but to check the names and generally call out other people and places... i thnk uncool.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:20 p.m.  

My company deals with building and fire inspectors all the time, and there has never in my 12+ years in this business been any hint of corruption in the City's approval process. The inspectors we work with are scrupulous about not permitting even an appearance of impropriety, let alone actual impropriety.

I guess it's really tempting to feel you're being picked on when it's your business that's bleeding cash, but the sheer volume of construction, renovation, etc., in this city in the ramp-up to 2010 means that basically everyone has to wait for everything. The systems that are in place also mean that there are a bunch of boxes that need to be ticked and reviews/approvals that need to be gotten from a bunch of different people before permits can be issued. This is usually regarded as a good thing, from a life safety point of view. Yes, it's bureaucratic; yes, it's maddening; and believe it or not, it happens to everybody, from small bar owners to huge multimillion dollar developers.

Sounds as though it's unfortunate that the actual construction didn't match the drawings, but that's actually not trivial. There's a minor construction tolerance differential, and if you go past that, they can and will make you tear down concrete stairwells, for example, and repour them. Pretty major oops, and not a cheap do-over.

As far as licensed premises go, it sounds as though there may have been a sort of compounded effect. Exceeding your posted occupant load is the kind of thing that gets your license pulled. No matter who you are.

But hey, accusing City employees of corruption is always a constructive tack.

By Blogger minx, at 9:26 p.m.  

I've enjoyed the new Biltmore on a few occasions since it's reopening and I'd like to continue to do so.

However, I'm not sure why Mr. Pashak feels the need to bring in issues that have nothing to do with the current situation at the Biltmore into the fray.

My advice to you is to always stay within your capacity, stick to your approved plans and next time let your consultant do the talking. Or maybe your mommy.

Just sayin'.

By Anonymous Supermike, at 5:52 p.m.  

You fucking sheeple are an embarrasment to people who actually enjoy nightlife and live music. You are what is wrong with live music in Vancouver, because you sit there and defend a bunch of suits while a guy who puts his fucking money where his mouth is gets fucked over. Fuck all of you. Jesus Christ.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:52 a.m.  

Hey anonymous, I'm sympathetic to his dilemma and I hope it's resolved soon, but accusing people of corruption just because you can't get your way is pretty fucking lame in my book.

I guess it's unfashionable of me to not jump on the FUCK THA MAN bandwagon, but I actually happen to know and work with a lot of these "suits" on a daily basis, and I don't like seeing them maligned for what appears to be just doing their jobs.

Who's the sheep, exactly?

By Blogger minx, at 10:11 a.m.  

A very interesting issue, and one I suspect is more complicated than Zak even expressed. I think his letter would be more effective if it was less scattershot and used more articulate language.

By Blogger Josh, at 10:28 a.m.  

i generally agree that certain places can be targeted for different reasons...because i know it has happened.

a friend of mine had to move his night because the establishment which hosted it was getting a constant barrage of fire inspectors, police and the liquor inspectors on almost a weekly basis...until they finally contacted the club owner and said to get rid of the night, and they will stop coming around so often.
i know this because i work there.

it really doesnt make any sense to me how/why this is allowed. but they have left us alone, except for doing the checks which are required from time-to-time.

and to the best of my knowledge, whenever a club is over capacity or has some other kind of infraction, they arent immediately shut down, usually just fined, or have a temporary liquor suspension, in some cases (this has also happened to the place which i work in).
if a club receives a fine and chooses not to pay, then i believe they will be shut down.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:56 p.m.  

er, to clarify the above...the promoter was told to leave by the manager/owner, THEN the coppers et al stopped coming by.

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:58 p.m.  

He's right about those sleazy all nighter places though, I've been to them, I've seen them with my own eyes and I am far from "in the know". If a casual club goer like myself knows about the "speakeasy" culture of this city then doesn't it follow that the police also know yet choose to do nothing about it? Yeah, his language isn't the greatest (neither is most of the language in these comments, including my own) but you've gotta admit he makes some very valid points.
I hope they manage to re-open, any club away from the dreaded Granville St. is a good thing in my books. Let's just hope he gets to stay up past midnight when they do reopen.

By Blogger Mike, at 9:49 a.m.  

I think the most likely scenario is that the local residents don't like having a fun nightspot in their area, and are calling in noise complaints on a regular basis.

From what I know about Vancouver, pissing off a few yuppies is all it takes to get city hall down your throat. It happened to me when I was managing a bar in Toronto, but the good thing about Toronto is that City Hall has the balls to ignore NIMBYS and make decisions that are in the interest of the ENTIRE CITY.

That said, the idea that the Granville Street entertainment group are pressuring the City to maintain their near monopoly on live music and dancing in this city makes a lot of sense.

By Anonymous Chris Hendricks, at 4:25 p.m.  

I was down with everything in the letter up until he started finger-pointing at the illegal venues in the city. Fuck him for trying to get other venues shut down. Entirely beside his supposed point in the letter.

The guy doesn't want to see the music scene thrive in this city. He wants to see HIS venue thrive.

The Biltmore is a dive anyway, and I feel ripped off every time I head there to pay $20 to get harassed by roid monkey security guards, and hang out in a basement of a hotel.

By Blogger Jess, at 8:59 p.m.  

another spoiled rich kid club owner who can't have his cake and eat it too!

By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:29 a.m.  

another asshole on the internet, who's too much of a coward to put their name to something

By Blogger Quinn, at 8:32 a.m.  

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upcoming shows
2/8 Twin Sister, Eleanor Friedberger, and Ava Luna @ the Media Club
2/9 David Choi @ the Rio
2/10 Secret Chiefs 3 and Dengue Fever @ the Rickshaw
2/13 White Buffalo @ the Media Club
2/14 The Ballyntines and Pleasure Cruise (TT) @ the Biltmore
2/18 Grimes w/Born Gold @ Fortune (early)
2/18 Cruel Young Heart, Young Liars, the Oh Wells, and Matiation @ the Dodson Rooms (AA)
2/18 Cursive w/UME @the Media Club
2/19 The Asteroids Galaxy Tour w/Vacationer @ Venue
2/20 Veronica Falls w/Bleached @ the Media Club
2/26 DJ Krush @ Fortune
2/29 Trevor Hall @ the Media Club
3/6 Slow Club w/Signals @ the Media Club
3/7 Cloud Nothings w/Mr. Dream @ the Media Clubr
3/8 Islands @ the Rio
3/10 Memoryhouse @ the Waldorf
3/17 William Fitzsimmons @ the Biltmore (early)
3/18 Magnetic Fields @ the Vogue (AA)
3/21 Plants & Animals>/b> @ the Rickshaw
3/22 Drive-by Truckers @ the Commodore
3/23 White Rabbits @ the Biltmore
3/23 Loney Dear @ the Media Club
3/24 Sharon Van Etten and the War on Drugs @ the Biltmore (early)
3/25 Nada Surf and An Horse @ the Rickshaw
3/27 The Ting Tings @ the Commodore
4/5 House de Racket @ the Electric Owl
4/6 Chairlift w/Nite Jewel @ the Electric Owl
4/7 Heartless Bastards @ the Media Club
4/8 Metronomy @ Venue
4/8 Gotye @ the Vogue (AA)
4/9 Cults @ Venue
4/10 First Aid Kit @ Venue
4/10 Andrew Bird w/Laura Marling @ the Vogue (AA)
4/13 The Odds and the Grapes of Wrath @ the Rickshaw
4/14 The Joel Plaskett Emergency @ the Vogue (AA)
4/24 School of Seven Bells w/Exitmusic @ the Electric Owl
4/26 Justice @ the PNE Forum (AA)
4/27 M83 @ the Vogue (AA)
4/27 Yukon Blonde @ the Commodore
4/28 Neon Indian @ Venue (early)
5/6 Delta Spirit w/Waters @ the Electric Owl
5/9 Yann Tiersen @ the Rickshaw
5/11 Great Lake Swimmers w/Cold Specks @ the Commodore
5/12 The Boxer Rebellion> @ the Biltmore
5/27 Coeur de Pirate @ Venue

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TT = @toonie tuesday
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