Biltmore continues to thrive in condo-crazed hood

In five years, unlikely nightclub has become hotspot far away from glare of downtown

It's outside of the club comfort zone of Granville Street and smack dab in the middle of Mount Pleasant's newest condo development wonderland. Yet somehow, the Biltmore has been able to occupy that slightly awkward nightlife space at Kingsway and 12th since the 1960s, and more recently serve as the neighbourhood's only mid-size music venue - in style.

The not-quite-seedy space rocks a popular burlesque night and brings in local and international indie music acts. It's a place for the neighbourhood to rock and dance their little hearts out.

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"There were people in the city that needed somewhere to go to have fun and see good music," said Biltmore general manager Darius Minwalla. "That's what we set up to do and that's what we're still doing."

For the young and hip, this place screams Mount Pleasant from the moment you walk through the door. If it isn't the "band you've probably never heard of" or the red velvet decor, it's the trail of Pabst Blue Ribbon (PBR) cans you can find leading up to the front doors - an entrance you'll only find if you know it's there.

If that's not enough, check out the lineup of old arcade machines boasting Big Buck Hunter, Tetris and pinball. Or dare to stare at the bathroom graffiti while attempting to hover and urinate: "Feminism is for lovers" (with a heart instead of an "o").

Of course, it's divey history helps with the Bilt's character, too. Minwalla said before they took over the spot five years ago, it was a "pretty rough," and cops lined up outside the door on weekends to pre-empt the inevitable tumbles. "It was not a place you really wanted to come and chill out and have a drink with your girlfriend, because a guy would probably come up to you and starting hitting on her, then you'd be in a fight before you knew it."

But knowing the hotel's history and seeing its potential for a music venue, Minwalla and owner Zac Pashak set forth to clean it up and clean up the riff-raff. Then they got a fresh coat of red damask wallpaper and velvet cushions, plus a shiny new stage and dance floor. All that led to the Biltmore Cabaret as it's known today - a place where burlesque shows can draw 300 people on a Sunday, the mayor been known to DJ and more PBRs are sold than any other bar in the country. "The hipsters and young kids - if it's cheap they drink it," said Minwalla. "It's terrible. But it's got that vintage logo and is $3.75."

As may be expected of a lone venue in a condo-development Mecca, the Bilt's had some challenges. "[The condos] are going up like wildfire. I welcome them, [but] I hope they are aware of their surroundings before they buy half a million dollar homes."

But he plans to keep fighting the good fight and keep the Biltmore in the neighbourhood. "It's slowly becoming a landmark in Mount Pleasant. I feel like as long as we stay open and we're doing what we're doing well, I hope people will think of us that way."

mickicowan@gmail.com

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