Downtown: Vancouver FanClub happily sings the blues

Spirit of the Yale lives on

The co-owner and manager of Vancouver FanClub on Granville Street says he gained invaluable experience in running a nightclub while working at an unexpected venue.

Joe Luciak remembers the day in 2008 he learned hed be taking over management of the Cecil strip club, which closed in 2010. Prior to that, Luciak helped his dad Waide manage the famous blues bar the Yale, which the family purchased in 1987.

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"I was walking from my car to the Yale and my dad was walking to his car," recalls Luciak. "And he said to me, 'Do you want to be involved with the Cecil? We take it over at 9 a.m. tomorrow morning and here's a list of things to do.' Then him and my mom took off for Hawaii for three weeks."

Luciak had only been to the strip club once prior to becoming the manager of the Cecil, also owned by his father. The previous owner of the Cecil still managed the club, but his lease was up in anticipation of a redevelopment project. When the recession hit in 2008, that project was put on hold and the Luciaks were left with a strip club and no one to manage it. Despite some initial misgivings, Luciak's years at the Cecil taught him important and somewhat unusual life lessons.

"I learned how to fix a stiletto heel and bad boob jobs on the fly," he said. "But I also learned about the human element and relationships and how to produce mixed media and performing arts."

Luciak said those skills proved vital when the strip club closed and he launched Vancouver FanClub last August, a few blocks away in the former Circa restaurant location at 1050 Granville. The bar, which operates under the Cecil's original liquor license, has yet to celebrate with a grand opening, but Luciak said that's still to come.

"I'm a bit of a perfectionist so I want everything to be ready before we host an official grand opening," said Luciak.

In the meantime, Vancouver FanClub is gaining popularity by offering entertainment for an older crowd early in the evening before transforming to a full-blown dance club. The club also has some elements reminiscent of the Yale, which closed temporarily in 2011 to make way for a $75-million condo project by Rize Atlantis.

On a wet February day, a piano player in a pork-pie hat tickled the ivories for the afternoon crowd, some enjoying a late lunch and others sipping an early cocktail. Luciak described the FanClub as a mix of the best of Vancouver and New Orleans, minus any stereotypical Cajun themes or hot sauce. Several walls are lined with hand-painted portraits of iconic Vancouverites, including one of deceased city councillor Jim Green posed in front of his beloved Woodwards building. Keeping it in the family, the acrylic-on-glass paintings are the work of Luciak's uncle, artist Marcus Lundell.

Luciak said the Yale blues bar will re-open once the development is complete, likely in 2014. The Luciaks will still own the bar but not the rest of the building. Luciak said it's his personal mission to ensure the Yale re-opens.

"I grew up at a private boarding school and in the basement of the Yale," said Luciak. "It's always been a cultural hub and a piece of Canadian heritage. I am a product of the Yale and it will open again."

So for now Luciak is concentrating on Vancouver FanClub. "The walls are not painted black, it's community driven and it celebrates the melting pot that Vancouver has become," said Luciak.

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