Downtown’s beloved Railway Club will reopen with a new name and a new lease on life that points to the future while honouring its past, say the new owners of the iconic upstairs venue.
Contrary to initial reports, live music and entertainment will still be on tap when the Railway Stage & Beer Café reopens this spring, but so will a “progressive craft beer program.” The renovated space will serve 32 craft beers with a rotating tap program and focus on attracting customers throughout the day rather than relying on nightclub business to pay the bills.
“It is a strange and awkward second-level space with nooks and crannies, a small city patio and a back room bar. That’s what we love about it and why we spent so much time there,” Jeff Donnelly told the Courier via email. “It’s calling to be brought back to life, we've hired a young design firm that puts the history of the space first.”
The Railway Club got its start in 1932 as a members-only club for railway workers and became an iconic music venue in the 1980s and ’90s hosting the likes of Radiohead, k.d. lang, Los Lobos, and the Tragically Hip. But over the years, the cozy upstairs hotspot had lost considerable steam, its identity and much of its loyal clientele.
Earlier this year, Donnelly and his business partner, Chad Cole, took over the lease of the 84-year-old club, which had been closed since March and its former owners couldn’t find a buyer.
Donnelly and crew will also be calling on local musician and “impresario” Thomas Anselmi to “develop the programming vision for The Railway Stage, including curatorial direction, décor, stage design, lighting, and to keep the all-important feel which makes the room special.”
Anselmi has a proven track record of invigorating historic venues, including the Waldorf Hotel and former porn theatre-turned-night club the Fox Cabaret. And his music cred goes further back as the former frontman of Copyright and Slow, which infamously ended its career at Expo 86 while performing at the fair’s Festival of Independent Recording Artists. Anselmi reportedly mooned the audience after organizers cut the show short and a mini-riot ensued.
Donnelly said having Anselmi on board is a good fit for the club’s new vision.
“Andi Akhavan our head of programming and talent has worked with Thomas in the past at Arrival Agency. Not only was he a cultural fit but he had a lot of passion for this particular project since we first started talking with him. He chose to work with us as much as we chose to work with him.”
While exact details of the club’s live entertainment offerings are still being worked out, according to a press release Dino Archie’s popular comedy night and Joe Rotundo’s “Saturday Sessions” will return. No word yet on the crowd-favourite Hardrock Miners’ monthly Monday night singalong.
As for the club’s train set, which hung from the ceiling and wound its way around the venue, delighting many a drunken onlooker, there had been rumours online that the trains had been sold and the set permanently derailed. Not so, according to Donnelly.
“The trains have not been sold, the track hasn’t worked for some years and unfortunately a lot of the cars were stolen over the years. As a team we think the train should be represented somehow in the new space.”
Still, this being Vancouver, news of the Railway Club’s resurrection wouldn’t be complete without a little online snarkiness and worries that the new venue will lose some of its soul. However, Donnelly takes it all in stride.
“We can’t pay too much attention to snarky comments, most people think we’re a faceless corporation of executives making decisions in boardrooms. That’s just not the case. We’re a small independent company that started here in Vancouver,” said Donnelly. “Trevor Kallies, Alvin Pillay and David Gunawan partner on our products, Evoke Design, St. Marie and others partner on our rooms, Andi Akhavan and now Thomas Anselmi partner on our entertainment, we have an incredible team culturally. It’s myself and my partners living/breathing these rooms every day. We always take people’s comments into consideration if they’re informed about our company, at The Railway, we're going to put all our effort into our trade and let the product speak for itself.”