Co-owner of the infamous Elbow Room Cafe has died

Bryan Searle was famous for his sarcasm and wit

“Food and service is our name, but ABUSE is our game.”

Regulars to the Elbow Room Cafe, a Davie Street restaurant famous for dishing out a side of sass along with breakfast, will be sad to hear that co-founder Bryan Searle passed away Dec. 14. He was 87.

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Searle and husband Patrice Savoie, who launched the popular Elbow Room more than three decades ago, discovered their snarky attitudes and sarcasm towards customers were as big a draw as their delicious, heaping plates of food. (On this reporter's first visit to the cafe, I made the mistake of asking for a decaf coffee and was met with a foul-mouthed tirade that ended with a suggestion my relatives should be rolling over in their graves at such a thought.)

Longtime friend and customer Laura McDiarmid called the news "heartbreaking."

“I still haven’t resolved myself to the fact Bryan’s gone,” said McDiarmid. “Bryan and Patrice did so much for the community.”

Elbow Room
A message on the door of the Elbow Room regarding the death of co-owner Bryan Searle.

The couple were longtime supporters of A Loving Spoonful, a non-profit organization that provides free, nutritious meals to people living with HIV and AIDS. According to the Elbow Room’s house rules, anyone who doesn’t finish their plate of food is required to make a donation to the organization via the cafe. Searle and Savoie were also presented with the Patron of the Arts Award at this year’s Jessie Awards. The Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards recognize achievement in professional theatre in Vancouver. As well, the cafe was so infamous it became the inspiration for a play called Elbow Room: The Musical and a short film, A Little Elbow Room.

On a personal note, McDiarmid said she’s been going to the Elbow Room for more than 30 years.

“My grandson and Brian shared the same birthday, so I’ve been taking him there since he was a toddler,” said McDiarmid. “I always knew I could go in for a good meal and an insult.”

Spencer Chandra Herbert, MLA for Vancouver-West End, said while he doesn’t know the couple personally, he has eaten at the Elbow Room many times.

“I think there are very few people who don’t know about the Elbow Room — or are afraid to go in,” said Chandra Herbert. “But, they brought the community together. The Elbow Room is such an institution.”

Chandra Herbert added the Elbow Room has always been a safe place for members of the LGBT+ community to gather.

“There weren’t many places like that at the time,” said Chandra Herbert. “They set a good example. Bryan will be missed by many.”

Details regarding a celebration of life for Searle, have yet to be announced.


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