The good news: the iconic train is there, and the ancient radiators, and the owl, and the lion, and the horse, and the crumbling old-timey cash register, and the stained-glass sign reading “Beer Parlour”. And the stage and sound system are better than ever. Gone is the grunge-y carpet, the awnings that blocked the light, and the unpleasant smell that hung around during the last days.
Gone too though are the signed photos and posters of bygone shows that marked the Railway Club’s historical importance in Vancouver’s music scene.
Nevertheless, the reopening of the downtown venue, refurbished as the Railway Stage and Beer Café (579 Dunsmuir St.), is mostly good news for fans of live music, comedy and craft beer.
The original bar dates back to the 1930s, when it was the official club of railway workers and membership was required. In the ’80s, the club became the unofficial hub of the local roots music scene, though it hosted all types of bands (including Radiohead, who played an infamous four-song set there in 1995) and singers throughout its long and storied run, well into the 2000s. (Membership was still required, owing to the club’s outdated liquor license, though enforcement extended to signing in at the door.) Unfortunately, the 84-year-old bar closed last April – some feared permanently – after the new owner, who had taken it over in 2008, failed to find buyer.
Earlier this year, however, the Donnelly Group bought the lease. With last night’s opening, the Railway Stage and Beer Café is officially back, albeit in a somewhat different iteration.
The new Railway is a much brighter, more open space. The Donnelly Group, which owns and operates a number of pubs in Vancouver’s downtown and Westside, has opened up the back and front rooms by removing all but two of the red-velvet banquets (although the two that formed the bar’s southwest corner, looking out onto Dunsmuir Street, have been moved to a different corner) and replacing them with long picnic-style tables, the better for convivial beer-drinking and conversation. Sightlines from the back of the bar to the main room’s stage have been improved, as has the stage itself, and a badly needed new sound system installed. Twenty-four taps and four cask engines pour local and Pacific Northwest craft beers.
The company has kept many of the odds and ends that the room had collected over the years, like the owl, the cash register, and the stained-glass Beer Parlour sign. The model train that once ran, on tracks suspended from the ceiling, from the back to the front room has been moved to the smaller back, or games, room (the tracks have been replaced but the train is the same). The outdoor patio is expected to open next month.
Paul Done of Epic Media says that a decision has yet to be made on what to do with some of the memorabilia that hung on the walls as a testament to acts, like k.d. lang and Blue Rodeo, who had played some of their earliest shows in the room.
For more info, and to see what shows the Railway Stage and Beer Café has coming up, visit donnellygroup.ca.