Friday, April 10, 2009


Oldtown News
Vancouver, BC


One of Vancouver's longest running gay bars, the Odyssey, was forced to re-locate after the City of Vancouver property they leased was slated for demolition to make way for desperately needed social housing.

The Odyssey has always been located in the West End and for safety reasons wished to remain there. The West End has a significant gay and lesbian population and most of the community's gay bars are located there.

Unfortunately there was no space available in the Davie Village area but there was on Denman Street where many other non-bar gay businesses are located. This is the route of the hugely successful Pride parade every summer and a number of gay or gay friendly restaurants, coffee shops and apparel stores operate there.

Many residents of the Denman Street area upon becoming aware of the Odyssey re-location sprang into action to oppose the Odyssey move. Residents cited increased noise and that the area wasn't conducive to a nightclub since it is primarily a residential neighborhood.

While the West End is a residential neighborhood it also has extensive commercial aspects to it. Davie, Denman and Robson streets have thriving and very large commercially zoned areas and this is why in my opinion, I believe the vocal anti Odyssey residents were somewhat misguided in their efforts to oppose the re-location.

Under the current City of Vancouver zoning laws, where the Odyssey wished to re-locate, nightclub is a permitted use.

Under the old, outdated and archaic licensing laws, the City allows those who live nearby what they consider to be contentious businesses, a say in in the matter.

This is where I think the problem lies.

In the same location where the Odyssey wished to re-locate at the corner of Barclay and Denman was a longtime theatre called the Bay. I would say that the Bay theatre had many more patrons than the Odyssey could ever have and these theatre goers would depart into the neighborhood after watching a movie. At no time did the City ever say that theatre-goers created so much noise that it was unbearable for the nearby residents. Interestingly the Bay also showcased live theatre which I assume would not have been different in terms of loudness than a club.

On Haro Street near Chilco, which is further into the residential area, the Buchan Hotel on its lower level housed the hugely popular Delilah's restaurant and martini bar. Before Delilah's moved to a larger venue, The City never attempted to close this well regarded business. As far as I know no West End residents opposed this location.

Up the street from where the Odyssey wished to re-locate is the Coast Hotel on Denman which now houses Delilah's, a closed movie theatre and a number of restaurants. Previously an alcohol serving gathering spot, the Three Greenhorns operated without any problems. The same can be said about the Sands Hotel down the street at Denman and Davie where a number of restaurant bars are located.

Half-a-block away from the proposed Odyssey re-location on Denman street is the Dover Arm's pub which attracts party revellers and the City hasn't dared interrupt the operations of this popular West End business.

While West End residents are entitled to voice their concerns about their neighborhood, however, it seems to me that if a proposed business fits within the criteria of the City's land use and zoning laws, this is what Council first and foremost, should be entertaining. Residents should not have the final say if legal, land use and zoning requirements are met.

These decisions of course are best left up to Council. Unfortunately, we know that many politicians instead of doing the right thing, get squeamish if they perceive that they may lose votes come election time if they are deemed by a vocal group of residents not to be favouring their demands. So instead of Councillors engaging in proper governance they start counting votes and in this situation the residents opposing the Odyssey easily outnumbered the gay community who were supporting the application.

This process that the City engaged in regarding the Odyssey reminded me of Aboriginal treaties where the majority of citizens in a referendum are allowed to determine what is in the best interests of the minority and this actually sickens me.

What is even more unfortunate with the Odyssey situation is that according to the Police, this has been a very well-run and problem-free business. That is no easy task either considering the business involves the selling of alcohol. So kudos to the good management of the Odyssey for keeping its premises problem free and safe for the community to enjoy. So why the police opposed thiss move is unusual.

Sadly for the gay community and the short-sightedness of Councillors with the exception of NPA Councillor Suzanne Anton and bravo to her, the community has lost one of its most treasured gathering spots.

I can't help but think if there was a Harvey Milk on Council representing the West End that he would not have buckled to the whims of an organized and very vocal group. His vision would be that the gay community should be treated fairly and that politicians shouldn't bend to the whims or demands of those who can muster up the strongest opposition which has a tendency to frighten weak politicians into submission.

I think the gay community will lobby now to defeat gay and lesbian Councillors, Ellen Woodsworth and Tim Stevenson who along with their Vision/COPE/NDP colleagues instead of demonstrating real leadership in the face of conflict, sank into their seats, barely uttering a peep as they voted against the Odyssey re-location and in the process, betrayed Vancouver's gay community.

Shame on them.

Jamie Lee Hamilton


At 10:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Again, you and YOUR version of yesteryear.
You do not live in the area, so you do not know.
Places and areas change.

The O knew this was coming for a long, long time. Why didn't they have a plan in place a long time ago?
After being in business for over 20 years, why does it sound like they just cannot simply afford to move.
And this talk that they have 40 employees...bullshit.
What? I am in the business and know for a fact thats far to high a count or they are obviously doing something wrong.

There are many places in this city, even in the Westend in which locations are or can be made available. Something tells me they didn't do their homework.

They are using the backs of us in the gay community to try and win their war. If they were smart, if they did some planning, this all could've taken care of itself a long time ago. Now that they are losing, they are whining. Looks like 'the old ladies' as I have heard people in the community comment...have done their homework. So why can't so called business people do theirs?

I don't even know why I am bothering to comment on this pathetic blog. You'll just turn it to your way anyway.

At 9:40 AM, Blogger Jamie Lee Hamilton said...

Anonymous, I posted your response because it shows contempt for the gay community and the Odyssey business which has operated in the West End for 25 years. They have made significant contributions to the West End neighborhood. By donating to various charities, by bringing us show-stopping entertainment and being a strong economic driver for the area, they have shown themselves to be a good neighbour and a healthy vibrant part of our community, moreover, they are a significant cultural gathering spot where community membbers can congregate without fear or harm.

They have every right to choose Denman street for their re-location. It is a commercially zoned area which allows clubs. Do your homework and you would know that Club is a permitted use in that zonng on Denman street. That is why there has always been clunbs oin Denman and continue to be.

I bet top dog at the Odyssey, the very talented Joan-E, loves your stupidity because it demonstrates how those opposed to the Odyssey re-location don't have much grey matter upstairs.

At 1:44 PM, Blogger Drina Read said...

The Odyssey did have an excellent business plan and they did do their homework. The relocation would have revitalized the dying community. If you live in the neighbourhood, you should know that businesses go under at an alarming rate. After 9pm, the only stores open are the convenience store across from Denman Mall and the 24-hour Cafe Blenz. This is so sad for the community that a vocal homophobic minority put a stop to progress and the short-sighted City Council bought into their stupidity.

At 2:07 PM, Anonymous Carl A. said...

The arguments the owners have put up, even against their own community just shows their lack of skill in a business environment.

Something of which you can't back yourself up either.

This 'rage' that they want everyone to get up in arms about is pathetic.

At 4:52 PM, Blogger Jamie Lee Hamilton said...

Carl A

I'd say that the Odyssey is very successful. They have operated for twenty-five years without incident. Obviously the community support is there.

Not sure what you are referring to about rage.

As far as I can tell the Odyssey and those supporting their re-location just want to be treated fairly. This unfortunately didn't happen.

I am hopeful that the Odyssey will re-submit their application and address some of the neighborhood's concerns and Council will re-visit the issue and treat them fairly.

Ideally, I'm hopeful Council will review and reverse their earlier decision.

At 6:15 PM, Anonymous Carl A. said...

There have been incidents.
You just don't know of them.
Not with your reputation, otherwise I think you would have a different viewpoint.

At 6:26 PM, Anonymous MJK said...

As a business person downtown with many operations, the O group does not come off as prepared.
I actually was at the council meetings and as a gay man, they were treated fairly.
Its great that they have support but I would say the fault is with the owners.

No due diligence done.

Changes to that block have been coming since 1999, check the records.
The O group knew and failed to seek various venues which are or could be made available.

Something tells me that after 25 years, they do not have much to show for themselves.
I also question the 40+ employees thing.

I commend you for your fight. But I think a lot of people in the entertainment district would agree, they just didn't take the proper steps necessary, nor have a plan b or even plan c.
In Vancouver unfortunately, its just the way it is, you cannot bet on City Hall.

At 6:48 PM, Blogger Jamie Lee Hamilton said...


Again on that block of Denman, Nightclub is a permitted use under current City of Vancouver land use and zoning.

There is virtually nothing available and that location was the only suitable location. I watched Council that day, which are streamed live and I can tell you there is nothng else available along Davie or Denman. Even Barb Windsor the Chief License Officer for the City of Vancouver acknowledged this.

Even the BC Liberal candidate for Van-West End in the upcoming provincial election couldn't find an office and will not have one. She will have a mobile bus instead.

I think the Odyssey has played a key role in Vancouver's community and no amount of bad mouthing from anonymous posters will change this fact.

Thanks for posting though.

At 6:50 PM, Blogger Jamie Lee Hamilton said...

Carl A

According to the Police there have been no incidents so unless you have a written record of something I would think you might want to refrain from articulating this nonsense

At 8:15 PM, Anonymous Will said...

...120 single and combined venues scoped out in the past year. Offers made on Denman, Davie, Gastown, and Granville. Someone explain how this shows a lack of preparedness on the part of The Odyssey. The lack of a "plan B" was due to the lack of ANY available spaces to consider. The homework was done. Additionally, a plan B should not have been required as every hoop was jumped through and every part of this application fit the use of the proposed site PERFECTLY.

To respond to some of the questions about anger and whether this has been made a "gay issue"... let's clarify. No one has suggested that the rejection of The Odyssey's application was because it was a gay club. There WERE aspects of the application that needed to be considered in light of the fact that this club is a major hub for the LGBT community (not the only one, but a big one), but this was just one part of the deal on Denman.

What makes this an issue that the LGBT community should take issue with is how it has been reduced and trivialized by Council.

During the April 9th session, we found ourselves compared to Chinese Restaurants in terms of “replacability”, were told to use dance halls and community centers to continue gathering, and were offered the very constructive suggestion that we perhaps didn’t even need to dance. To say that this line of comment indicates an infuriatingly offensive lack of understanding of this issues is an understatement of immense proportions.

That's where the anger should come from. THAT'S when this became an LGBT issue.

At 8:19 PM, Anonymous Will said...

As for staffing, I can name almost 40 regular employees without even touching on the performers who have weekly paid shows. Include them and it's actually over 50.

At 9:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

To call the opposition of a night club on Denman Street homophobic is absurd. I and the hundreds of other members of the LGBT community who opposed this relocation are not homophobic. We have every right to voice our opinions about how our neighbourhood grows and develops now and into the future. Many of us have lived here for decades. Many for a lot longer than the Odyssey has even been in business.

Getting involved now Jamie Lee and without all of the facts is irresponsible. You're getting caught up in the unnecessary hysteria generated by the staff and supporters of the Odyssey.

The STRAIGHT NOT GAY owners of the Odyssey did not do their homework. Even when some of us opposed neighbours tried to talk to them about some sort of compromise so that we could all live together - the night club being the new-comer to the neighbourhood - Michael Levy said no to every single thing we suggested. Just a couple of things we asked about were if he'd consider putting in place the same kind of restrictions that most night clubs downtown now have like no in/out privileges (to avoid smoking or loitering in the alley or side streets which is the only place you can go to get 6 metres away from 911 denman in order to legally smoke) and security guards at closing to patrol the area to make sure happily drunk/stoned patrons heading home after a fun night out clear he neighbourhood quickly and quietly. He said NO. There were other requests, but these 2 are simple ones to enact and are in place at virtually all new or relocating liquor license applications before city council.

All of the bars and restaurants you mentioned along Denman do not close at 3AM with patrons spilling out until 3:30AM. The businesses you mention close at 1AM.

Check with the police - every single business you mentioned has noise complaints against. Including the Odyssey at its current location. Delilah's got MAJOR noise complaints when it was on Haro and it still does on Comox. The Dover gets weekly noise complaints but it has been n Denman for 30 years so neighbours are told that it was here first so city and police can do nothing.

Don't forget Deman Station - the Gay bar at Haro and Denman. It was a great neighbour - when people could still smoke indoors or in the parkade and so noise was never an issue and it was also under ground. And, it was a great neighbour when it was a gay bar. But it got sold and became Club Da Bong - a straight bar. It ended up becoming a gang hang out and there were 3 stabbings and one shooting before it was finally shut down.

The city has not attempted to close The Odyssey - the Odyssey's owners new about the need to move for several years now. The longest they could have stayed where they are would have been 2011. They keep talking about 40+ staff who may be put out of work. Even if the 911 denman location had been approved Michael Levy told city council he would have had to close the bar down for 3 to 6 months to renovate the new location. THE STAFF WOULD HAVE BEEN OUT OF WORK EVEN IF THE RELOCATION HAD BEEN APPROVED!! Because of the denial AND the amendment city council added the Odyssey will very likely now be allowed to remain open and in operation at its current location until they find a suitable new location and have it renovated.

Gee, the Odyssey doesn't get to open a night club up 6 FEET away from the bedroom windows of the closest residents to 911 Denman AND the staff gets to keep their jobs while the straight owners of the Odyssey look for a new location AND patrons of the Odyssey get to keep their space alive AND the fundraisers who use the Odyssey get to keep raising funds.

It sounds like the people on both sides of this issue who were most concerned about the relocation get to win. What a horrible outcome - one where everyone gets something.

And of course people are posting "anonymously" we're getting attacked by our own community because we have a different opinion from others in our LGBT community. If you really care about the LGBT community in our neighbourhood then step away from the hysteria and quit being so divisive and work on bringing us all together not splitting us all further apart.

At 10:10 AM, Blogger Jamie Lee Hamilton said...

Hi Anonymous 9:43am

To be clear I have said that those opposing the Odyssey based on the high school being across the street are homophobic. Gay people are not pedophiles.

Further, I have said the City has treated the Odyssey unfairly and I think the issues around noise and patrons departing the Club at closing can be mitigated for nearby residents.

I really don't care if the Odyssey is straight owned or not. The fact that it has been a gay club for close to 25 years and before that the owners were operating Buddy's and Boom Boom Room on Burnaby Street. The Odyssey and Buddy's/Boom Boom Room have served our community well. The Odyssey has always had gay ownership and perhaps the gay owners may have sold their interest, this I don't know.

All I know is that this Club has been a very integral part of our communiy and those jobs need to be protected.

In terms of a re-location and employees being temporarily unemployed while renovations are undertaken, at least, they would be eligible for Unemployment Insurance when there are temporary lay-offs. Permanent closure would result in lots of hardship for those employees.

I am trying to do my bit to assist because I remember when I was evicted from the West End 25 years along with other members of my community due to neighbours bringing the same arguments that are now being used against the Odyssey. I know how being targetted and treated unfairly feels so that is why I'm trying to do what I can to inform and educate the public around this issue.

I hope with all my heart that we can work together co-operatively to find some common ground.

Jamie Lee


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