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Under the old, outdated and archaic licensing laws, the City allows those who live nearby what they consider to be contentious businesses, a say in in the matter.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