Music by VICE

I Spent a Night Touring Vancouver’s Worst-Rated Nightclubs

“You will first notice the smell, it is a mix of Axe body spray, shame and stale overpriced beer.”

by Laura Bell
Nov 23 2017, 6:45pm

All photos courtesy of author. 

Having only arrived in Vancouver from the UK a few months ago, my feelings about this city’s nightlife scene are not yet entirely cynical. Being new allows me to live as a “yes woman”—I am more than willing to explore the bad with the good and always, always (as is my mantra for life) the weirder the better. So when my editor set me the challenge to venture down the rabbit hole of Vancouver’s worst clubs I couldn't help but leap at the opportunity. The task was simple—go to the worst rated clubs in Vancouver, make some friends, ask them to point me in the direction of what they thought was the worst club, and repeat.

I predicted a fair bit of drunken sloppiness, an extensive list of new and short-lived best friends, and floors so sticky that I’d have to restrict my dancing to arm work only. If you throw in a proposition for an intergenerational threesome and the most depressing Yaletown meat market I’ve ever seen, then I was pretty much right on the money. But even through all the strobes and smells, Vancouver’s resistance to even naming one bad club did manage to surprise me.

The Roxy

Yelp reviews (3.5 stars)
“A very typical vulgar choice for poor students and low life whose main objective is to get drank”
“It's a cesspool.” “worst place to spend your night”
“You will first notice the smell, it is a mix of Axe body spray, shame and stale overpriced beer.”

My review (3 stars)
“fun but smells"

I began my pilgrimage at 9 PM at The Roxy, notorious amidst locals as one of the most terrible clubs on Granville and thus a seemingly appropriate place to start. Walking in was like entering the hygienically challenged 90s, and it seemed some people may have actually been here that long. Why there was carpet in this place was a mystery to me, and the general decor was unfashionably retro.

But on first impression The Roxy wasn't half bad. Sure, there was a smell, but there was also a live band, people seemingly having fun and it was actually full. What surprised me first was the sheer range of age in this place. In the corner were old men who resembled Boot Strap Bill on board the Black Pearl; men who had seemingly become part of the furniture.

Meanwhile, the dance floor was full of teenage girls in cowboy hats. In the middle of the room were the in-betweens: a couple of groups of out-of-towners, some regulars, and a table of punks who didn't know why they were there. A wise Australian friend hailed The Roxy as “lame but fun” and this is exactly how I would put it—for a club on Granville, it is doing its best to retain some kind of identity but its place on the Granville strip, or “Vancouver’s shit strip” means that it will, by association, always be a little lame.

I spoke with the bartender who had worked at The Roxy for 18 years, who fondly refers to it as “the amusement park for adults.”

“The whole playing field is welcome,” said Dave. Looking around I couldn’t deny his remark was an astute observation; a whole range of human experiences seemed to be happening. Dave’s 18 years working in this place also gave me an indication that maybe The Roxy instills a certain loyalty in its staff and in its locals. Dave probably started working here around the same time that most of the girls on the dance floor were born—how special is that?

Maybe I was feeling buzzed or maybe I secretly loved this place. This place was grotty and smelly and loud but people were having fun. The maybe reductive conclusion from one of the babies on the dance floor was that The Roxy was “energetic, exciting and fun.” “There’s a great energy, I don't feel like anyone is creeping” she said. I didn't feel particularly leched on either, maybe because the elderly men were unable to move from their posts in the corner where they had been for all of time, or maybe because people weren't here for that.

“Has it changed?” I asked a punky fellow who was back after a four-year hiatus. “No,” he said. “It’s still full of twenty somethings trying to get laid.” A place like this is built on the opportunity for potential coitus and as long as it’s not creepy and it’s consensual, I see nothing wrong with that. I’d been informed that The Roxy attracted cougars—perhaps they feel more comfortable preying in darkness and under cover of the loud live music, or perhaps the sticky floors make it impossible for their victims to run away… who knows? I approached two older-looking women in the corner and asked what they thought of this. “It has a good reputation” one claimed. Does it? I guess the burly man crowd was to their liking. “Republic is really terrible,” said one eventually. Bingo. My next destination. I thanked the two ladies and wished them both luck on their quest to get laid.

Republic

Yelp reviews (1.5 stars)
“Sucks. Not fun at all. You want fun? Go to the Roxy”
“DO NOT GO HERE ITS NOT LIT!!!”
“Legitimately the worst nightclub experience I've ever had in Vancouver”

My review: (0.5 stars)
“Please never again”

There is nothing more disheartening than walking into an empty club, but in this instance the empty dance floor, the sweeping erratic lights, and the lone DJ on some sort of perch between the first floor and balcony bar didn't dishearten me at all. Instead, I felt a little tug of hope that I was finally onto something. This really could be the worst place in Vancouver. I didn't spend too long looking around; turns out bobbing and weaving through a non-existent crowd takes no time at all. The downstairs dance floor was closed, and we were only given access to the balcony bar. This I guess was in an attempt to try and pretend people actually wanted to be here; all the smoke and mirrors didn't work however, as there were only eight other people in the room. I could feel the buzz of potential that people genuinely believed this place was going to kick off any minute—I wanted to tell them all to go home, to find somewhere else, that it was only 11 PM and they still had time to turn their night around. Between the two silent couples lurking on the balcony and a group of friends doing shots at the bar, no one was having fun.

I approached the group doing shots and struck up conversation with their ringleader. She was wearing knee high boots and a black dress and immediately apologized to me for being dressed like a slob. “If you’re a slob what am I dressed as?” I asked back, trying to establish a rapport so I could make my moves out of this place. “Puffer is so in right now” she said grabbing my arm “I love it, let’s be best friends.” At this stage I wasn’t one to pass up on friends of any kind so I eagerly agreed. Then came the test, I assume a test of our friendship, an initiation of sorts: “darling how old do you think I am?” Always the answer to this question is to go stupidly low, the lower the better. “24?” I say. “Bitch I’m 35!” I feign surprise, then after that I guess we’re best friends.

“Vancouver is very much about the time of the week, second week or last week are pumping when people have money,” she said to try and explain away the empty bar. “I’m kinda disappointed because it’s not packed.” According to my NBF, Republic is the place to be on a Thursday, drawing a hot and exclusive crowd. I wasn't sure if maybe she was confused and was talking about a different bar because that bore no resemblance to the place I was standing in. “What I’m telling you is legit because I’m a fucking veteran.” OK. If this lady was a club vet, and I didn't doubt that she was, I could learn a lot from her. “So where’s the worst club in Vancouver?” I ask her. “Girl, Vancouver nightlife fucking sucks.” Not good enough gal pal, I needed an answer. The conclusion was that Vancouver nightlife is just extremely terrible; and if she’s hanging out in places like Republic I’m not surprised that she thinks that. My appraisal of this place must have burst her bubble because she quickly dismissed Republic and she and her friends began to mobilize to make their way somewhere else. “Come follow us to Bar None,” she offered. “Is it terrible?” I asked. “I don't know, I’m pretty sure it sucks,” she replied.

Good enough for me.

Republic may well have been the worst club I’d ever been to—made worse still by the fact that no one would acknowledge how terrible it was. “Where’s the worst club in Vancouver?” I asked a couple of party goers clearly having zero fun, both in the place and with each other. “Um I don't know.” Wrong! I wanted to shout, “This is!” If an empty room, overpriced drinks and an air of thus far unrecognised exclusivity doesn't spell a terrible club then I don't know what does.

Bar None

Yelp reviews (3 stars)
“Please shut this place down”
“Everyone budges, people are entitled as hell, and a lot of 17-year-olds. Not poppin”
“Crowd was lame and super-enhanced douchey”

My review: (1.5 stars)
“More like Bar NoFUN amiright…?”

We arrived at Bar None and a long line of girls in dresses and heels stretched along the sidewalk next to three limos parked up outside. We had wandered into Yaletown and it was certainly different from the Granville strip. I suddenly felt like I was in a dream where you realize you’re naked and there’s nothing you can do about it. Glancing down at my silver puffer and trainers I felt very underdressed. “Am I appropriately dressed?” I asked The Veteran. She ummed at me and then gritted her teeth like she was about to say something extremely harsh. “Usually girls who go clubbing can’t wear flats.” There was an awkward beat. Good to know. Her judgement further cemented in my mind that anywhere you have to wear heels to gain entry is immediately going to be terrible.

Upon entry, I was instantly bombarded by a waitress carrying a burning chalice of champagne.The Veteran had been right, no one was wearing flats in here. The place was a neon nightmare with overpriced drinks and a dance floor full of children grinding to Zara Larsson. I stood at the bar watching teetering bambies drink $15 Jägerbombs with guys wearing loafers and chains—I assume this was the preamble to the public heavy petting that then followed. I was in Bar None long enough to conclude that I might have walked into Hades itself.

The Veteran and her friends were now about six shots down and when we all filed out of Bar None to venture further into the Yaletown inferno I sensed there had been a change in tone. I continued talking to The Veteran despite the obvious saltiness from her friends. Keen to get her take on the Bar None, I asked if she’d liked it. “It’s not about where you go. It’s who you're with,” she replied. True, I guess. But if that were the case I don't know why they wouldn't have just picked somewhere cheaper, somewhere less weirdly exclusive, and perhaps somewhere less full of preteens in tight dresses.

At this point her friend turned to me and said, “We’ve fucking known each other since we were 18, that’s why there’s no new friends allowed.” Unknowingly I had walked into a kindergarten level of social politics, and I had made an extreme faux pas; I had distracted their queen bee. It was as if she was the mamma bird and my talking to her was distracting her from vomiting food and fun into the mouths of her friends and now they were starving! “You’re lucky it’s really hard to make new friends so that’s why she’s being extremely friendly,” the jealous friend continued. I just wanted to be honest at this point. I wanted to tell them that I thought they had the worst taste in bars I’d ever seen and thus are integral to my quest to find hell itself. But I didn’t. “Are you trying to start something?” was the response to my silence. Now I wasn't quite sure how to respond to that one and, assuming it was a rhetorical question I just pointed over at a limo and said: “Limo!”

Pierre’s Champagne Lounge

Yelp reviews (2 stars)
“This place is the worst”
“The girls here were too busy taking shots with middle aged men to serve us”
“horrible venue—Yaletown has really just become a place to be seen and flaunt your money”

My review (2.5 stars)
“Fine—but where was Justin Bieber?”

“She told me not to let you in,” the bouncer said, referring to The Veteran who had just walked in. That little bitch. Clearly this vote of no confidence wasn’t enough to stop me getting into this place though, and the doorman let me in with a wink. I hate what these places can do to a person, because even as I was ushered into the room of the rich and famous I couldn’t help but feel a little important.

Pierre’s is small, maybe made smaller by the amount of huge heads in the room. It is one room with a bar at the back and a few tables around the edges. At the tables are expensive bottles of alcohol and I assume (locally) famous people. Standing at the bar, I was in the thoroughfare of hotties coming back from the loo wiping their noses. Pierre’s is “intimate, exclusive and high end” said the bartender as I got another drink. “They’re more selective on the crowd.” That was obvious. I looked around the room and saw a sea of beautiful people, not necessarily dressed to the nines but dressed well, and I didn't feel totally out of place in my trainers. Initially blinded by the happy beautiful people, it took me a little time to spot the lurkers on the periphery—the older gentlemen in suits with the young ladies and the expensive champagne. “A lot of suits in here,” I noted. “Yeah there are a lot of business type people and people bringing their clients in,” the bartender replied, and I gave her a nod as if to say aaah sugar daddies but she was unwilling to divulge too much. “I’m sure there is but I don't get to see a lot of it.” Sensible response, but unless that girl in the corner was here with her actual daddy I see no other reason why she’d be hanging around with a 70-year-old man.

Then I was introduced to the owner, Peter. “Our clientele is probably the best in the city they like to have fun. They like to let loose” he told me as he sat me down with two shots of 1942 Don Julio. “This is the only tequila I drink,” he says as we took the shot. Clearly Pierre’s has a reputation for people bougie enough to want to be here and it was blindingly obvious the type of place they wanted to be. “Our places are the places if you have a little money, if you want to be seen, this is where it’s at.”

Maybe I was meant to be impressed that I was being “seen” here, as if that somehow validates me as a person; that the fact I’m breathing in the same coke farts as famous hockey players and actors makes me a “someone”—but my not knowing or caring who any of them were made me further realize that a place like Pierre’s is wasted on me.

I was keen to get a suggestion from Peter on where was awful, but sadly no luck. “It’s tough to say as everyone works really hard at what they do,” was his response. Damn all this Vancouver loyalty. “Vancouver nightlife is terrible if you don't know anybody and if you don't know how to have fun,” he continued. Correct, I thought, as I looked at my third free vodka soda and the remnants of our $20 tequila shots. I wasn't having fun at all until I had my intro to the owner. Hell, without Peter I’d still be at the bar paying for my own drinks and being ignored. Peter introduced me to a group of men who I assume were athletes because being in their midst made me feel like I was walking through a literal forest of tree-sized people. However, famous faces and schmoozing with rich people ultimately isn’t what I look for in a good night out. I understood what Pierre’s was trying to do though, and I understood how for some people that’s exactly what they want in a club. This place wanted to be exclusive and expensive, and their target audience seemed to enjoy it. Was it the worst club in Vancouver? Probably not, it just wasn't for me. But did I enjoy all the free expensive alcohol? Absolutely, I’m only human.

Banter Room

Yelp reviews (4 stars)
“This place sucks”
“If you are looking for good service and a place to “banter”, this is not it”
“Will never return”

My review (2 stars)
“Unable to locate banter”

I still hadn’t found Vancouver’s worst club and time was running out—it was already 12:30, and in Vancouver time that meant we were approaching the twilight hours of the night time, since nothing is open past 3. Leaving Pierre’s, I found a couple on the street and managed to extract from them where they thought was the worst place. “Banter Room is pretty terrible,” the girl said. “Won’t you come with me?” I asked. These guys were actually decent and I thought might make the insufferably-named “Banter Room” more bearable. “No fucking way I hate that place.” Awesome.

Turns out Banter Room isn’t entirely awful but it’s got a perplexing crowd. A lot of older men with younger women and for the life of me I can’t imagine why these ladies would want to entertain their sugar daddies in a place called “The Banter Room.” A woman and her much older boyfriend were on a date and I managed to join them in the throes of a passionate domestic argument. The older man told me that this bar “is a little tough to get into, but you met the prerequisites to get in.” I guess he was trying to pay me a compliment. “Everyone is pretty and it’s free love,” said his girlfriend. “True love, not free love,” corrected the man.

Oh no, I quickly realized I had become a pawn in their weird intergenerational family feud. “What if I love a woman and you love a man?” she said offering me her glass of champagne. Oh god, get me out. The lady then kept whispering “LGBTQ” at me as I tried to divert the attention away from the hideousness. Not too keen on being groomed for a threesome by this couple, I excused myself. I wasn’t sure why this place had inadvertently become the hangout spot for dates that spanned the generations and it was never made clear where the banter was either. Was it a general atmosphere? Was it in the conversation the bar encouraged? Was it an introspective and ironic comment on how this bar actually lacks any banter at all? I would like an answer to that.

So what was the conclusion? Clearly everyone in Vancouver is just too nice to tell me which is the shittiest club in all of town. “I wouldn't go there” is enough to tell me they probably think it’s awful but are too polite to ever say so. Did I find the worst spot in Vancouver? I don't think so, but I did find some pretty terrible ones. The bougie Vancouver crowds confused me—mainly I was confused that for a city of plaid shirts and trainers there was an appetite for that sort of thing. I doubt I’ll be venturing back into the inner circle just yet; I know I’d have much more fun elsewhere. That’s not to say my quest proved unfruitful though because I did get to see five of Vancouver’s finest shit holes. I also got propositioned for an intergenerational threesome, danced alone in a club of five other people and made and lost a best friend all in one night. In short, it was a night I will remember (in all its excruciating glory) for the rest of my life.

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