Nightlife by Dal Richards

In Foncie’s era, downtown Vancouver was not only busy with daytime shoppers and workers, it drew people from the suburbs at night as well.  When I was young, anything outside of downtown Vancouver peninsula was considered “suburban”.  From the south you could take an interurban from Marpole, the Oak streetcar, or the number seven streetcar from Dunbar. All brought you to the heart of the action. In the case of my family, the Richards, with young son, Dallas in tow (me!) we’d have dinner at Woodward’s, then walk down to the Pantages Theatre at Hastings and Carrall to catch the 7pm vaudeville show. What a thrill that was!

Granville Street was a high rent district so many entrepreneurs couldn’t afford to open clubs there. The Commodore Ballroom was an exception; most clubs were on Hornby, Seymour, Alberni, and Pender Streets. The rent was lower but the locations still readily accessible. Granville Street was the feeder to all those others. And Granville, with its varied selection of restaurants, was where, following an evening at a club, you gravitated to if you were in search of a late night snack.

In my early days as a musician, the Commodore Ballroom, the Palomar Ballroom at Georgia and Burrard, the Alexandra Ballroom upstairs at Robson and Hornby, and the Cave Supper Club in the 600 block Hornby were the coveted jobs for musicians.  Ivan Ackery – photo #10 – hired me to play at the Orpheum on many occasions, the first time in 1940 shortly after we got the gig at the Hotel Vancouver.  Ivan instituted a Friday night live band policy for the Orpheum. He’d cut a couple of shorts from the line-up between featured movies, and have a band play live music for a half hour instead.  I’d have the band play at the Orpheum at 8pm and then rush over to the Panorama Roof for our gig there.

In Vancouver in the 30’s, 40’s, and into the early 50s there was no liquor allowed in restaurants and nightclubs. In those days ‘don’t leave home without one’ was the admonishment to make sure you have your flask, bottle, or mickey of your favourite libation with you, or it was going to be a long, dry evening. Bottles and flasks were surreptitiously carried in and placed under the table until mixers, glasses, and ice was ordered. Drinks were poured when staff were presumably looking elsewhere. Police conducted so-called raids from time to time, usually was just a ‘walk through’.   At the Panorama Roof of the Hotel Vancouver they were never a problem.  As the Police took the elevator from the lobby to the 15th floor the bellman in the lobby would call up to the headwaiter, and he’d give me the signal.  I’d play Roll out the Barrel and everyone knew to hide their bottles under the table till the coppers left.


Vancouver’s legendary big band leader Dal Richards has entertained British Columbians for more than 75 years.  His music has been a touchstone of Vancouver’s social history for three generations; and his memories of nightlife in Vancouver span eight decades.