You would think that if a couple of young entrepreneurs wanted to bring business to the Downtown east side, one that offered a safe haven from the streets, served healthy, affordable food, and breathed life back into an old icon, the City and the myriad of agencies that have made an industry out of the poor and troubled would be there to help.
Well no, they’re not.
Andrew Turner, 33, and Malcolm Hassin, 30, opened SBC Restaurant last December on East Hastings, near Main Street. They tell me it’s the only indoor skateboard park in Vancouver.
The building has great vibes. As the Smilin’ Buddha Cabaret, the outside of the building used to have an 800-pound neon sign featuring a Buddha with a jiggling belly. The plan, says Malcolm is to get the restaurant back up and running, and grow fruit and vegetables on the roof of the building. They want to bring live music back to the venue.
The Smilin’ Buddha Cabaret was an integral part of Vancouver’s music scene from 1952 until the early 1990s.
The Vancouver Heritage Foundation named the building one of Vancouver’s 125 places that matter last year, and according to the heritage plaque, in the ‘50s it was the Smilin’ Buddha Dine & Dance. In the ‘60s it was part of the touring soul and rock music circuit, and in the late ‘70s it became part of the punk and alternative music scene.
Jimi Hendrix played there, so did Janis Joplin, Aretha Franklin, DOA and Jefferson Airplane. 54-40 named their 1994 release after the place, bought the sign and restored it.
The building has sat derelict for the last 20-odd years, another blight on the DTES. It’s still no beauty queen, but give the current business owners a break and that will also change.
When I was there on Thursday there was a steady stream of mainly young male customers. Malcolm says that customers range from eight to 56, and there’s a bunch of “older skater dudes” in their 50s that come once a week, plus a lot of people from the film industry.
Like everything in the building, the skateboard ramp is completely salvaged and repurposed. The ramp is part Expo 86, part donation from skateboarding rock star Kevin Harris, and partly built from several ramps scavenged from various eastside backyards.
BC Hydro wants $30,000 from the guys for an immediate upgrade.
The City is jerking them around about a business licence and stopped them serving food. It’s bureaucracy at its stupidest and I bet the Buddha’s smilin’.
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