British Columbia

Elbow Room Café: The Musical showcases the love behind the abuse

The Elbow Room Café: The Musical tells the bright history of one of Vancouver's most iconic — and playfully abusive — breakfast hubs.

The history of Davie Street's iconic brunch hangout hits the stage

Patrick Savoie and Dave Deveau stand outside the Elbow Room Cafe on Davie Street. (CBC)

If you ask Patrick Savoie to refill your cup of coffee, he might tell you to do it yourself. And that's putting it nicely.

The co-owner of The Elbow Room Café on Davie Street — a popular breakfast and brunch spot — has long endeared patrons by serving them a side of sass with their meals.

And after 34 years of frying up giant pancakes and eggs benny, the rich history of the restaurant will play out onstage in Elbow Room Café: The Musical — including just how the infamous diner came to be so playfully abusive.

"We are ourselves. We don't hide what we have to say," said Savoie, who co-owns the restaurant with his partner Bryan Searle.

The philosophy of the Elbow Room is etched into the restaurant's blackboard. (CBC)

Savoie says the diner's feisty roots can be traced back to a busy Sunday morning when a group of customers rudely yelled for some more coffee while he was servicing another table. He gave into his frustrations.

"I turned around and I said, f--k you! I was just over there and asked you if you wanted coffee ... and now you expect me to drop everything?'"

Those customers left — but everyone else applauded.

"They said Patrick, you did what every single waiter and waitress in America or around the world would like to have done."

A community cornerstone

The rich history of the diner is being transformed into a musical written by playwright Dave Deveau, who wasn't just attracted by the Elbow Room's antics — but also by its charm.

"It's such a theatrical place," said Deveau. "It's hugely colourful. There's so much to look at. There's so much to hear."

Devau's husband, Cameron Mackenzie, is directing the musical. The couple developed a deep affection for The Elbow Room, citing its strong ties to Vancouver's LGBTQ community.

A sign aims to keep cooks from taking a bite out of the customers. (CBC)

"A lof people who don't know the inner workings of the Elbow Room get caught up in the sort of abuse café dynamic — which is really fun but its underscored with such deep respect and love for the community. [And] that felt like a story that needed be told and brought to the masses."

"The Elbow Room's ultimate legacy is that it created a place where everyone is safe to be their truest self," he said. "Nobody has to pretend to be anything other than who they are here."

Untold stories

Deveau says Savoie and Searle are a symbol of the community's strength. 

"There's very few stories in our community about a gay male couple who have been together as long as Brian and Patrick have. A lot of the generation above us didn't make it through the AIDS crisis," he said.

"I think that's a chapter in our history that my generation and the generation below me forget about, because we've grown up in a very different world than our queer seniors."

Deveau (left) says the Elbow Room represents the strength of Vancouver's LGBTQ community, and that Savoie (right) and his partner Searle provide a space for members to be themselves. (CBC)

But for the restaurant's longtime owners, seeing their lives unfold onstage is humbling.

"Never in our lifetime would we have thought that anybody would want to write anything about us," said Savoie. "That is amazing..

The Elbow Room Café: The Musical will show at the York Theatre from March 1 to 12.

With files from CBC's The Early Edition

To listen to the full interview, click on the audio labelled: Elbow Room Café: The Musical showcases the love behind the abuse