British Columbia

Granville Street nightclubs disappearing as millennials drawn to pubs and restaurants instead

Only a handful of traditional nightclubs remain on Granville Street as owners and operators turn their focus to "game bars" and pubs to cater to new tastes.

Club owners now focusing on 'game bars' and pubs to cater to new tastes

Nate Sabine from Blueprint Entertainment stands inside the bocce field at his company's 'game bar,' the Colony Entertainment District, formerly the site of the Caprice Nightclub. (Lien Yeung/CBC)

Once known as the heart of the entertainment district, the clubs on Granville Street in downtown Vancouver are slowly disappearing as young people turn to other forms of nightlife.

By 2020, there will only be seven licensed nightclubs and live music venues, compared to 13 back in 2009, according to city records.

The reason? Millennials, the demographic most likely to frequent clubs, appear to prefer pubs and restaurants to hitting the dancefloor, nightclub owners and operators say.

Weekly DJ nights just aren't the draw they once were with young people.

"The reasons why people traditionally went out were to listen to new music, to hook up with somebody and to have a few drinks," said Nate Sabine of Blueprint Entertainment. "You can do two of those things online now very easily."

Gone are Granville Street clubs like the Caprice and Stone Temple. The Donnelly Group-owned Republic is expected to close next year.

Sabine and his colleagues own a handful of nightclubs around Vancouver, including Celebrities, Venue and Fortune Sound Club.

After 15 years, they recently shut down the cavernous, 15,000-square-foot Caprice and turned it into a "game bar" called the Colony Entertainment District —​​​​​ a two-floor pub packed with old-school arcade games, pinball machines, ping pong tables and a full bocce field.

"The needs have changed … and we just felt that it made a lot more sense to do something like this where it was it was a little bit progressive," says Sabine.

It won't be long before another similar entertainment complex appears on Granville. Cineplex is applying to turn its old theatre into a space with multiple bars that allow for gaming and entertainment, taking up nearly a whole city block.

Open all day and night

Former club owner Ryan Moreno says pubs and restaurants often make better economic sense than nightclubs.

He says there are more opportunities to generate revenue with a pub because it can open at all hours, seven days a week, while a nightclub only draws customers for short periods and typically just on Friday and Saturday nights.

"Being only open for five, six, seven hours a night into the wee hours ... can be a challenge," says Moreno.

Ryan Moreno revisited the location of his old nightclub, Joseph Richards, for the first time in years. It's now occupied by a pub. (Lien Yeung/CBC)

Moreno and his business partner ran the Joseph Richards nightclub for seven years on Granville before they closed it in 2017.

Moreno says they realized consumer demands were changing so they switched to pubs and restaurants, building an empire of more than two dozen establishments across Vancouver and the Fraser Valley since then.

Less spectacle, more safety

The shift away from nightclubs could be a positive one for the Granville strip.

For years, it's been plagued by concerns of drunken, rowdy crowds leading to violence despite efforts by the industry and police to improve safety.

"Now with those venues changing the format and being open for brunch, lunch and dinner, it brings a whole new demographic — a whole different kind of consumer to Granville Street," says Charles Gauthier, president of the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association.

He adds that nightclubs often mean empty storefronts during the day, which contribute less to a healthy business sector.

Sabine believes pub-goers bring a different type of energy to the district, one less focused on "spectacle."

"It's not just one demographic across the board where it's like, everybody's in their early 20s and this becomes Mardi Gras every weekend," he says.

Still standing

Not all clubs are going by the wayside, however.

Long-standing favourites like The Roxy are still open to club-goers every night.

Its general manager says its focus of welcoming a range of customers and allowing people to come as they are has helped.

"We're not only 19 to 25," says Sasha Pocekovic. "We're 19 to however old you want to be ... you don't have to dress up, but you do have to be wearing shoes."

Sasha Pocekovic says The Roxy has maintained its status by staying true to its roots but it's made tweaks with playlists that cater to millennials on certain nights. (Lien Yeung/CBC)

He says the Roxy has stayed true to its live music roots but even then, it's had to make tweaks — offering nights like Millennial Mondays, with the house band playing everything from Spice Girls to Sum 41.

After being in the nightclub business for nearly 30 years, Pocekovic says he's welcoming the change of scenery.

Like his colleagues in the industry, he says, the more diverse the businesses and people on Granville, the better.

About the Author

Lien Yeung

@LienYeung

Lien Yeung hosts CBC Vancouver News Weekends. As a multimedia reporter, she has covered stories locally and nationally from coast to coast on television, radio and social media. You can reach her on Instagram or Twitter @LienYeung or via email at lien.yeung@cbc.ca.

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