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American Hotel Vancouver




928 Main Street

This neon sign hung over the Station Street entrence to the pub
and is now in the collection of the Museum of Vancouver

Vancouver's American Hotel going 'izakaya'

Published Wednesday, May 25, 2011

It was infamous once for its cheap beer, strippers, motorcycle gangs, drug deals and exchanges of stolen property.

Now the bar of the American Hotel on Main Street, once the base for a Sopranos-type gang operation and the scourge of Vancouver police, is about to become home to premium sake, Japanese tapas, modern indie rock, art improv, sumo wrestling shows and whatever else will bring in Vancouver's young, creative crowd.

Two young Vancouver entrepreneurs with biofuel companies on their resumés will be launching an " izakaya-themed social club" called Electric Owl on Friday that they hope will become a unique new community and entertainment space. For the uninitiated, izakaya venues are Japanese restaurants that are less formal than most sushi joints - more pub-like and noted for cheerleader-style customer greetings.

"We want to support emerging artists and we want it to be a place that people will think of in a favourable light," said Adam Levine, who co-founded Canadian Bioenergy Corp. in 2003 and grew it into a $5-million-a-year business over seven years.

Mr. Levine, originally from New York, said he and his business partner Alex Russell wanted to start a club at the American because "that area is happening."

That's a recent development. Until the last few years, Main Street from the waterfront to Terminal Avenue has been a dicey stretch. Shoppers came to a few blocks of Chinatown for traditional herbs or cheap clothes, but the street had declined considerably since the 1970s, when middle-class diners would go to Puccini's for Italian or Adega's for Portuguese.

The American Hotel, which started as the Clarendon Hotel in 1907, next to the city's notorious red-light district on Dupont Street, was never a four-star establishment. But as Mr. Levine discovered from talking to locals and doing archival research, it was the kind of place people remembered fondly, treasured for its barbershop and well-used gym.

By the 1990s, however, it had gone from mildly down-market - a place where university students would stop in - to a full-fledged drug bazaar and stolen-property hub. Calls to police by the early 2000s averaged 100 a year.

In 2003, after a two-year investigation, Vancouver police arrested 11 people and charged them with multiple crimes, including drug trafficking, under new anti-gang legislation. At the sentencing for the man considered to be the leader of the operation, Anthony Terazakis, the judge noted that the American Hotel was the epicentre of all that criminal activity.

"The drug business centred ultimately on small quantity but high-volume sales from a particular location called 'the chair' in the bar of the American Hotel on Main Street in Vancouver. Cocaine was typically sold by the flap or by the rock, and heroin by the flap or by the point, at approximately $10 each," noted the judge who sentenced Mr. Terazakis.

But that didn't end criminal activity at the American. A year later, after another undercover investigation, police laid more charges against a new raft of people dealing in stolen property. Shortly after, the city revoked the American's business licence. Since then, the place has sat empty.

But the area has started to pick up. West-side restaurateurs opened Campagnolo down the block from the empty American in 2008. In nearby Chinatown, other adventurous entrepreneurs have opened the Keefer, Bao Bei and the Fortune Sound Club.

"It's completely up-and-coming," said Dani Vachon, the Electric Owl's entertainment director, who admits she has heard horror stories about the American's past - motorcycles driven through the bar, people being tortured in upstairs hotel rooms.

Ms. Vachon said some of the establishments in the area are thinking of organizing a Chinese-bar crawl because the area now has so many.

Of course, a lot of older residents are still living in the cheap hotel rooms nearby, as they have for years. Some may end up living above the American, because the city has struck a deal with the hotel's new owner, Steven Pittman, to reserve six of the 42 rooms in the refurbished building at $400 a month for people on social assistance. Hotel neighbours are already visiting.

"They stop in, check on the construction, tell us when our cars are going to be ticketed, and we give them hamburgers," said Ms. Vachon. "We didn't expect them to do that, because we sort of represent gentrification."

Photo: Philip Timms, date 1908, VPL 7440

Photo: Philip Timms, date 1908, VPL 7456

DTES hotel illegally boarded up,
tenants given 24-hours notice

Source: www.pivotlegal.org

October 2, 2006

Tenants at the Old American Hotel, located at 928 Main Street in Vancouver, were given notice today that they are expected to vacate the lodging house tomorrow. The management of the American began boarding up the building’s windows this afternoon.

The Old American Hotel provides housing to people who can’t afford to live anywhere else,” said David Eby, lawyer for Pivot Legal Society. “There were almost 30 tenants in the building, but now there are fewer than ten. The people who haven’t left yet are the most desperate, those that can’t find anywhere else to live.”

Both Vancouver Police and the City of Vancouver have refused to take action to prevent this eviction, which is based on eviction notices declared illegal by the Residential Tenancy Office on Friday of last week. Residents received the illegal notices on August 1, 2006 and were told to be out by September 30, 2006. Manager Bob Woodroff has stated publicly that the low-income tenants of the building were being evicted to allow the owner to build market condominium housing.

This entire scenario is incredibly disappointing,” said Eby. “We have three levels of government who have committed themselves to preventing displacement of low-income residents from the only housing those people have left, yet one landlord can flaunt every provincial and municipal law designed to prevent that displacement without consequence.”

The City of Vancouver Single Room Accommodation By-law requires landlords who wish to convert low-income housing to market condominiums to find equivalent or better housing for current tenants before evicting them. All three levels of government in British Columbia, provincial, municipal and federal, committed to leaving a legacy of affordable housing as part of their Olympic bid for the 2010 Winter Games.


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