need earplugs to walk around downtown Vancouver these days,
and a construction helmet. The crash-boom-bang of construction
for new high-rise towers and the Olympic SkyTrain line is omnipresent:
Whole sections of town are being torn down and rebuilt, seemingly
there is one well-known local building that has managed to survive
the boom. The Penthouse Cabaret has been an institution at 1019
Seymour since it opened in 1947. It's always been somewhat infamous
-- in the old days, it operated as an after-hours "bottle club"
where people drank illegally. In more recent times, it's operated
as one of Vancouver's premier strip clubs.
its famous neon sign and wonderfully sleazy interior decor have
made it something of a local icon, even for people who've never
set foot inside the doors.
Filippone outside the Penthouse on Seymour.
Photo: Steve Bosch/Vancouver Sun
Sunday, the club will mark its 60th anniversary with a special
show. There will be live music from Jessica Beach, and dancing
from Candy, an all-female troupe that "incorporates Broadway,
jazz, pop, rock and a touch of burlesque."
history buffs, Danny Filippone will be on hand to tell some
stories. And there are a few stories to tell.
Filippone family has owned the club since Day 1. Danny's grandfather
moved his family to a house at 1033 Seymour in 1933, and then
the family acquired a garage next door.
late uncle Joe was an industrious fellow, and with Danny's father
Ross started up several businesses, including a taxi company
and a boxing club. Joe lived upstairs over the garage turned-boxing-club
and had big parties, one of which was raided by the cops. The
Vancouver Sun ran a story with the headline "Joe Philliponi's
Penthouse Raided," and the name stuck. (Joe Philliponi's name
was spelled wrong by an immigration officer when Joe arrived
in Canada from Italy.)
brothers decided to turn Joe's penthouse into an after-hours
joint. In 1947 it was virtually impossible to get a licence
to sell hard liquor in Vancouver, so people would bring in their
own booze in brown bags, then buy mix from the establishment.
Penthouse used to have spotters on the roof who would press
secret buzzers to alert patrons that the cops were about to
raid the joint. The customers would hide their bottles in secret
drawers under their tables, then pull them out when the cops
left. Because it wasn't a legal bar, it didn't have to conform
to normal closing times, so it would be open from 11 p.m. 'til
6 a.m., or until everyone went home.
became a favourite hangout for celebrities who came to town
to play clubs like the Palomar (which the family owned for a
time), the Cave or the Marco Polo. Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby,
Bob Hope, Gary Cooper, Louis Anmstrong, Frankie Laine, Harry
Belafonte, Errol Flynn -- they all dropped by to drink 'til
the wee small hours in the VIP room at the back of the top floor.
Davis actually played there for one month," says Filippone.
"He stayed at the club, because he couldn't afford a hotel."
couple of years ago, Filippone and his wife were moving a photocopier
at 1033 Seymour, the original family home which they still own
and use as an office, and noticed a hole in the wall."I put
my hand in and there was a chest," he recalls.
yanked it out. We thought we were going to find millions of
dollars, but it was even better: All these original pictures
that uncle Joe and my dad had taken. They were signed by Louis
Armstrong, Jersey Joe Walcott, Joe Frazier, Sammy Davis Jr.,
all the celebrities. We had something like 120 of them."
old photos will be on display on Sunday, along with photos of
some of the burlesque queens Uncle Joe and Ross started importing
from Vegas in the '60s. The club finally got a liquor licence
in 1965, and the strippers the Penthouse brought in helped introduce
a whole other dimension to Vancouver nightlife.
Joe was shot and killed at the Penthouse in 1983. Danny Filippone
started managing the club three years later, in the middle of
the exotic dancer boom.
went from three or four bars to something like 45 hotels that
had strippers," he says. "Now it's gone completely full circle
and it's down to three again."
still ply the stage several days a week, but the Penthouse also
has live music and is an in-demand film location (it's the club
in CBC's Intelligence). Singer Avril Lavigne recently booked
it for a photo shoot.
the past six, seven, eight years, we've completely turned it
around," says Filippone. "Whether it's because of the Granville
Mall being so busy or the fact that all the other strip bars
have closed, the Penthouse for some reason remains one of the
busiest bars downtown. Not just strip bars, bars."
homeowner on Richards Street recently sold her two lots for
$6 million to a developer, which means the Penthouse property
is probably worth $10 million or more.
confirms that he's had many offers to sell, but says his family
has no intention of doing so, at least in the near future.
not just the money," he says. "We really really have this feeling
that the Penthouse is a huge part of our family."