Since COVID-19 restrictions put B.C. nightclubs on pause last year, the industry says less than one quarter of liquor-primary late-night establishments are back in business.
Many iconic venues are holding out until they can reopen at full capacity and allow patrons to party the way they did in the “before times.”
“When our customers come into our bar, the first thing they do is hug each other,” said Penthouse nightclub owner Danny Filippone.
“It’s a high-five, a hug and under the restrictions that are in place right now, none of that is allowed.”
Vancouver’s oldest strip club was the first to close, and its owner says no one will see its COVID makeover — complete with a new bar and stage — until the province enters Step 4 of its restart plan, which could happen as soon as Sept. 7.
“The Penthouse has had its checkered past, but finally I can look you square in the face and say we are doing the right thing,” Filippone told Global News Sunday.
Known for frequent liquor raids, run-ins with the law and a fire that almost destroyed it in 2011, the notorious club also didn’t die after patriarch Joe Filippone was murdered in a botched robbery attempt in 1983.
Surviving COVID-19 has been a long haul, but Filippone says it doesn’t make sense to open at half capacity and force his staff to police patrons.
“We want to open when the Penthouse can be the Penthouse.”
Nightclubs like the No5 Orange and Brandi’s — which stepped up protocols and Plexiglas last summer to open under restaurant guidelines during Phase 2 — found COVID cases quickly forced them to temporarily shut down again.
“People were closing and opening and we decided not to for the safety of our staff and customers,” Roxy general manager Sasha Pocekovic said.
After the longest closure in its 33-year history, the Roxy is also holding out for the return to a full-capacity dance floor.
“When you go to a business like ours, a nightclub, you want to be able to move freely, to meet new people,” Pocekovic told Global News.
Since mid-March 2020, the Granville Strip nightclub did a lot of livestreaming to keep its name and brand alive.
“It was actually a bigger success than we thought,” said Pocekovic.
The Roxy retained much of its staff over the last 18 months but is now hiring more people as it books local bands for October.
According to BC’s Alliance of Beverage Licensees (ABLE BC), there are about 50 nightclubs in the province, and about a dozen are currently open.
Most of them are smaller venues with COVID-19 safety measures in place prohibiting dancing and socializing, said Jeff Guignard with ABLE BC.
“It’s a business based on violating social distance with strangers, right, and you can’t do that right now in British Columbia so some places like the larger nightclubs, in particular here in Vancouver and some in Kelowna, have just elected to wait.”
The Penthouse has been biding its time by posting clever COVID-related messages on its marquee sign.
“There’s been Clothed Until Further Notice,” quipped Filippone.
The message “Longest 2 Weeks Ever” was posted on March 11, one year after the start of COVID-19’s impact in B.C.
The Penthouse is now primed to get back to business in time for its 75th anniversary in 2022.