THE YALE BLUES ARE BACK / by Granville Street

The Yale Hotel opened in 1889. Photo from CITY OF VANCOUVER ARCHIVES

The Yale Hotel opened in 1889. Photo from CITY OF VANCOUVER ARCHIVES

It was the fall of 1889. I stood in front of a newly constructed hotel called The Colonial, pack slung across my back and boots deep in mud. I had heard about a small town called Granville, then renamed after Captain George Vancouver. I had also heard about the fire that had burned most of the city to the ground. But those things meant very little to me then. I had no idea that I would end up there, on what felt like the other side of the world. 

To the south was a new timber trestle called the Granville Street Bridge; to the north were the mountains and the two Lions. The Lions made me homesick for England, but were comforting at the same time. I liked to pretend that Trafalgar Square was just over the ridge, and that there wasn’t a whole continent and ocean between us.

As drops of rain began to hit my forehead, I snapped out of my train of thought. I trudged inside The Colonial and sat down at the bar. I ordered a stiff drink and a hot meal, and inquired about a room. It wasn’t a fancy hotel, by any stretch. Mainly cheap rooms and drinks for CPR men working in yards at Yaletown and travelling from the Township of Richmond. 

“You in need of a job?” a drink slinger with a limp asked.

I nodded yes, between shovels of mystery stew and stale bread.

“I know someone looking to hire good workers,” he said, writing a name on a scrap of paper. He slid it over and said, “You’ll find him in the Town of Yale.”  

Coincidently, that became the new name of the hotel in 1907: The Yale Hotel. In its first few years it was at the heart of the notorious nightlife in Yaletown – especially since it took such a long time for the one sheriff in town to get from Gassy’s town to the Yale.   

Skip ahead a hundred years, and The Yale had become a popular Blues venue, hosting such famed artists as Buddy Miles, Supertramp, Big Brother, and the Holding Company.

After decades of blues jams and local talent, the venue closed in 2011. It sat empty for years, music echoing from the walls within…until recently.

The beloved bar has been sold to the MRG Group, also the owners of art deco beauty The Vogue Theatre at 918 Granville. The new Yale Saloon brings back the sentiment of the “wild west” that early settlers to Vancouver would have known – but with the exciting addition of the biggest BBQ smokers in Vancouver and a menu that would make a Southern mama proud – a considerable upgrade from the mystery stew and stale bread of the original Yale. It will continue to have Blues music at its heart, plus a little jazz and country.

Tell you what, I’ll meet you at The Yale later for a drink, and maybe a ride on that mechanical bull, but right now I need to go see a man about a job.

The Yale Hotel opened in 2015 with shining new neon signs.

The Yale Hotel opened in 2015 with shining new neon signs.