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Patrons make their way into the Waldorf Hotel in East Vancouver, British Columbia, Saturday, January 19, 2013. (Rafal Gerszak For The Globe and Mail)
Patrons make their way into the Waldorf Hotel in East Vancouver, British Columbia, Saturday, January 19, 2013. (Rafal Gerszak For The Globe and Mail)

Social scene

Last dance at the Waldorf Hotel Add to ...

Dozens of people were lined up outside the Waldorf Hotel – in wardrobe choices ranging from skimpy sequined dresses to enormous faux fur overcoats – as artist Paul Wong breezed through the VIP line, entering the hotel where so much of his art was made and inspired, for one last night. Mr. Wong said a familiar hello to a security guard named Craven (wearing a grass skirt, lei and blazer, Craven was stopped by a colleague before he could provide his last name; they were under strict instructions not to talk to reporters) and continued to a back table at the restaurant Nuba, where he was greeted by Claudia Fernandez.

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“Oh my God, it’s so weird,” she said to Mr. Wong, rising from her seat.

Ms. Fernandez is married to (but now separated from) one of the partners in Waldorf Productions, who have been operating the hotel, programming the art and music that has made the one-time dive joint near Clark and East Hastings so beloved. She spoke Saturday night of how a group of artist and musician friends used to get together and fantasize about creating a space where art could thrive. That dream became the Waldorf.

“We already knew there was a great energy in Vancouver. It just needed to be channelled,” said Ms. Fernandez, who is also a DJ, and guitarist with the band Joyce Collingwood, which has played the Waldorf several times.

The Waldorf has been sold to a developer, and whatever ultimately happens to the building itself, Waldorf Productions will vacate the premises on Monday. So Saturday night was one last chance to wax philosophical about the loss of this cultural hub. But mostly people came – from Coquitlam and Kitsilano, from Surrey and Strathcona – to party.

“This is a place I can come, have a cheap drink and listen to good music,” said Mawuena Mallett, dressed in a T-shirt with the iconic 1976 image of Farrah Fawcett in her big blonde mane and orange one-piece swimsuit. “And it’s in the neighbourhood where I grew up, which is quickly becoming unaffordable.”

The Tiki Bar was the first of the hotel’s multiple dance venues to fill up on Saturday, patrons old enough to have experienced the music such as Leo Sayer’s You Make Me Feel Like Dancing on its first pass back in the discothèque days, grooving next to (or sometimes with) hipsters young enough to be their grandchildren.

“It’s a great crowd,” said DJ Patrick Campbell, pausing to mix The Budos Band on MP3 with The Slickers on vinyl. “Young and old from totally different scenes,” said Mr. Campbell, who has been behind the turntables here every Saturday night since the Waldorf reopened.

The bar itself, with its starry ceiling, palm trees, and original Edgar Leeteg paintings, is a treasure, pointed out Monica Schaub, a self-described Tikiphile, as she ordered a Mai Tai at the bar.

“We’re in the Tiki community and everybody knows about it. So it’s very sad that it’s going.” (Other Tiki enthusiasts in Vancouver may be relieved to know that Ms. Schaub and her husband are opening a Tiki bar of their own next month on Main Street.)

Elsewhere in the bar, Al Morrison and Jennifer Harkness were celebrating an anniversary. It was exactly six months ago that he had presented her with a promise ring here, not quite three weeks after their first date, at the Waldorf, on Canada Day, 2012. On Saturday, Ms Harkness surprised Mr. Morrison by giving him his own promise ring.

“We love this place seriously so much,” she said. “I’m gonna cry.”

At the bar, Paul Lock, wearing one of his Burning Man get-ups – including artificial cowhide pants – argued in favour of heritage preservation. “The soul of a city is contained in its places and the memories they evoke,” he said, sipping a rum and Coke. “I hope the politicians do the right thing.”

By 9:30 p.m., the Tiki Bar was at capacity, and people were streaming downstairs to the Cabaret to dance – ironically or not – under the disco ball to tunes such as Pump Up the Volume and Praise You. Bert Oba, wearing a three-piece suit and bow tie (his friend’s 23rd birthday celebration that night was 1920s-themed), was enjoying himself, but offered a counterpoint to the Waldorf wallowing.

“People talk about this being a cultural landmark,” said Mr. Oba. “In the end, it’s a bar. It’s a nice bar. But to call a Tiki Bar a cultural landmark in Vancouver is a bit far-fetched.”

At midnight, there was still a lengthy lineup outside. “One last kick at the can tonight,” said Rhys Amber, waiting with a couple of buddies.

The party would continue for a couple of hours. And then, it was over.

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