The end of The Odyssey?

Yesterday’s council vote to deny The Odyssey, one of Vancouver’s most important gay nightclubs, the right to relocate to 911 Denman St., was much closer than the 10-1 vote implies. (See the report at item 1 here.)

With the club’s lease at its Howe St. location due to terminate April 30, there is almost no time for the owners to find suitable new premises, although council directed staff to make every effort to do so. With the door closed on the new site on Denman, it could be the end of The Odyssey.

As several councillors noted, this was one of the most balanced and difficult debates this council has yet experienced, with passionate, legitimate and overwhelmingly respectful presentations on both sides.

During debate on the motion to reject, Councillor Suzanne Anton said she agreed with my analysis but arrived at an opposite conclusion, a sign of the difficult choice councillors faced. (She ultimately was the sole supporter of the proposed move.)

I concede that I started the hearing leaning to approval as well, but found myself increasingly swayed by the representations of Denman neighbours, who were overwhelmingly opposed. Supporters were overwhelmingly from outside the neighbourhood. Council heard more than 40 speakers, including a memorable juxtaposition of drag queen Joan E. (for the Odyssey) with a prim, tartan-clad Scots grannie (against).

It was a collision of  two communities. On the one hand, council heard from The Odyssey’s patrons, the loyal supporters of a business that has operated successfully for more than 20 years with an exemplary record of good management and community relations. On the other hand, we heard from dozens of residents of the Denman community, including many gay men who themselves were Odyssey patrons, but didn’t believe the club was a good fit in the more residential setting of the 900-block of Denman.

Given the strong representations by gay men on both sides, the issue was more about the suitability of the location for a night club than it was about an institution in the gay community.

Here the Odyssey took a blow from the Vancouver Police Dept., which sang the praises of the club’s management, but predicted serious, continuing conflict with the community at the new location, on the second floor of a former movie theatre beside dense residential development. It was clear the Odyssey needed six-day a week operation with late, late hours to meet its patrons’ expectations, a recipe for continued friction with neighbours.

Why must The Odyssey move? The city owns the current location and is tearing the building down to create supported housing, a desperately-needed addition to community services. The fate of the site was sealed about a year ago as funding became available.

A simple night club approval? Not really. Just Google “gay village decline” and you’ll see that many cities are facing conflict over the future of their gay communities.

The number of gay nightclubs in our town is declining steadily. There are virtually no suitable locations available within the gay-friendly and safe atmosphere of the Davie Village. Even elsewhere in the downtown core, an area the Odyssey management believes is less suitable, there is a shortage of new club locations. Let’s hope this Odyssey is not over.