YOU SHOULD KNOW | More About The Old And Storied Pub 340 On Cambie In Gastown

December 13, 2013 

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by Stevie Wilson | It wasn’t too long ago that Pub 340 was a haven for punk and rock ‘n roll fans. If you ever got the chance to see any of the myriad bands that graced its dilapidated stage, you may have suspected that the place had a long history in the Vancouver scene. And you’d be right. The building enjoyed a long and dynamic life as a turn-of-the-century hotel and parlour, long before its walls had even heard of Mr. Chi Pig and SNFU.

Built circa 1898, the building began as the Commercial Hotel. It served as a temporary home to tourists, travellers, and workers drawn to the area’s booming resource economy. The hotel stood in great company with similar buildings in the area, some of which still stand today as testaments to the growing wealth and subsequent real estate spike ushered in by necessity and local investment (in 1886, the Great Fire had ravaged Vancouver, leaving only a handful of buildings standing and a void of commercial and residential spaces). In 1889, the Flack Block was constructed right next door (home to Meat & Bread today), rounding out the area and contributing to the revitalization of Gastown.

The architecture signals a departure from the intricate Victorian designs of old and into the more subdued Richardsonian Romanesque-inspired style complete with molded brickwork, recessed entry (later removed), stonework by David Gibbs and Company, and diagonal-patterned spandrels that were typical of the period. Separate entries for Ladies and Gents added a sophisticated edge to the downstairs parlour, which featured a sub-ground level. In Pub 340’s heyday as a venue one often heard tales of an old basement bar. They’re absolutely true, and it’s still down there, gathering dust in dormancy. Next door, the Rose Brothers barbershop kept clients looking their best.

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During the 1960s, the hotel – still boasting the same curled marquee it had for the last several decades - was a point of inspiration for famed photographer Fred Herzog, but tragically, in 1973, it was the site of a massive fire. Five men died inside, including one of the beer parlour’s waiters, and it was believed to be an act of arson. At this point, Vancouver bylaws had no provisions for smoke detectors or sprinklers for single room occupancy buildings, with an estimated 40 individuals dying each year – mostly on the Downtown Eastside. The mass media attention following this incident finally led to the passing of the Fire Sprinkler Bylaw later that year, largely thanks to locals like the legendary Bruce Eriksen and the Downtown Eastside Residents Association (DERA).

In 1976, the Commercial Hotel was revamped with a Spanish-inspired theme, becoming the El Cid. It ran for 11 years – with rumours of brothel activity – until 1987, when it was transformed again into the Stadium Inn. It was at some point during these transitions after the fire that the large ornamental rooftop façade was removed, and with it some of the notable charm of the structure.

Today, the former hotel remains an SRO site, with a revamped version of Pub 340 still housing fledgling local bands and comedy acts within. It doesn’t look (or smell) like it has been particularly well taken care of, but take a second glance (inside and out) the next time you stroll by, and imagine its better days.

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Stevie Wilson is a historian masquerading as a writer. After serving as an editor for the UBC History Journal, she’s decided to branch out with a cryptic agenda: encouraging the people of Vancouver to take notice of their local history and heritage with You Should Know, a Scout column that aims to reveal to readers the many historial things that they already see but might not understand.

  • http://pub340.ca/about/history Hez

    Thanks for this, Stevie! Lots more goes on in our entertainment calendar than just comedy and “fledgling local bands” (and out of respect for our neighbours, we actually don’t have those very often anymore)… Gastown’s best karaoke happens Tuesdays & Thursdays, Open Mic is on Wednesdays and we have a thriving Sunday Afternoon Jam every week… not to mention all our pinball tournaments in our front room arcade that has a dozen new and vintage games. If you ask anyone about the pub, you’d be greeted by a smile and a story about the amazing manager Sharon-Lee White, a longtime matriarchal figure in Gastown who makes everyone feel like family, including the less fortunate neighbours for whom we’re currently assembling Xmas Charity Hampers as we did last year. We’ve got more photos and a much more complete history at Pub340.ca, (our website link which you seem to have accidentally omitted, and where many of these photos are from) and we’re extremely proud that our block of Cambie St is home to buildings that are ALL over 100 years old. Now that’s something to brag about! Thanks for supporting one of the oldest venues in Vancouver, and one that continues to serve the DTES community with dignity and pride.
    -Heather Watson, Pub 340 Historian

  • Stevie Wilson

    Thanks for the info, Heather!

    Cheers.

    PS: The photos here (yours, too!) are from the Archives.

  • http://pub340.ca/about/history Hez

    Most Vancouverites I know had never seen some of these photos before, and it’s just so gratifying when people who care about the past are able to connect with archival resources and other history buffs who are likewise enthused. Glen Mofford (@BCPubHistory on Twitter) was very helpful to me when I was researching and writing the comprehensive history for Pub 340′s website earlier this year. I never managed to find even one archival photo we could confirm as being *inside* the bar, but the stories you allude to – especially about the basement – are indeed legendary. One woman remembers a grand, Spanish-style fountain. Some of the old-timers have pretty great stories… and it’s a place that feels like home to a much broader cross-section of people than nearby places above and below it on the gentrification scale. Come by for a cheap pint (or our famous $9.95 Prime Rib Friday) and let me know if you’d like an introduction to some of the more colourful characters, including our friend Mr. Chi Pig.

  • Jonathan

    “No longer a haven of punk & rock and roll fans”? I disagree. I consider myself a fan of both, and 340 is a great place to grab a beer and listen to interesting music in a very friendly and welcoming environment.

    It’s still home to this fan, at least! Good ‘ole 340 never lets us down for a fun night.

    Thanks.