YOU SHOULD KNOW: How Its Tiki Tacky History Makes “The Waldorf” Worth Saving

by Stevie Wilson | January 24th will mark The Waldorf Hotel’s 64th birthday. In light of the recent sale of the property to condo developers, it’s uncertain as to whether this particular milestone will be celebrated by Vancouverites. But thanks to an outpouring of public support over the last week, the future of the East Van landmark as a multi-purpose venue and historic site is gaining a lot of attention.

At the time of writing, nearly 17,000 people have signed a petition to the Mayor, asking that he deny any rezoning of the property. Dozens of publications have covered the story, and social media has seen the topic trend up like a rocket. When Scout broke the bad news, the response was so overwhelming that it shut down the website (The Waldorf’s site was shut down as well). People desperately want to save The Waldorf, and there’s hope that all of the attention may – finger’s crossed – just turn the tide against its demise.

Mayor Gregor Roberson’s recent press release stated that “to lose such a historic building would be a big blow, which is why we need to do what we can to protect it”. It remains to be seen what that will be (we should find out this week), but if you didn’t get the chance to experience The Waldorf prior to its 2010 renovation, it’s important to know that not much, aside from the clientele and the ability to smoke inside, was changed. The Waldorf has always been a unique spot, and despite a relative lull in its popularity during the 1970s through the 1990s (the “Grove Pub Years”, we’ll call them), it was always known for its legendary Tiki Bar, which was tucked away like a secret inside.

If anything can save The Waldorf, it’s this bar.

Oddly enough, the Tiki Bar wasn’t part of the original plan. Mercer & Mercer architects, a duo formed in 1940 by Andrew Lamb Mercer and his son John, designed the original Waldorf Hotel in 1948 on a budget of around $300,000. The founding owner, Bob Mills, was a local businessman from Fernie who also owned The Haddon at 606 Powell St., which later became known as the Drake Hotel (sold to the City for $3.2 million in 2007). Mill’s new spot was named after The Waldorf Hotel in Fernie, which was owned by his father (it, ironically, was recently turned into condominiums). Vancouver’s Waldorf featured a “Luxuriously Furnished Ladies’ Parlor”, 25 “Handsomely Designed Rooms”, and even a “modern” coffee shop to attract luxury-seekers across the city. When it opened in 1949, it could boast the latest luxuries of air conditioning and fluorescent lighting. Mills and his wife were the original management team. Their menu, featuring ‘Turkey & Cranberry Sauce’ and “Jello with Whipped Cream”, was typical of the time; a far cry from the more modern and worldly culinary offerings enjoyed today at the hotel’s Café Nuba.

The original hotel operated primarily for motorists in the first few years, but upon Mills return from (his drunken escapades in) Hawaii, the hotel was redesigned. In 1955, Mills had the Mercer architects add a large lounge, restaurant, and additional rooms. He also put a Polynesian-inspired spin on the décor, and it is this that makes today’s Waldorf worthy of salvation. In addition to attracting working-class drinkers with one of the largest beer halls in the city, the Waldorf’s new Polynesian Room and “Menehune” Banquet Room (later “The Hideaway”) offered new guests a “unique South Sea atmosphere” which played to the popular post-war tropical aesthetic, complete with bamboo seats, Mai Tais, and a number of sensually-themed black velvet paintings, including original Edgar Leeteg works (much to the dismay of Mills’ wife). What’s more, the stunning murals were painted by noted artist Peter Hopkinson (who is best known for his White Spot advertisements). They were wild times for The Waldorf. Contemporary photographs suggest that a one particular staff party included a live cheetah. Because of course…

Over the years, The Waldorf has been managed in different ways. Most operators kept the Tiki Bar only for special events, and for a long time it languished as a satellite addendum to the infamous (and lacklustre) Grove Pub. But it was always – more or less – kept intact. When Thomas Anselmi et al from Waldorf Productions took over the lease in 2010, they brought it back to the fore, with great results. If the City really wants to save The Waldorf, making its redevelopment difficult would be essential. Designating the heritage status of its Tiki Bar would be the logical place to start.

Scenes From The Most Recent Renovation…

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Stevie Wilson is an 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 show you the things that you already see. Just nod your head and pretend you’re paying attention.

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Photos: “The Waldorf Hotel” Is Looking Sharp On East Hastings

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by Andrew Morrison | As mentioned last week in a press release, the new and – by the looks of it – much improved Waldorf Hotel is to be christened this weekend. We’re very excited, not least because of the awesome people involved, who were this week joined by former Salt Tasting Room manager and 2010 Sommelier of the Year, Kurtis Kolt (interview). There’s so much going on at this address that it’s hard to fathom fully in its as-yet-unfinished state. But all the pieces seem to be fitting together nicely, down to the analog speakers, rooms, cafe, salon, bar, gift shop and refreshingly left-field tiki vibe. The only hiccup that I know of is that the main restaurant will be delayed until at least Dec. 1st (no worries, as this venue is hardly a one room wonder – food and drink will still be in abundance).

Today, in anticipation of their Halloween opening, I took one of our cameras (not the best, sorry) down for a tour and probably – if only briefly – interrupted a thousand crucial things for which I apologise (much appreciated, Ned and Ernesto). After the photos, check out their late night, room service and cafe menus for breakfast, lunch and dinner… Read more

Grand (Re)Opening Of The Iconic “Waldorf Hotel” This Saturday

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The Waldorf Hotel is located at 1489 East Hastings and will open at the end of October, 2010 | www.waldorfhotel.com

News from Scout supporter The Waldorf Hotel

Vancouver, BC | We are pleased to announce the relaunch of the Waldorf Hotel. To celebrate, we’re throwing a free multi-room Halloween party on Saturday, Oct 30th. The event will showcase the entire complex including our newly renovated hotel rooms and lobby, two dining areas, a freshly restored 1950s tiki bar and both nightclub and banquet spaces (the Cabaret and the Leeteg Room). The night is being produced in collaboration with some of Vancouver’s most interesting artists and musicians. Read the full program listing after the jump… Read more

Waldorf Hotel To Hold Job Fair This Saturday On East Hastings

September 28, 2010 

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The Waldorf Hotel is located at 1489 East Hastings | Opening October 2010 | www.waldorfhotel.com

News from Scout supporter The Waldorf Hotel

Vancouver, BC | The Waldorf Hotel, designed in 1947 by architects Mercer & Mercer, was remarkable from the beginning for its modernist style. In 1955, capitalizing on an emerging interest in Polynesian culture, the complex was transformed into one of North America’s most renowned “tiki” themed bars and hotels. A post-war phenomenon, tiki culture was rooted partially in the nostalgic tropical memories of returned soldiers but also in the erotic fantasies of a middle class fascinated by the exotic and forbidden. The original architects reworked existing interiors, creating a space dedicated to artifice and escapism.

In 2010, Musician Thomas Anselmi (Slow, Copyright, Mirror) and restaurateur Ernesto Gomez (Nuba) took over operations of the Waldorf and are working with architect Scott Cohen (designer of Gastropod, Les Faux Bourgeois) to reimagine the property. Collectively this team has a vision to develop the Waldorf into a creative hub in the heart of East Vancouver where contemporary art, music, food and culture convene under one roof. The programming for the space will be both artistically expansive and thematically inclusive. Read more

Photos: Kris Krug Inside The Upcoming Waldorf Hotel Redux

September 27, 2010 

These gorgeous, vignette shots of The Waldorf Hotel come courtesy of my friend Kris Krug of Static Photography. If you haven’t heard jack shit about this killer re-imagining of this ancient east side joint, here’s the skinny. Press play and enjoy…

Waldorf Hotel To Go Boutique With Refit & New Restaurants…

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This is so rad that I have goosebumps and its like 29 degrees here in the vineyard’s shade…

The 63-year old Waldorf Hotel at 1489 East Hastings, originally designed by Mercer & Mercer in a (then) modern style, has been picked up by restaurateur Ernesto Gomez (Nuba, etc), architect Scott Cohen (Gastropod, etc) and musician Thomas Anselmi (Copyright, etc). They are now in the midst of renovating the iconic but much neglected 30 room hotel with a complete concept/branding overhaul and “boutique” status being the ultimate goal. We were given the exclusive details a couple of days ago.

Here’s the choice pull quote from the creative brief:

In 1955, capitalizing on an emerging interest in Tiki Culture, the complex was transformed into a “tiki” themed hotel. Original architects Mercer and Mercer restyled the existing decor, replacing the minimalist features of their original design with an exotic motif influenced by tribal cultures of the Polynesian islands. The newly renovated Waldorf quickly became known for providing a unique dining and entertaining experience that included authentic Polynesian cuisine, art, music and dancing. Catering to an affluent clientele of executives, citizens, visitors and guests, the hotel was an immediate success. This prosperity continued up until the 70s when, as the neighborhood found itself in decline and it’s clientele began to shift down market. Several attempts to revive the hotel in the subsequent years have not been successful at restoring its iconic status [...] The group see potential to re-enter the market as a boutique hotel, targeting a different clientele. A dominant trend in the hospitality industry over the past ten years, boutique hotels have emerged as a popular option for smaller sized properties looking to appeal to customers who wish to have a unique experience when visiting a hotel. In the local economy there are high-end hotels that have a “boutique” strategy but none that cater to a mid-range customer. In many other markets this positioning has proved very successful, examples include: The Drake in Toronto, The Ace in Seattle, The Jupiter in Portland. The Waldorf aims to offer the same type of cultural experience for a midrange price creating a totally unique positioning for itself in the local economy.

In addition to their aesthetic and creative assets in Cohen and Anselmi, the partners have brought in chef Ned Bell of Kelowna’s Cabana to lead the food and beverage side of the operation. If you’re notfamiliar with the guy, he was once upon a time a sous chef to Rob Feenie and a Food Network star in his own right. I’ve known him for a few years now and he’s got serious game. His new playground will see a 120 seat “value-oriented” cafe showcasing hotel classics and Pan-American street food at Nuba prices (ie. cheap), a 60 seat dining room for Basque and Southern French fare at bistro prices, and a 100 seat patio (arriving next summer) serving Mexican seafood from an outdoor grill. On the Liquor Primary side, they’re keeping the 97 seat Tiki bar as close to the original as possible with exotic drinks and DJs spinning vinyl on an all-analogue stereo system featuring vintage Lansings Hartsfield speakers.

If that wasn’t kickass enough, they’re also creating a state of the art multi-media performance hall licensed for 300 people and playing host to the new location of Barbarella, the popular Main St. salon and barbershop. Throw in multiple projectors playing looped films throughout the building, a recording studio in the basement, and regular gigs of live music, theatre, comedy, and performance art, and you have a hurricane of change coming to East Hastings. The official launch will see a 3 day opening party on the weekend of Halloween.

Like I said, goosebumps…

I’ll be going into much more detail in a upcoming Vancouver magazine article on the current eastward gravitational pull of our restaurant scene, so that’s all for now.

All Anticipated Openings

Cold Pacificos And A Gabillion Tacos Set To Rule On Hastings…

September 7, 2009 

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Inside the soon-to--open La Taqueria on West Hastings, aka the "Pinche Taco Shop" (the F@cking Taco Shop)

I ate so many tacos (con Dos Equis e Pacifico) at a preview of La Taqueria (322 West Hastings) last night that when I rolled out of bed this morning I actually bounced. I love the nearly finished space. It felt much more open and lively than it did when it was the original Nuba, which had a considerably darker charm to it. Now it’s a sparkling, tiny, shoebox, and I wager it’ll fly when they open this Tuesday. Read more

Anticipated “F@cking Taco Shop” On West Hastings Nearly Open

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La Taqueria frontage at 322 West Hastings shot August 12, 5:52pm | ScoutMagazine.ca ©

Two months ago Scout broke the very welcome news that Victor Bouzide and Ernesto Gomez of Nuba, Marcelo Ramirez of Le Faux Bourgeois, and PICA grad Rafael Cuellar were combining their powers of Greyskull to create an authentic Mexican taqueria in the old Nuba location on West Hastings. The project is called La Taqueria, and its subtitle – Pinche Taco Shop – translates as “fucking taco shop”. Yes sir. A walkthrough of the location today showed it near completion. Dig it after the jump… Read more

Crosstown To Score Authentic Taqueria In Old Nuba Location

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The old Nuba space at 322 West Hastings has sat dormant ever since the restaurant moved across the street several months ago, but it will soon see life again, this time in the guise of an authentic Mexican taqueria called La Taqueria. Read more