When you find yourself stuffed in a room elbow-to-elbow with Randy Rampage of D.O.A., Nardwuar, and women in feather headdresses, you know you’re in the right place. I certainly was, when I recently had the pleasure of attending the book launch for Liquor, Lust, and the Law. The work is an informative, passionate history of the Penthouse’s rise to stardom in Vancouver’s nightclub scene. While the launch party boasted a larger-than-life atmosphere with big band music, plenty of drinks, and even a teary-eyed speech from owner Danny Filippone, the star of the show that night was truly the establishment’s history. Rightfully so, for the Penthouse’s status as a historical landmark, complete with its own Heritage Vancouver tours, preceded the night’s celebrations, with the new publication capping off a long list of historical recognitions.
The first book to be published on the Penthouse, penned by local writer and musician Aaron Chapman, provides an additionally detailed account of the Filippone family, whose patriarch Giuseppe purchased the lot at 1019 Seymour Street in the early 1940s.
Initially operated as Eagle Time Delivery Systems and Diamond Cabs, and later Eagle Time Athletics, the space eventually transformed into an after-hours hotspot catering to those disenchanted with the lackluster Vancouver nightlife. Prohibition-era raids, bottle-club shenanigans, and true tales of celebrity encounters (including a curious story of Louis Armstrong cooking spaghetti) are but a few of the topics discussed in this unique retrospective.
Besides the infamous legacy of the Penthouse’s legal woes and Joe Philippone’s 1983 murder, there are plenty other exciting elements of the club’s history worth exploring, and Chapman does an excellent job demonstrating the inextricable relationship between the notorious establishment and the family that poured their heart and soul into it. There’s plenty of stories to tell: how Joe Filippone welcomed African American entertainers in a time where most venues (like the Hotel Vancouver) wouldn’t; how an incredible list of patrons, including Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, and even Led Zeppelin cemented the Penthouse as a heavyweight in the cabaret scene of the 1940s through the 1970s; and just how many cabinet ministers enjoyed the exotic dancers and Vegas-style entertainment…
The club’s notorious troubles in the 1970’s, including vice squad appearances and prostitution charges, present insight into Vancouver’s late mid-century sex-trade industry, pieced together through suggestions of police misconduct and personal reflections by the Filippones. The evolution from “hooker heaven” to a reputable establishment in the 1980s – a metamorphosis that included the introduction of “Family Days” at the club – showcases the Filippone’s efforts to create a positive institution for the city. It becomes clear through the musings of Chapman and the memories of its founders and patrons that the Penthouse has always been a family affair, with a story of dedication and civic pride that ultimately outshines even the most scandalous facets of the club’s history.
Liquor, Lust, and the Law: The Story of Vancouver’s Legendary Penthouse Nightclub is available from Arsenal Pulp Press.