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.
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.