By Yasmine Shemesh
James Brown graced it; Ray Charles, too. Liza Minelli played on it for nine consecutive days, Diana Ross and the Supremes a near two week stint. The performance space of the Cave Supper Club saw some world-class acts in its day as the centrepiece of a dinner-theatre that pulled out all the stops, and then some. Renowned as much for its entertainment as it was for its over-the-top atmosphere, the Cave was one of the most happening hotspots in Vancouver’s history.
Its doors opened in 1937. Done up to look like its namesake, the Cave was dimly-lit and carved out, with stone-like walls and papier mâché stalactites hanging from the ceiling. It was schmaltzy, yes, but intentionally so and all part of the appeal. The two-level venue had a body capacity of 600, a number that often overflowed to at least 1,000 on a good night. Lineups of party goers dressed to the nines would stretch down the block of the club’s Hornby Street address, waiting patiently to get inside the flashiest place in town. The Cave was a big bowl of charm and Vancouverites ate it up.
Liberalized liquor laws in the post-world war era dramatically changed the city’s nightlife. Booze was then legally allowed to accompany meals served from 6:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. and clubs were becoming more progressive social spaces. As part of the first wave of businesses to gain a dining-lounge liquor licence, the Cave reached its highest peak in the 1950s. The spot began to garner attention from international artists such as Mitzi Gaynor who would try out her number at the club before taking it to Las Vegas—wisdom was if you could stir the crowd at the Cave, you were sure-set for stardom. Showgirls and striptease added to the glitz of the joint, enticing patrons with elaborate productions featuring a full orchestra and collapsible staircases. The stage was so hot it even merited a performance by a certain Gypsy Rose Lee.
With acts ranging from jazz to Motown and burlesque to comedy, it was perhaps the Cave’s dynamic quality that contributed most to its unique character. And while its top-notch entertainment circuit was at the front and centre, the nightclub’s deliberate grungy-glamorous ambiance (the stalactites, dusty and damaged after all the years) truly made it the diamond-in-the-rough that Vancouver loved so much. Though its curtains closed for the last time in 1981, for many, the Cave will forever be remembered as one of the greatest gigs in the city.
Read more about the Cave Supper Club and Vancouver’s history in Vancouver Was Awesome, published by Arsenal Pulp Press, or on VancouverisAwesome.com.
Published online at www.montecristomagazine.com, March 2014