The Fox Cabaret: Living the Dream on Main Street
Article and Photographs Provided by Laura Shortt
Culture in Vancouver is looking smokin’ hot these days thanks to the likes of the Fox Cabaret. This space has been open for less than a year and has already emerged as a gem of a venue for independent artists. It’s no coincidence that it’s being driven by the same team who managed The Waldorf at its cultural peak—a team that is determined to see organic cultural growth take root in this town. And it just so happens that they’ve created a space cool enough for Steve McQueen in the process.
“We’re on a cultural mission,” says Brand Manager for the Fox Cabaret, Danny Fazio, as he welcomes me through the front doors. The first thing that strikes me as I enter is the contrast between the exterior of the building and the interior. The Fox Cabaret makes no secret about the building’s history as a porn theatre which was, when it closed in 2013, the city’s last porn theatre and only remaining 35 mm porn theatre in all of North America. The evidence of its past life is most obvious from the outside: the building still has its original reflective glass doors to keep passersby from seeing anything too naughty from the sidewalk.
But as I cross the threshold, the porn theatre evaporates and instead I’m entering a hip, multi-room performance venue that feels like it’s been around for years. As it is, the Fox Cabaret has only existed in its current incarnation since 2014- a fact that belies its organic feel.
Fazio leads me up a dark staircase into a space they call the Projection Room (a reference to the space’s previous life as a theatre). As it turns out, the room is a gloriously funky little cocktail and snack bar above the main theatre that has just opened.
The space inside the Projection Room is intimate and the décor a combination of groovy, mismatched patterns. The bar was designed by architect Scott Cohen (the creative design force behind many of Vancouver’s trendiest fine dining spots), who brought in some of Vancouver’s brightest young artists to make Cohen’s vision a reality including Graham Landin, Maya Beaudry, Olivia Carmen Meek, and Marie-Helene Tessier. “We didn’t want a space that felt too posh,” says Fazio as he shows me around. “We wanted something that was glamorous but at the same time had a bit of DIY feel to it.”
As I take in the space, I’m struck by the harmony of the room. The black and white striped ceilings, leopard print and silver geometric patterned walls, and pink-mirrored tables should be making me dizzy, but no. The space is warm and welcoming.
I spot a cocktail menu on a table where we’ve got the following:
- Lounge Lizard: a combination of Jameson’s, apricot brandy, apple cider vinegar, organic agave, fresh lemon and apple juice, topped with a brandied cherry and fresh nutmeg
- Projection Room Margarita: Cazadores Reposada, Cointreau, aged brandy, fresh lime, organic agave, and serve up with smoked sea salt rim
- Bittersweet Garden: Campari, gin, vermouth, Green Chartreuse, Maraschino, and Fernet Branca
- The Foxglove Martini: Zubrowka ‘bison grass’ Vodka and Lillet garnished with lemon zest (can also be made a ‘Dirty Fox’ with a pickled onion)
- The Casting Call: Juniper Organic Gin, Vinho Verde, Simple Syrup, Grapefruit Bitters, soda, and served over ice with a twist of cucumber
I make a mental note to try the ‘Lounge Lizard’ when I’ve got a spare moment. The food menu sounds equally intriguing—it was created by three-Michelin-star trained chef, Ernesto Gomez, who took inspiration through other classic cocktail snack bar menus like Harry’s Bar in London to create a menu of pub-style food.
Fazio tells me that the plan for the Projection Room is to create a bar that is open to Main Street and Vancouver seven days a week- a place where locals can come in after work to have a cocktail and sandwich, socialize, and hear great DJ’s on late nights and weekends. “We want this room to be a social space for the neighborhood,” says Fazio. “Our goal is to make the Projection Room a spot on Main Street where people can come in and hang out and enjoy themselves.”
We go back down the pitch black staircase and I follow him in the main theatre. As we enter the space all I can focus on is the height of the ceiling which must be at least two storeys high.
“What I love about this space is that it’s both intimate and epic,” Fazio says with pride. “It’s long and narrow which makes for a really cozy feel, but then you have these insanely high ceilings that lend a wonderful theatricality to the space. I can’t think of any other performance venue in the city that’s like this that can accommodate up to three hundred people.” Neither can I.
The venue is frequently used by independent bands, but also hosts improv comedy nights, burlesque shows, speakers’ series and an assortment of other independent cultural events. The types of acts who take centre stage at the Fox Cabaret reflect the type of cultural experience that Fazio and his peers want to protect: “There’s a lot of feeling from people in this city that we’re developing very quickly and that we’re losing cultural spaces in the process. People don’t want to lose these places- they are what define the city. That’s why we’re working so hard to preserve this space as a cultural venue.”
I return later that evening to snap a few photos of the Sunday Service- a comedy improv show that takes place every Sunday evening at the Fox Cabaret. As I watch a group of incredibly talented, local actors take centre stage in front of a packed house of laughing, smiling people, I can’t help but think about the magic that Fazio and the rest of the Fox Cabaret team have managed to bring to Main Street in less than a year. It occurs to me that this city owes a lot to places like the Fox Cabaret for helping to keep the pulse of Vancouver culture alive. And so when I return to the Projection Room in the near future to try the ‘Lounge Lizard’, I’ll be saying cheers to the lads at the Fox Cabaret.