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The Vogue returns, refurbished and revitalized

The glorious Granville Strip by night. Photo by Stephanie Orford.

Even when it wasn’t raining, there were a few months over the past year where it was a common occurrence to see wet people of all stripes waiting at Granville SkyTrain Station at about midnight—doused in red. Thank the Vogue Theatre, thank Evil Dead The Musical, and especially thank the Splatter Zone, the first few front rows at the theatre where brave audience members subjected themselves to fake blood thrown by the bucket during the musical. Luckily, the carpets were about to be redone.

After remaining largely dark over the past couple of years, the Vogue Theatre on Granville Street in Downtown Vancouver is making its way back into the limelight. The person in charge is Matt Gibbons, its new owner and manager with Gibbons Hospitality Group, a company started by Gibbons’s father. “We’re taking the Vogue back to what it once was,” Gibbons told me when I paid him a visit at the theatre. He was careful to say they are restoring the 70-year-old theatre, not renovating.

“It’ll be like the Commodore. The Commodore fifteen years ago was quite run-down.” But now, he says, “everyone just thinks of it as being this great place that’s been there forever, but they had to do a lot of restoration work on that place to give it that feeling.”

When I got there, Gibbons led me through the theatre, over the new special-ordered, art-deco-style carpets. The theatre was empty, but a live broadcast of the Paralympics opening ceremonies was being projected on the big screen over the shiny new million-dollar sound and light system. Backstage and down into the bowels of the theatre he led me, to the dressing rooms, which had all been redone in some fashion or another—repainted, retiled, replete with lit mirrors.

But looking good is only part of the equation for the theatre. It has to function well too. Gibbons led me past his prize pig, a new high-efficiency boiler ($150,000). He has also put in new plumbing, including a much-needed second women’s washroom ($200,000). Now the theatre’s nuts and bolts will live up to its restored image.

For the past few months, Gibbons has been juggling shows and renovations, much of which have been run by Gibbons’ small, dedicated team. On the day I visited, the theatre’s ceiling was in the process of being restored and painted, but all the scaffolding would need to come down for shows, mid-project, then be put back up again later.

Since the Olympic and Paralympic Games finished, Gibbons and his team have restored the sign back to its original colours—an off-white background with red lettering scheme. The maroon and mustard colour scheme of the past few years was paid for by Mastercard, and wasn’t original to the Vogue.

Gibbons has been in his office off the second floor lobby for a little over a year now. We can smell Granville Street fast food wafting up through the window—the office air freshener. Just one of the perks of working in close quarters with other Granville Street businesses, catering to shoppers, culture vultures, and partygoers alike. 

Granville Street is now becoming more than just a place to drink heavily and eat $1.50 pizza (although you can do that after a show, too). Thanks to the newly refurbished Vogue Theatre, Gibbons hopes more culture lovers than ever will be frequenting the area.

The Vogue is also ramping up its entertainment. Now they’re hosting everything from live music, comedians, musicals, dance, speaker series, and cinema. Gibbons even mentions the possibility of film premiers and galas—old Hollywood stuff the Vogue’s classic art deco style is ideally suited for.

“There’s a sentiment out there that it’s the arts in Vancouver competing with the natural beauty of Vancouver,” Gibbons said. “That’s a competition no one can win because it’s so beautiful out here.” He, on the other hand, likes to think that “the arts are the cherry on top,” of Vancouver’s natural beauty. “It’s all about enjoying your city and enjoying your surroundings,” Gibbons said.

Vancouver’s uniquely high downtown population density means that a large group of downtown dwellers are looking for entertainment to enjoy on their own doorstep. For the sake of his business, and for Vancouver’s arts scene, Gibbons hopes people “make space in their day and their entertainment dollar to start taking part in the arts.” On the other hand, he said, from the perspective of an entertainment proprietor, it’s his job to find acts people actually want to come and see. Upcoming acts at the Vogue include The Hold Steady, Frightened Rabbit, and Stars.

Gibbons’ father has been in the hospitality business for forty years, but this is the company’s first foray into theatre. “We’re betting that the citizens of Vancouver will embrace that—that somebody is restoring the Vogue with their own money.” It’s a business risk, he says, but “we’re in it for the long haul.”

Gibbons Hospitality Group is based out of Whistler. Gibbons’s brother runs the company’s other properties, while he is focusing on the Vogue. The goal is to finish all major refurbishments by this fall. With all it takes to restore and run a theatre, Gibbons says he doesn’t get out of the Vogue until after 9:00 pm most days, “but it’s fun to come to work every day.”

The Vogue holds a certain significance to many Vancouverites, Gibbons believes. “There’s a special spot in people’s hearts with the Vogue,” Gibbons told me. “We’re just trying to create an atmosphere here that allows a whole new generation to have those experiences, and the generation that have been here in the past, to relive those.”

Body images from top: Matt Gibbons at the Vogue Theatre; the dressing rooms are spick and span and ready for action; the Vogue's swanky new $150,000 high efficiency boiler.

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