ALIVE ON ARRIVAL
By Chad Buchholz
November 30th, 2013
When the incarnation of the Waldorf Hotel that the music, art, and party-partaking segment of the Vancouver population had come to know and love shut down last January, it felt like just one more blow in a long line of shots that seemed designed to cripple the local cultural community. City lawmakers don’t care about us, was the sentiment, and if you read the mainstream media, it seemed pretty clear that the less clued-in city residents derided us, too.
Whether it was the gears of the (sorry) No-Fun City Illuminati once again grinding away at the scene or just a decision on the part of the Waldorf’s owners to revert the place back to the middle-of-the-road watering hole that it once was didn’t really matter at the time, though. What mattered was that one of the few remaining legit venues that was booking top-level events and entertainment was essentially shuttered for such productions. Again.
(To date, the Waldorf hasn’t been demolished to accommodate a block of highrises, though we will see what happens after Solterra steps in to assume ownership on November 1st.)
The disintegration of the Waldorf as a cultural hub, of course, didn’t lead to the disintegration of the collective of creative minds who conceptualized and curated the space. While the core Waldorf Productions team of Danny Fazio, Thomas Anselmi, Ernesto Gomez, and Kasha Marciniak were understandably devastated by the loss of a venue that consumed so much of their lives for so many years, they were quick to regroup, rebranding themselves as the Arrival Agency and setting about getting involved in projects bigger, more diverse, and with greater visibility than ever before. With their curation of July’s Khatsahlano Festival on West 4th St., running the summer-long Food Truck Fest every weekend this past sunny season, and programming the entertainment for the FUSE at the Vancouver Art Gallery (also in July), the group has had some of the past few months’ most talked-about and most well-received special events stuck like so many feathers in their cap.
Now, with the forthcoming launch of the Fox Cabaret on the site of the former Fox Cinema, Arrival – along with partners from Rachel Zottenberg (the Rumpus Room, Narrow) and David Duprey (the Rickshaw) – is soon to have a venue within which to bring their vision to the people on a daily basis.
For those who don’t know, the Fox Cinema was the last remaining smut theatre in the city (check out local hero Mish Way’s investigative report of the old shithole here). It was a relic of a bygone era, playing dirty movies to, “Old dudes or people who didn’t have the internet,” as Marciniak paraphrased to me the words of the former owners. It was rundown, seedy, and generally sad-looking. While the idea that the Fox Cinema existed in a city as holistically puritanical as Vancouver is kind of a fun one, it’s hard to shed any tears over its passing. More realistically, with what Arrival has planned the Fox, you would be crazy to not be cheering the death of the old porn house.
On Sunday night I had the opportunity to drop by the in-progress site to have a chat with Fazio and Marciniak – Arrival’s Brand + Design Director and Producer + Talent Buyer, respectively. When I showed up, they came down to greet me at the smaller of two side-by-side entrances and lead me upstairs to what is going to be either the only bar or the back bar, depending on the night. Which is to say, plans call for this space to be open seven days a week, regardless of whether a show or event is happening in the main hall. It’s a cozy room, with a couple of dark corners perfect for hunkering down in, and windows behind the large bar area looking out onto Main Street. Up on the second floor like this it feels like a speakeasy, and I think to myself, ‘I’d like to drink in here.’
From there, Fazio and Marciniak take me out to the balcony overlooking what will soon, undoubtably, take its place as one of the great venues in the city. Shit, maybe as one of the great venues in the country. I’m momentarily at a loss for words, but they soon come.
“This is perfect.”
Grand and intimate at the same time, the room is long and unobstructed by a single wall or pillar. It feels narrow, but this is something of an illusion caused by the 25 foot ceilings. Rather, it simply doesn’t have any dead space. If you want to chill, sure, hang out at the back. Otherwise, get in there and be part of the show. Because in there, closer to the stage, you will be part of the show.
And even in just a speaking voice from the balcony I get the sense that acoustics at the Fox are going to be exceptional. It just sounds warm in here, though the giant monitors already hanging from the ceiling suggest that in a few months it’s going to sound, well…rich, to say the least. The whole effect has my instincts striving to compare the room to Richard’s on Richards, even though there’s next-to-no physical similarity. What is similar, though, is the (capital V) Vibe. It feels like a place where magic could happen.
“Did you see it in here before we started working on it?” Kasha says, as we stare out over the floor. “Bodily fluids all over the walls, toilet paper dispensers with signs asking patrons not to steal the TP, the graffiti… It was insane.”
“(Designer) Scott Cohen has done such a great job, though,” Danny chimes in, leaning on the balcony railing, with its big three-foot-diameter circles cut out, allowing a stage view for even those who may find themselves slumped on the upstairs floor. “He’s a genius, really.”
Having a space of their own, of their own design, and of their own special brand of curation is what set the Arrival team apart back when they were known as Waldorf Productions, and I ask how critical it was to lock down the Fox space in order to continue playing out their vision.
“Actually, we were working on plans for the Fox before we were told the Waldorf wouldn’t be giving us a secure lease. We saw that the Fox would be coming on the market and we had begun looking into the feasibility of getting hold of it, but I’m not sure we would have made as much progress as we have if things hadn’t panned out like they did with the Waldorf. We knew the potential for this space, in this neighbourhood. Obviously, losing the Waldorf just made getting the Fox a little more important.”
I ask about the liquor licensing process, as at the last update I had heard, Arrival was having difficulty in obtaining the desired permits, but Fazio is quick to answer in the positive. “It’s happening,” he says, “It’s all going through now. It’s going to take a little while, which is why we’re not stressing on the construction here right now. But we figure we’ll be good for launch early in the New Year.”
“The City is actually really open to new ideas and into working with people who are looking to develop cultural spaces in Vancouver,” Fazio goes on, “Through the development of the Waldorf, and through the ‘Save the Waldorf’ campaign, as well, we got to know the processes and a lot of the people down at City Hall and they’ve been great to work with. We’ve really felt like they’ve been in our corner the whole time.”
We go to head downstairs and as we do I remember that I picked up a six-pack on my way over. I go grab three beers out of my bag, pass one to Danny and Kasha, and we clink bottles. “My first beer in the Fox,” Danny says, smiling.
We make our way to the front of the venue and take a seat on the stage. A long bar is being constructed to our left, while bench seating and a tabled area are being put together to our right, across from the bar. There’s scaffolding and dust and piles of lumber and tools in semi-organized clumps around the room, but the striking red and black wall and ceiling paint is mostly complete, and the effect is electric.
“I’m not sure there’s anyone in Vancouver doing quite what we’re doing,” Fazio says when I ask him how to describe Arrival. “There are booking agencies and there are venues and there are events organizers, but I think we bring those things together in a way that maybe no one else is really doing. Our focus is on creating experiences. And we’re trying to do it in a populist way. We want it to be cutting edge and of a certain quality, but we want to bring that to as many people as possible.”
“At the Khatsahlano festival, I was standing behind Gold and Youth while they were playing and you could see 10 blocks from Burrard down to Macdonald, and there’s thousands and thousands of people there, and I really got to realize the experience from both sides of the coin. First, we’re exposing all these people to all this top-level local music, but also we’re giving that band an opportunity that they’ve maybe never had before, and that we believe they deserve, and that they can build from. And that’s good for the city too, because those bands get to take that with them around the world.”
I push Fazio on this populist question, as I too have noticed that what used to be more of a niche ‘party’ market has grown and diversified so much in the past decade.
“When you look at the ‘Save the Waldorf’ campaign,” he goes on, “We collected 30000 signatures on our petition to give City Hall. Clearly, what we’re doing is resonating with people. I think there’s a lot of recognition and goodwill and appreciation directed towards what we’re doing, because it is inclusive.”
“It was sad, the way things fell apart with the Waldorf,” Marciniak adds, “I mean, it was home for a lot of us, too, not just where we worked. It was always a challenge trying to book a multi-room space like that, but we were making it work. We took so many positives away from that place, though, and we’re taking that experience and using it to make everything we do now better.”
It’s hard to disagree with her. Looking around at this room, or at their recent track record, or at their soon-to-be-announced New Years 2014 party that I can only tell you is a coup on a level I can’t even quite believe, the Arrival Agency has been swinging nothing but knock-outs since being excommunicated from the ‘Dorf. And with the launch of the Fox, they’ll be entrenched in what has come to be, once again, a pretty exciting Vancouver scene – despite the odds.
But by now we’ve finished our beers, I’ve shot a couple photos of Fazio and Marciniak, and we’ve all gone a bit quiet. It’s Sunday and everyone’s tired.
“I just can’t wait for this place to be open,” Kasha says, after a minute, from where she sits on the edge of the stage looking up at the room that promises to bring new life not to just Mount Pleasant, but to the entire city scene.
“I’m ready for some fun.”