Punk rock shows find a new home in Saanich

As live music in the city center struggles to rebound, a working-class Saanich bar with a family foundation has quietly become a hotspot for punk rock in the city.

A nondescript building on Upper Quadra Street, sandwiched between an industrial food equipment supplier and a furniture maker, houses the Phoenix Bar and Grill, where punk shows have taken off in recent times. In recent weeks, the facility has been fully booked every weekend, with social distancing shows on Fridays and Saturdays running at 50% capacity.

Formerly the Nautilus Club, where athletes from nearby squash courts could enjoy a post-game libation, the Phoenix is ​​where the music-loving crowd of the old Logan’s Pub on Cook Street, which closed in 2020, is gathering nowadays. General manager Jen Turner allows organizers to keep all doorways on show nights, which will increase even more when the bar returns to its maximum limit of 150 once the pandemic subsides.

“The community is huge,” Turner said. “They had their room taken away, now one has been returned to them. They are grateful.

Turner’s father, owner-operator Mike Turner, bought the business 13 years ago. The primary liquor establishment has maintained a stable daytime clientele in recent years, but keeping the venue occupied at night on weekends has always been a problem. That’s not a problem today: Turner says Friday and Saturday nights at the bar are booked until December, thanks to his recent switch to punk, metal, and hard rock.

“We had a punk show, and it blew us away,” Turner said. “And then from there it almost became a matter of respect. These groups were like, ‘Is it okay for us to be here?’ It started from there. “

The Phoenix tried their hand with one-off punk shows as early as 2016, but the majority of acts that performed in the hall in the intervening years were traditional cover bands aimed at an older audience. “It was a little harder to sell live music to a sleeping generation when the bands started playing,” Turner said.

She was approached in the summer of 2019 by local punk bands, “when our concerts weren’t really past the midpoint.” After a few successful tries, she took a close look at punk shows and the community they attract as a viable entertainment option. Fans of local punk bands like Fully Crazed and Class of 1984 had no problem coming early and staying late, which helped boost results on the nights Turner booked punk bands.

“We are a family business, we always have been,” she said. “We’re here six days a week, double shift, the entire nine meters. So when something falls on your knees like that, I’m 150 percent invested in it. “

The majority of historic local punk shows – from DOA and the Dishrags at Dominion Hall in 1978 to The Subhumans and Black Flag at OAP Hall in 1982 – have taken place in and around downtown Victoria, but outlying areas have always been music incubators with an edge. Sooke, Esquimalt, Central Saanich and Sidney have spawned some of the area’s most influential punk and metal bands, with Saanich – once the home of the legendary Nomeansno – in the mix as well.

The Phoenix Bar and Grill adds to Saanich’s legacy by giving punk rock a much needed home in the COVID-19 era. And business is booming for the only place in town – not to mention the suburbs – to reserve mostly alternative, punk and metal numbers.

“It’s important, especially for our type of music, because there aren’t any places in town for that,” said guitarist Jono McGee, whose band, Rival Gang, performed at the Phoenix on July 31. . we run with it. I have the same kind of feeling at the Phoenix. Our first show there in 18 months was great. Everyone respected the staff and respected the building. [The Turners] opened their arms to us. They kiss her. And our community couldn’t be happier. ”

Turner was nothing more than a compliment to the attendees, who are often criticized for their appearance, she said. She certainly doesn’t have a problem with the way they act; Punk shows are neither violent nor dangerous, she said. During the pandemic, everyone is required to sit down, but even as the pandemic subsides and more people populate the place, she doesn’t expect any problems.

As a business owner, it wouldn’t make sense for her to put the bar or the bar staff at risk.

“If anything, it’s the opposite. I very rarely even need extra security on these nights, as people in crowds are like inside security. There is no right. They are nice, they are happy to be here. It’s perfect. We had a show, and a mirror accidentally broke, and not even 12 hours later, someone [from the punk community] had replaced him.

As for the impact on the surrounding environment, more commercial than residential, it is minimal. Sound doesn’t travel far outside of the second floor room, which has concrete walls. “We have wild punk and metal gigs here, and there’s not a peek outside. This is the perfect place for it.


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