Malcolm Lowry, Michael Turner & Tony Ricci All Drank At The NBITuesday, November 27, 2007
The only two things that people remember about Vancouver is that Malcolm Lowry lived and Errol Flynn died here.
The most important change that Expo 86 brought to Vancouver was a more realistic liquor law. Prior to Expo 86, La Bodega on Howe was the only restaurant where you could stare at a salad all day and drink yourself to oblivion, even on a Sunday. For years I had watched people get drunk on coffee at the Classical Joint on Carral Street. It took me a while to figure out that patrons would whisper, when asked what they wanted, "A dark coffee." This concoction people said had Irish whiskey. Before Expo 86, Tony Ricci was sitting pretty with his Marble Arch Hotel. It had a liquor license that had the latest closing hours in Vancouver (2 am). Those who would fortify their evenings with High Test at the Smilin' Buddha on East Hastings and ejected by bouncer Igor at 1 am, would run to the Arch for more.
In 1995 the exotic dancer bar craze of Vancouver was beginning to wane. But again, Ricci was sitting pretty as the unsigned owner of the NBI (the North Burnaby Inn) on East Hastings. It had the largest and best liquor and off sale license East of Boundary. It had a huge room with a stage where the city's best strippers performed. It was the only strip bar in Burnaby (besides the Lougheed Motel on Willingdon). The NBI was doing just fine. But there was another room, sort of like a pub, that never had customers except terminal city alcoholics.
This is when a man who does not profiit from selling New York landmarks because he lives in Vancouver, poet Michael Turner, went up to Ricci and suggested that the room be converted to a Mecca for poetry.
He thought that it should be called the Malcolm Lowry Room. And so it was. Malcolm Lowry Room opened its doors, prominently decorated with a beautifully framed portrait of Lowry by his shack on Cates Park on the other side of Burrard Inlet near Deep Cove. Turner then (I am almost sure) started rumours that Lowry (reported to be a fine swimmer) had braved the waters of Burrard Inlet, desperate for gin or two at the bar that was in the exact same spot where the NBI was.
At about that time writer John Lekich, no worse than Turner in his ability to persuade, pitched the story of the Malcolm Lowry Room to editor Charles Campbell at the Georgia Straight. I was dispatched to take the pictures and told it was a cover story.
I rounded up my equipment, and before I left, I went to my book shelves in search of my Book-of-the-Month Club copy of Lowry's Under the Volcano. After taking my portrait of Ricci (barmaid behind him), Michael Turner (with the framed photograph of Lowry) I used the book for the cover shot involving Turner and a barmaid. We picked one who was not as well endowed as most of the others who worked there. We didn't want the picture to be rejected by the Straight which was beefing up its moral standards.
Before I left I went up to Ricci and told him, "Tony, here is Malcolm Lowry's famous novel. Keep it under the bar in case anybody asks." His reply was his usual one, "Alex, I owe you big." And he always meant that.