A tour of some friendly, comfortable hangouts in Vancouver, B.C.

Share story

Figuring out the nightclub scene in an unfamiliar city can be a little intimidating — especially when clubs post notices that read: “Please dress to impress. Collared shirts, dress pants and fashionable jeans are preferred. Patrons wearing ball caps, hoodies, brands such as Christian Audigier, Ed Hardy and Affliction or T-shirts with gothic lettering or insignias may not be admitted.”

That’s from the Canvas Club in Gastown, which bills itself as “a truly VIP boutique nightlife venue with sophistication.”

No thanks!

For more welcoming venues, see the suggestions below:

This week, save 90% on digital access.

The Railway Club: This aptly named hangout — a long, skinny, second-floor space overlooking Dunsmuir Street — has a publike atmosphere, friendly staff and a small stage that’s a bit like Seattle’s JewelBox Theater at the Rendezvous. The eclectic lineup of events encompasses music (alt country, roots rock, tribute nights), literary readings, puppet shows and something called “Cafe Scientifique”: a monthly forum of professors, scientists and experts holding forth on “many interesting subjects.” Recommended shows during the Olympics include locals Hard Rock Miners Feb. 15 and Feb. 26 (their 25th anniversary show) and Rich Hope and His Evildoers, serving up raw rock-pop Feb. 20. A reasonably priced bar menu, with most items around $10, is available at lunch and dinner. Headliners usually start around 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 8:30 p.m. Sundays and 9:30 p.m. the rest of the week. 579 Dunsmuir St., cover price varies (604-681-1625 or www.therailwayclub.com).

O’Doul’s Restaurant and Bar: For something a little more upscale and jazzy, O’Doul’s is hard to beat. It has music from 9 p.m. to midnight, seven nights a week, featuring solo performers Sundays through Wednesdays and jazz combos on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The grand piano sits between the bar and the dining room, but the sound is better in the dining room. Astrolabe-inspired lamps and enormous antiquarian maps on the ceiling give the place a cosmopolitan feel in the evening, while clerestory windows let in some natural light during the day. O’Doul’s is situated inside the Listel Hotel, which also houses a satellite branch of Buschlen Mowatt Gallery (see “Galleries”). The Listel’s and O’Doul’s emphasis, one bartender told me, is on eco-friendly presentation of local food, art and music. Dinner entrees run between $24 and $49. 1300 Robson St., no cover for music (604-661-1400 or www.odoulsrestaurant.com).

Vancouver TheatreSports League: This 30-year-old improv company, drawing on a pool of 40 performers, is quick on its feet and pleasurably craven in its wit. It has a half-dozen shows in rotation running Wednesdays-Sundays, including an audience-participation “Improvaoke” which, when I saw it, was inspiringly cheeky without being at all abusive to the brave souls who volunteered — or were volunteered by their friends — to go onstage. With its full bar, New Revue Stage is a pleasant hangout, too. New Revue Stage, 1601 Johnston St., Granville Island. Note: VTSL is scheduled to move into new quarters on Granville Island some time in February. Check their Web site, www.vtsl.com, for updates. $5-$19, depending on the show (604-280-4444 for single tickets; 604-738-7013 for groups of 10 or more).

Pacific Cinémathèque: The Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival is renting the digs at Pacific Cinémathèque today through Thursday. The program includes films and talks about outdoor activities, ranging from the meditative to the adrenaline-churning. For more information, go to www.vimff.org. The Cinémathèque’s own “Best of the Decade” festival, covering “The Noughties — or whatever we’re supposed to call the ten-year period just expired,” resumes on Friday. If you want to dive deep into the heart of the Canadian psyche, don’t miss “My Winnipeg” by Guy Maddin (“Careful,” “The Saddest Music in the World”) billed with his brilliantly nutty 6-minute epic, “The Heart of the World,” 9 p.m. Feb. 5 and 8, 7 p.m. Feb. 7. “!Viva el Cine Mexicano!” — a retrospective of 15 classic and contemporary Mexican films — will be shown Feb. 10-21. 1131 Howe Street; single-bill tickets $8-$9.50, double bill $10-$11.50 (604-688-3456 or www.cinematheque.bc.ca).

Vancouver Central Library: During the Olympics, Vancouver’s downtown library expects to see visitors taking advantage of its wireless and computer services — or maybe just checking out the striking design of the building itself. No public events are scheduled during the Games because so many of the staff will be working at Vancouver’s two “LiveCity” sites (see below). There will be art installations, however, including local artist Christian Kliegel’s “Walk In/Here You Are,” which, the artist says, will serve as “a venue for visitors to engage with a curated program of projected videos and live performance.” 350 W. Georgia St., 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday, Thursday and Friday, 8:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, 1-5 p.m. Sunday (604-331-3603 or www.vpl.ca).

LiveCity: These “outdoor celebration sites” are being promoted as the places to find “the best in local, Canadian and international entertainment, big-screen Olympic highlights, sponsor pavilions and much more — for free.” LiveCity Yaletown is at David Lam Park on the north shore of False Creek. LiveCity Vancouver is at Stadium SkyTrain station near the corner of Cambie Street and West Georgia Street. Go to olympichostcity.vancouver.ca for more information, including tips on “The Top 10 Free Events at Games Time.”

Other venues: Vancouver arts insiders also recommend the Biltmore Cabaret, 395 Kingsway, 604-676-0541 or www.biltmorecabaret.com (“Don’t be fooled by its location in a Howard Johnson’s — it’s definitely trendy and gets major acts, for its size and price point”), the Commodore Ballroom, 868 Granville St., 604-739-4550 or www.livenation.com/venue/commodore-ballroom-tickets (“best midlevel rock shows in town”) and the Media Club, 695 Cambie St., 604-608-2871 or www.themediaclub.ca. (This downtown club bills itself as “your backstage pass to a world of media, art and entertainment possibilities.” That includes music, comedy and DJ nights.)

Michael Upchurch, Seattle Times arts writer

Custom-curated news highlights, delivered weekday mornings.