Best Blues Club in Vancouver? You make the call!

A blues icon you probably won't see in Vancouver's blues clubs. Photo credit: F. Antolín Hernandez | Wikimedia Commons

A blues icon you probably won’t see in Vancouver’s blues clubs. Photo credit: F. Antolín Hernandez | Wikimedia Commons

Fans of blues music in Vancouver are still mourning the loss of the Yale.

It was more than two years ago when the iconic blues club at the end of Granville Street – with the big neon saxophone sign outside – closed its doors.  The owners promised to rebuild and reopen, but now all that’s left is a For Lease sign in the window.

It’s never been easy to find great live blues music in Vancouver, and since the Yale closed  it’s gotten even harder.  But I know there must be a few options left out there, which is why I need your help.

Do you know a good blues club in Vancouver? Let us know by leaving a comment below.

I’ll start things off with my new favourite, a tiny club that’s been around for years but still doesn’t get much attention.

Cottage Bistro is tucked away on an unassuming stretch of Main Street, a few blocks south of King Edward Avenue. From the outside, it doesn’t look any different from the dozens of little bars and restaurants in the neighbourhood.  Open the door, however, and it definitely sounds a lot different.

600_429946392I checked out the Cottage Bistro over the weekend, when a veteran local group called the Hell’s Gate Blues Band was playing for the bargain cover price of $7.  On a Saturday night, the little place was packed.  It’s basically just a few tables arranged in front of a small bar, with a stage pushed up against the front window and a tiny dance floor.  And, at around 10 p.m., every piece of available real estate was taken.

I squeezed through the door, passed the dancers boogying down on the dance floor and managed to find a spot near the bar.  On stage, the 7-piece band, led by a powerhouse female vocalist, was grooving through a rendition of You Ain’t Nothing But a Hound Dog, not the Elvis version but the original 1952 Big Mama Thornton version.

The first thing I noticed was the sound. For a tiny bar, the Cottage Bistro has a fantastic sound system.  All the highs and lows rang true and – even though there were seven people on stage – nothing got lost in the mix.

hells-gate-blues-bandThen, there was the atmosphere.  Just like the old Yale, Cottage Bistro seems to embrace a come-as-you-are, let-your-hair-down vibe.  There was no pretension or posturing whatsoever, a nice change from other Main venues where the hipster, too-cool-for-school attitude still prevails.  The eclectic crowd was genuinely having fun and dancing like no one was watching, a rarity in Vancouver.  Relatively cheap drinks – served by a very attentive wait staff – may have been behind at least part of that.

And the tunes were great.  The Hell’s Gate Blues Band, which consisted of a pair of guitar players, bass, drums, keyboard, harmonica and singer, went on to do a version of the Melissa Etheridge hit Bring Me Some Water that blew the original away.  They wrapped up the night with Mustang Sally, a crowd pleaser that had the whole bar singing the “Ride, Sally ride” backup part.

From now on, the Cottage Bistro might just be my go-to replacement for the long-lost Yale. But I know there are still a few other blues joints out there in Vancouver.  If you’ve got a favourite, please let us know by leaving a comment below.

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