by Andy Resto

illustration by Aaron Read
illustration by Aaron Read

  The Australia-New Zealand Social Club, also known as the Anza, began in 1935 as an organization for dispersed Australians and New Zealanders to gather and connect. As numbers and income for the group grew, the Anza’s Vancouver contingent was able to purchase the building at 8th and Ontario in 1963. Since then, the former church, a quaint, two-story yellow house more closely resembling a country cabin than an underground music hub, has hosted a wealth of music events from reggae to psychedelic to garage rock.

  Decades of operating with at least three events per week will take its toll, so earlier this year, with help of a $120,000 Cultural Infrastructure Grant from the City of Vancouver, the venue’s main floor got a facelift. Despite the obvious necessary upgrades — like replacing dirty carpet with hardwood, replacing air conditioning and heating, refashioning the bar and installing a functional tap system — events coordinator Denise Brennan says the club also needed a change of its public perception. The new look garners more respect for the club while maintaining the old Anza feel, particularly noticeable in the unique lounge furniture. With the new look, Brennan hopes to book more experienced acts and different genres such as jazz, soul, and possibly even theatre.

  The upstairs is certainly more inviting. The stage is less cluttered without extra equipment sitting around in the back; the updated lighting is brighter; booths in the back have been replaced by higher chairs, overlooking other tables and providing a better view of the stage; and the new bar could pass as high-end anywhere in the city. Its sleek silver style is almost out of place in the humble establishment. Gay Nineties drummer, Malcolm Holt, who performed at the club both pre- and post-renovations, commented, “This place is so much nicer!”

  Brennan also points out that the venue is more environmentally friendly now that they are serving liquor on tap in glasses instead of plastic cups.

  Of course, with the upgrade comes a higher price for renters. Brennan expects renters might takes some time to warm up to the rental cost increase, even if it’s minimal. Richard Thomson, co-coordinator (with Ian Browne) of Party Heroes—a bi-weekly event that hosts local indie and garage rock acts—says the improvements are well worth the trivial increase, which will vary depending on the show. He says the public’s feedback has been mostly positive, and is excited about the future of Party Heroes, which has run at the Anza since 2009 and reached capacity for the first time in the inaugural post-renovation show.

  In mid-June, the Anza is an integral stop on the Music Waste circuit, and you can be sure to enjoy a show almost any night of the week at any time of the month. At over four decades old, the Anza’s future is looking more bright and rejuvenated than ever.