By Jordie Yow

Illustration by Clubhouse Collective
Illustration by Clubhouse Collective

Sad news for Vancouver showgoers this month as both Hoko’s and the Cobalt are closing their doors.

Hoko’s, the karaoke bar, sushi restaurant and place for small bands to book shows is no longer playing music after it was handed a ticket by a liquor inspector.

According to Jian Chao, the ticket was issued for several infractions on a night when a provincial liquor inspector observed that not enough food was being served while Hoko’s remained open around 11 p.m. In addition to that, Hoko’s is being further fined because the liquor inspector saw a patron carry a drink to the stage, which is a no-drinking area, and also saw a patron dance, despite the signs posted that clearly say “No Dancing.”

“How can I monitor people if they are going to move their bodies when they sing?” said an upset Chao over the phone. At the time of this interview the ticket had not been assigned a value, but Chao is expecting it to be at least $10,000, given that the last one she received was $7,500 for a similar infraction.

The fate of Hoko’s is very uncertain at this point and it certainly won’t be a venue in the future.

“I cannot afford to pay this penalty and right now,” Chao said, “I can’t even afford to pay the rent.”

The venue will also be closed to karaoke goers and the owners are uncertain if they will be able to afford to keep it open as a restaurant.

The city has spoken about changing enforcement policies that antagonize Vancouver music fans, but this ticket for Hoko’s speaks volumes to how well that policy shift has been going and it has many Vancouver showgoers enraged.

“The idea that in an area like the Downtown Eastside, the problem is a sushi restaurant playing music over 90 db while a drink rests on a 3-inch raised platform is quite obviously insane. As is punishing Hoko and Jian for finding a way to attract new business to their restaurant in an area the city has left to die,” Jarrett Evan Samson, who hosted the Phantom Islands night at Hoko’s, wrote in the comments section of the Georgia Straight’s article on the closure.

This closure is a clear case of Vancouver’s archaic and terrible liquor laws working to destroy the livelihood of two people who have done nothing but good for their neighbourhood, as well as music and culture in our city. The repeated ticketing and harassment of this venue is not only damaging to our music scene, but it discourages others from running innovative businesses like Hoko’s that could do something to revitalize a tough neighbourhood.

Hoko’s is just one of two important venues that are closing, though.The Cobalt has also closed its doors on the many metal, punk and hardcore fans who frequented it after Wendy13, who ran the place, was evicted by her landlords, the infamous slumlords, the Sahotas. The last show was the weekly experimental music night Fake Jazz, ending its career at the Cobalt and closing the place down.

With the loss of these two venues, young Vancouver bands will have fewer places to play. The Cobalt was a venue where many Vancouver bands cut their teeth, and though Hoko’s has not been a venue for as long, it has always been a welcoming place where any band who wanted to book a show could do so, merely by asking the owners. Vancouver might be trying to buck its No Fun City image, but it isn’t going to do it when venues like these can’t get the support they need to keep going.