Staff picks: Best music venues in Vancouver

Illustration by Wolfgang Thomo

Malkin Bowl

610 Pipeline Rd

Helen Aikenhead // Features Editor

Throughout the city, there are many incredible venues, making it hard to pick a favourite. With that said, one that has held my heart for years now is the Malkin Bowl. Located within the forests of Stanley Park, Malkin Bowl is a beautiful and secluded space that is as suiting to its hosting city as it is to the artists it lends its stage to.

Hidden in a 360-degree surrounding of massive pines, this open air venue possesses some sort of magical draw in the summer months. Although it may not be an ideal spot year-round, there’s something special about returning every summer to a place where the venue is as much a part of the experience as the performer.

It’s hard to say if it’s because of this natural setting, or the bands that perform at the bowl, but there’s a rare calmness to the crowds the venue draws. As concerts here are general admission, most people opt to sit further back- spreading out a blanket on the grassy eld, or the elevated hill opposite the beer garden creating a relaxed atmosphere.

Originally, the stage was built for theatre. In fact, it was designed as a small scale replica of the famed Hollywood Bowl. While the decision to hold concerts was far from an attempt at replacing its popular theatre shows – it was just a diversifying of its offerings – I believe that presenting concerts is where the Malkin Bowl really comes to life.

Photo by Galen Robinson-Exo

The Commodore Ballroom

868 Granville St.

Justin Scott // Managing Editor

I love the Commodore Ballroom and I can say without hesitation that it’s my favourite venue in the city. There’s just something about it. Walking up the staircase
and entering the sizable space never fails to induce excitement. Its dance floor is sprung so it’s perfect for any kind of activity one might find themselves taking part in while enjoying the space – from casual dancing to moshing, it’s perfect.

But, perhaps even more iconic than the space is its history. Opened in 1929, it’s one of Vancouver’s most notorious establishments. It’s been graced by some of music’s all-time greats, but has seen far more than just concerts. Originally opened as a dance hall, its stage was first occupied by orchestras playing for Vancouverites looking for a nice night spent with someone dear to them, or someone new. Since then it has changed owners many times, but never lost its charm.

Some of my best nights have been spent atop the sprung oor. Just last year I got to relive my childhood as my friends and I spent a whole evening in the pit at a Sum 41 show. My first time in a 19+ establishment as an actual 19-year-old was at the commodore for a Sebastian Ingrosso set. I saw Death From Above 1979 there, before they fully embraced their rock-sound. I was even lucky enough to see local legends Spirit of the West play one of their last ever gigs there.

The Commodore would be Goldielocks’ favourite venue in Vancouver – it’s not too big or too small, it’s just right. Its crowds are big enough to energize all in attendance, but you don’t need to being binoculars just to see which band member is which.

Guilt and Co.

1 Alexander St.

Carlo Javier // Editor-in-Chief

There are plenty of reasons Guilt and Co. is my favourite concert venue in the city. It’s conveniently located in the heart of Gastown, making it easily accessible by transit. It’s surrounded by an eclectic group of food vendors, providing some of the finer options in both pre, and post show meals. Their drink selection is terrific and if the vibe isn’t working out for you – there are half a dozen other venues just a few minutes away.

But it’s exactly the vibe that truly makes Guilt and Co. my favourite concert venue in the city. Walking down the flight of stairs beside the now defunct Chill Winston is like traversing past a passage through time and space. No other venue in the Gastown hub – if not all Downtown Vancouver – can offer quite the same distinctive ambiance as Guilt and Co. It’s almost like you, your company and everyone else in the Gastown lounge are isolated from the rambunctious cityscape.

The music, of course, helps take you away. The nightly shows that Guilt and Co. offers stack up well to any other spots in the Lower Mainland. With a wide variety of performers that range from funk, blues, soul, jazz, hip-hop and to everything else in between, Guilt and Co. can confidently pride itself as a venue that can host an amazing musical experience on any given night. It doesn’t hurt that most performers who earn slots in the lounge tend to price tickets closer to the cheaper side of the ticket spectrum.

If music is a form of escape, then Guilt and Co. is your midnight train going anywhere. Its intimate atmosphere is unmatched and stepping out after a thrilling performance is like waking up after a dream – you’ll be wishing you had more time.

The Imperial

319 Main St

Jessica Lio // Online Editor

As far as mid-size live music venues go in this town, the Imperial is the only space that truly has its shit together and it became my favourite local venue the first time I set foot inside.

The Imperial is the pinnacle when it comes to an intimate room with impeccable sound quality that still gives you enough space to dance and breathe. Maybe the revamped movie house’s charming Koi sh tank played a part in winning me over, but it’s no exaggeration when I say there’s no finer venue where I’d want to enjoy a night out.

Some of the best shows I’ve seen this year were at the Imperial. Wolf Parade in February and Cigarettes After Sex earlier in September, and believe me – the acoustics in this room would have you thinking it was just you and the bands’ lead vocalists alone at an intense candle-lit dinner (that is, if your dinners consist of them crooning unimaginably sweet melodies while you stand hopelessly enamoured, trying not to cry from happiness).

The signature terracotta soldiers on either wall add a unique touch to the venue’s sleek modern design, and raised flooring in the back gives you a decent sightline from any side of the room.

Clean washrooms, three bar areas offering reasonably- priced drinks, balcony seating, respectful crowds and genuinely courteous staff – what more could you ask for?

At the heart of my infatuation with this venue, I’m a gal of simple tastes – give me a venue where nobody spits on me, grabs at my body parts, runs their fingers through my friends’ hair or drunkenly yells about their hatred for their ex while the band is playing and I’ll hand over all my money.

Photography by Melissa Dex Guzman


333 Clark Dr

Rachel D’Sa // Arts and Culture Editor

The 333 (self-referred to as the “Half Satan”), has held its own over the years, establishing itself as one of Vancouver’s major underground music venues.

The music abyss is located at 333 Clark Drive in East Van (and if you plan on going to an event there, allow yourself an extra hour or so to wander and actually locate the place because no map app will be of any help at all). The visual set up, while not the best for decent photos, allows for the ultimate out-of-head experience.

Primarily known for its contributions to the city’s punk scene, the venue also commonly hosts everything from your standard indie-rock to the most bizarre combinations of genres, with grace. Though its online presence lacks, it is one of the few businesses that truly benefits from such an absence, as it thrives off its mysterious and angsty reputation. While the venue doesn’t serve as the cleanest or most visually appealing venue, it makes up for what its aesthetics lack with its unique all-age approach that is rarely seen in the Vancouver night life.

While the bands that play there may not be for the faint of heart, often serving up some obscure tunes, whatever is not enjoyable sound wise, is made up for by the great environment. In a nutshell, this place is infested with future friends. The hardcore, dedicated goers are some of the most welcoming and genuine hipsters you will meet, complete with the faint scent of House of Vintage.

Check out an upcoming show at 333 for some of the cheapest cover you’ll ever pay, and you’ll be handed a dose of passionate music, a great time, and probably a few bruises from the mosh pit – an experience worthwhile.

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