Big Bad John’s gets wall raking, roof-raising

Big Bad John’s bar in the Strathcona Hotel downtown is a little bit bigger and a little less bad.

The nearly 53-year-old institution has had a slight renovation, resulting in a culling of some of the paraphernalia plastered to its walls.

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The “raking” of the walls — as Strathcona owner Grant Olson once referred to the removal of some of the thousands of pieces of money, identification, clothing and industrial equipment that adorn the space — happens every so often and can give the bar the feeling of more space.

This time the scrape was in concert with an upgrade to Big Bad John’s. “It’s a minor facelift, most of it was to improve the structural integrity of the ceiling, which is the original from the bar in 1954,” said Joel Chudleigh, sales and catering manager for the Strathcona Hotel.

The bar has existed since 1954. The Strathcona Lounge was the province’s first post-prohibition cocktail lounge, but took on the Big Bad John’s persona in 1962 when John Olson created a hillbilly hideaway in anticipation of a stream of visitors in the wake of the Seattle World’s Fair.

The bar is famous for the organized chaos within its walls, with peanuts strewn across its small tables, floors and burlap-sack-upholstered benches, and a wild collage of IDs, underwear, money and memorials tacked to the walls and table tops.

And for those not paying attention, plastic animals and insects, controlled by fishing line from behind the bar, are dropped with regularity at every table.

Chudleigh expects the gear that makes up some of the charm of the bar will re-generate soon enough and return it to what patrons, bartenders and owners affectionately call a dive, dump and hole-in-the-wall.

“The atmosphere hasn’t changed other than it looks a little fresher and I’m sure as we let customers attack it, it will look more and more like the old Big Bad John’s as time goes on,” he said.

“The snakes and spiders are still there and the population of brassieres I’m sure will continue to repopulate themselves.”

The renewing of the ceiling also included updating the wiring and plumbing. Chudleigh said at some point they will also replace the stainless steel and fixtures behind the bar.

He said this time they did add some backlit pictures of mineshafts in the ceiling.

“That’s so there is something interesting to see there instead of just, well, crap,” he said with a laugh.

The cost of the renovation was not disclosed, but Chudleigh said, in Big Bad John’s parlance: “It was more than a bag of peanuts.”

aduffy@timescolonist.com

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