Skip to content
Join our Newsletter
Join our Newsletter

The 21-month battle to save Lucky Bar, one of Victoria's best-loved live music venues

DJ Murge performs as club opens doors for first time since March of 2020

ON STAGE

What: DJ Murge

Where: Lucky Bar, 517 Yates St.

When: Friday, 7 p.m.-10:30 p.m. and 11 p.m.-2 a.m.

Tickets: $11.61 from eventbrite.ca

Lucky Bar owner Dylan Pitcher was on the phone from inside his Yates Street nightclub Tuesday, chatting while he rapidly ticked the final items off his “maybe one day” list of renovations.

Replace baseboards? Check. Install new oak tabletops? Check. Spruce up paint, signage and furniture? Each one was eventually crossed off a to-do list that grew to an almost unruly size during the pandemic.

“It was definitely difficult,” Pitcher said of the strict provincial protocols which have made it almost impossible for live event venues such as his to operate during the COVID-19 era.

“Even during the last few months, there have been a lot of questions to ask. It has been difficult to have a staff and performance infrastructure in place when you don’t have a finite date to re-open.”

Pitcher said he made the decision to close the club, due to COVID-19 concerns, on March 16, 2020, with the expectation that he would be back up and running in a matter of weeks. That timeline was quickly adjusted to a couple of months, which eventually became one with no forseeable end in sight.

When the room reopens on Friday, for a night of music by Victoria’s DJ Murge, it will be the first activity inside the 188-person venue in nearly 21 months.

“We decided that instead of waiting for things to go back to the way they were, we would try to make the place feasible as a business during these restrictions,” Pitcher said.

The pre-pandemic version of Lucky Bar offered little in the way of seating. Now, in order to adhere to provincial guidelines, which disallows dancing, Pitcher was required to offer seats to the majority of patrons who walk through the door.

One problem: Due to other venues also facing similar predicaments, bar stools weren’t readily available (commercial enterprises must purchase seats that meet specific legal descriptions, so Pitcher’s options were limited.) Knowing that he needed to solve his seating problem, or run the risk of losing his bar for for good, Pitcher scoured the internet for options and came up with an unlikely solution.

Which brought about yet another problem: The manufacturer of said seats was based in Chicago. “I know it sounds insane, but we were trying to avoid any shipping ports, because it seemed like a supply-chain issue dealing with the water,” he said with a laugh.

Pitcher said he had no choice but fly to Illinois and purchase the wood-and-steel stools directly from the manufacturer, Richardson Seating, He rented a 34-foot van, loaded it with 48 custom stools, housed in individual boxes, and made the 35-hour drive back to Victoria. “It was the only way we had a shot,” he said.

“It was either that or swallow December, without the possibility of federal aid or events.”

Lucky Bar is known for its relaxed atmosphere, and “non-bar” feel. It is one of the longest continually running clubs of its kind in the city, and caters to an array of guests. For that reason, service industry professionals often want to work there.The pandemic put that dedication to the test, Pitcher said.

“We run a pretty personal business, with our staff. We love the people that work here and it has been really hard to give them a date for when they can come back. A lot of the great people that we have coming back did a really nice job pivoting, but they have to give notice to the [businesses] that took them in, so they needed a really firm date from us. It was hard to get that date, with one thing after another.”

The club will open Friday for two reduced-capacity performances (7 p.m. and 11 p.m.) by DJ Murge, whose previous performance at Lucky Bar was on March 13, 2020 — the second-to-last event at the Yates Street venue before its eventual closure.

When Pitcher and Murge first began discussing Lucky Bar’s official return, the target date was June. That was bumped to September and November before Dec. 3 was secured, Murge said. “Each time it was on the books, we were like: ‘Are we going to be able to dance?’ We wanted to save it for when people are able to boogie again. While that isn’t possible Friday, this still seemed like the right fit.”

It’s a meaningful gig for a variety of reasons, Murge said. Some of his earliest shows as a performer were on stage at Lucky Bar. “That inspiration is what fed me.”

Murge “will do whatever it takes” to support the club, and said he’s donating the net profits from his upcoming release with UK producer Frameworks to Lucky Bar and its staff. “We both wanted to pay homage to the clubs that shaped our careers as a producers and DJs. The music was inspired by that, so we wanted to do something to support the venues.”

As for the future of Lucky Bar, Pitcher is hoping he’s seen the worst the pandemic has to offer. The brick-walled venue has been a staple of the nightlife scene in Victoria since 2001, and has seen everyone from Arcade Fire to Sam Roberts perform within its walls. Its closure would leave a hole that may never be filled.

If all goes to plan, Lucky Bar will have a new mandate in addition to a new lease on life, Pitcher said.

“The dream is to go back to what we used to do — plus. We’re thinking about adding some longer hours. We don’t want to change what was happening at night, but we need to stay dynamic. We’ll set the room up for whatever it needs. If there’s a burlesque show, we can make it a lot more comfortable in here. If there’s a punk show, we can get everything the heck out of the room.”

mdevlin@timescolonist.com.