Soprano’s Bar shuts down but don’t count out karaoke

Soprano’s Bar, Victoria’s only karaoke joint, has closed its doors for good, going out with a bang on New Year’s Eve.

A message posted on the bar’s Facebook page on Dec. 31 served as the official announcement: “It’s the end of a 13.5 year era. Soprano’s closes tonight at 3 a.m. — forever!”

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Neither the bar’s management nor managers at Capital City Centre Hotel, which holds the lease, returned calls for comment.

Soprano’s reputation took a hit when Victoria police announced in November they had arrested and charged three people, including a bartender, for selling drugs in the bar.

In the drug sting dubbed Operation Hangover 1, undercover officers said they were able to buy cocaine and marijuana from a bartender and watched patrons buy drugs.

Soprano’s manager Brian Markle said at the time that one bartender was fired after being charged with drug trafficking. Two others were also charged with drug trafficking.

A second undercover operation called Hangover 2 caught numerous liquor infractions.

Ken Wilson, who has done maintenance for the bar for the last 13 years, said there’s talk of reopening the bar in a new location with a new name, but that’s not official.

Singer-guitarist Dan Politano of the cover band Younger Than Yesterday — one of three acts to play the club on New Year’s Eve — said news of the club’s impending closure seemed to catch many in the audience off guard.

“We heard about it on Facebook,” Politano said. “It seemed like the staff and customers had only heard that day.”

Politano played the Calendonia Avenue venue a number of times during its final months. “I loved it. It’s too bad it’s closing.”

Soprano’s was also home to many in the city’s small but dedicated punk community. Absolute Underground publisher Ira Hunter had some great nights hosting events at both Soprano’s and its earlier incarnation, The Icehouse.

“It wasn’t quite as good as when it was The Icehouse, but to lose another venue, it is tough,” he said. “When you’ve only got four or five places [in the city for punk acts to play], that’s a substantial loss for local bands. At the end of the day, people still had a great time when they were there.”

Heather Furneaux of Clove and Anchor Entertainment had an eventful six-year run booking the 275-seat bar.

Furneaux’s concert promotion company staged the majority of events at Soprano’s, and she’ll be sad to see it gone.

“It was funny having karaoke in between sets sometimes,” she laughed. “But people liked the club.”

Soprano’s was known for cheap burgers, even cheaper drinks, and as a place where amateur singers — good and bad — were welcomed on stage for boisterous rounds of karaoke.

The bar often touted its Royals hockey packages, selling a ticket to the game, a beer and a burger for $15.

Victoria musician Mike Demers, who called Soprano’s a “dive bar,” said that while it wasn’t his scene, he had an interesting experience playing there once in 2007 with the ’80s cover band, Nuvo Wavo.

“I didn’t realize how important karaoke was to that room,” Demers said.

The band finished the set at midnight and, before having a chance to remove their gear from the stage, an eager karaoke participant was clutching a microphone, belting out his best rendition of a rock tune.

“Say what you want about the room and how rough it is, quite frankly, everyone needs a place to go,” Demers said.

Demers thinks it won’t be long before another bar tries to fill the demand for karaoke.

“I predict that someone's going to grab the karaoke bull by the horn within weeks.”

kderosa@timescolonist.com

mdevlin@timescolonist.com

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