SURREY — Some nightlife will return to the Flamingo hotel bars that have operated in Whalley for several decades, but not in recent months.
The building’s former strip club, lounge and liquor store have been shuttered since last spring, and new plans have been drawn to feature live music and other forms of entertainment in the bars there.
David Geertz, a White Rock resident, has been brought in as a partner by property owner and developer Charan Sethi, president of Richmond-based Tien Sher Group, to help create an arts and culture hub at the Flamingo, which has seen better days since it opened in 1955.
Eventually, residential towers will be built on the hotel site, but plans are to make the current licensed establishments go-to destinations over the next five or six years, until the buildings are demolished.
“We need to bring some life to the area,” Sethi told the Now-Leader during a site tour. “We are now building our fifth building and by the time we’re finished that one, we will have around 660 units, and four or five commercial units. You have to get that synergy right, to have something to do for the people moving in. There’s nothing here right now, as much as we like to believe there is. We have some nice little niche restaurants in the area, some great food, but we need to have more.”
With Legion of Sound, a program of Penmar Community Arts Society, Geertz has staged a series of concerts at Ocean Park hall in South Surrey over the past year, as part of the organization’s mandate as “a non-profit concerts booking, routing, and presentation program that brings shows to communities outside of larger metropolitan areas.”
Sethi took in the recent “Seaside Shindig” fundraiser hosted by Legion of Sound at White Rock’s Star of the Sea hall. The $60-a-ticket event, held Sept. 30, raised money to bring live music to the masses in the Semiahmoo area.
“(Geertz) invited me to that event I thought, if he could do that at the Flamingo, it will work,” said Sethi, who sees a potential entertainment hub in his property at 10768 King George Blvd.
Combined, the three bars there – the former strip club, lounge and Panchos rock club – are licensed to hold more than 600 people.
The Byrd strip club will be re-imagined as a place for electronic, hip-hop, R&B and other types of music, along with comedy and special events, while the Flamingo lounge is seen as a venue for rock and indie music.
“I’d like to keep the name Flamingo as the overall establishment, and then my idea is to rename each room as a different bird that’s West Coast-based,” Geertz said. “We’re tossing around ideas, like the Crow Bar at the Flamingo, the Starling Room, the Pigeon – have some fun with it. We were talking about calling it Wattage after Dianne Watts – but that’s just a joke, right.”
Geertz said “not much in the way of renovations need to be done, other than some serious cleaning and de-cluttering. There are a few pieces of equipment that needs to be swapped out, and that’s it. This room is EQ’d for sound, it’s great, and everything works.”
In one corner of the former strip club, Geertz and Sethi want to bring in tables for cards and other casino games as a room people could book for fundraisers and special events.
“Right now,” Geertz said, “one of the fastest ways to raise money for community groups is to have a private bookable venue to run a casino night, and that’s something this venue will also do. So not only bands and all that, but if you want to book it and have your own fundraiser, like, right now, this is the room for that. We’re talking baccarat, roulette, poker, craps. It will all stay her permanently. It’s an easy way for an organization to raise good money.”
The vision is to have the new-look bars up and running sometime this month, without a kitchen for the entire operation.
“It’s just one extra headache you don’t need,” Geertz said about food service. “You look at the other special-event rooms in Vancouver like the Imperial. Their website has a for-profit booking rate and a non-profit booking rate, and here’s a list of caterers (venue renters) can choose from, the ones we allow you to work with for your event in this venue. That’s what we see happening here.
“We also see having a turnkey system similar to, for example, the WISE Hall or St. James Hall in Vancouver,” Geertz continued. “The WISE Hall is actually a bookable venue where you pay rent, you keep the ticket (money) but they run the bar and all that money goes toward putting on arts on Commercial Drive. It’s run by the WISE Hall Society. It’s the same thing at St. James Hall in Kitsilano but it’s run by Rogue Folk Club, and the money is used for folk programming. So here, anyone who wants to use the venue talks to us, the booker, and there’ll be a corporate rate, a non-profit rate and a band rate.”
Moving forward, the Flamingo name isn’t going anywhere.
“I am protective of that name, so it will stay,” Sethi said. “And the tower that is eventually built here, it will be called the Flamingo. Eventually these existing buildings will come down, but for the next five or six years, we’ll make this a humming part of town – maybe Hummingbird for one of the bar names, right? As we create more of an entertainment district, we then move the businesses into the new building.”