The Smilin’ Buddha Cabaret was an entertainment hotspot for decades. Chinatown, ablaze with neon in the 1950s, was a late-night destination for people going out on the town, and the supper club at the Smilin’ Buddha was buzzing into the wee hours. Chinese-Canadian radio personality Harvey Lowe hosted nighttime performances at the cabaret.
“We would frequently drop in and see [Harvey] late at night, and there’d be a floor show, a late show, about one o’clock. It seemed to be always packed at one o’clock. Say there were six of us or something at a table, first thing we’d do was order a pot of tea. And then we’d empty a mickey of gin into the tea.”
-Dal Richards, big-band leader
The Buddha lived out its last years as an independent music venue that took off with Vancouver’s punk scene of the late 1970s. It closed in the 1980s.
“My mother and father used to go to the Smilin’ Buddha quite regularly. It was their favourite place to go. So when it came time for my father to propose to my mother, they did it at the Smilin’ Buddha Cabaret.
They have very fond memories about it. That’s not unique to them—it was a very happening place. You’ll hear many, many interesting stories about the Smilin’ Buddha Cabaret.”
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— Brad Merritt, bass player, 54-40
“Some nights you couldn’t get in. There were lineups. But I wouldn’t call them lineups—if you couldn’t get in, you’d just party out on the street.
But inside the place, it had a fairly decent stage. It was just hell-bent. It was loud and raucous.
I was there one time, I can’t remember the name of the band, but they were from England and they had those huge mowhawks. They were playing at the Commodore, and so they showed up at the Buddha for an after-hours bash. And that was a wild night.
Lashman, [the club owner], he would close the door sometimes and just let things thrash out and eventually the noise would stop and people would wander out onto the streets and go to other parties.
The Buddha was central to the scene in the city, definitely. It was one of the best punk clubs ever.”
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— Murphy Farrell, drummer, the Schmorgs