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Waldorf Hotel to close after sale to condo developer

Noel Hulsman

Another Polynesian outpost bites the dust. Vancouver’s Waldorf Hotel, home to one of Western Canada’s most renowned Tiki bars will close next week, ending the eastside hotspot’s run as one of the most beloved spot’s in town.

In an interview with the Globe and Mail, writer and artist Douglas Coupland called it “The coolest, most intelligent watering hole the city’s ever had.” Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson called it “a big loss” and promised the city would seek ways to save it from the wrecking ball.

That’s either wishful thinking or a pre-election sound bite. If there’s one phenomenon that’s never been resisted in Vancouver, it’s the unlocking of land for condo developments.

Indeed, the property across the street from the Waldorf was just flattened for the same aim.  Often it’s been City Hall that’s teed up the demolition by allowing land to be rezoned for more condos.

In this instance, the proposed demolition site is not a shuttered warehouse or dilapidated property being cleared, but a thriving cultural hub, in a city that has all too few of them.  Making the loss even more poignant, the Waldorf only re-opened two years ago, after the hotel’s operators signed a 15-year-lease with the building’s landlord and invested over $1-million in refurbishing the place.

The Tiki lounge was one of the primary beneficiaries of the redo, serving up Mai Tais and Blue Hawaiians, under a twilight ceiling, festooned with Edgar Leeteg paintings (“The father of black velvet”, according to the bar’s website). The lounge had been part of the hotel since 1955, but it wasn’t until the 2010 renovations that it achieved its full Tahitian glory.

That effort dramatically transformed the Waldorf from being yet another Eastside Vancouver dive, to a community-centered space with an art gallery, recording studio, multiple nightclub, plus, of course, a hotel. According to the Globe and Mail, the modernist-property was valued at $3.5 million in its 2013 assessment, up more than 30 per cent from 2012.

It was those numbers, plus the ongoing gentrification its presence spurred, that surely prompted local condo-developer Solterra to come calling. Last week, Waldorf’s management was told by landlord Marko Puharich that the property had been sold.

In a release issued on Wednesday, the managers said that Solterra were unwilling to discuss a long-term deal, instead offering a week-to-week lease with the proviso that the property be vacated by September. Instead they opted to close next week.