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Review

Liquor, Lust and The Law: The Story of Vancouver’s Legendary Penthouse Nightclub

By Aaron Chapman

November 4, 2013

Review By Vanessa Colantonio

Up to now, local venue histories have not been in great supply. Should they become a trend among British Columbia historians, Aaron Chapman’s Liquor, Lust and the Law may be seen as a pioneering effort. As much a family story (of the Fillipones, founders and owners) as it is a history of the Penthouse Nightclub in downtown Vancouver, this book has a warmth that many local history books lack.

Liquor, Lust and The Law is the end product of many years of research — the Fillipone family kept an extensive archive of photos, notes, newspaper articles, and memorabilia — and is based also on interviews with many of the players, including current Penthouse heir Danny Fillipone and various members of the liquor and vice squads from the venue’s days battling for an alcohol licence (1960s) and arguing in court against the Crown’s charges of running a common bawdy house (1970s).

Chapman gives us a rare glimpse of Vancouver’s mid-twentieth century nightlife, including the major jazz acts and Hollywood celebrities coming through town such as Oscar Peterson, Duke Ellington, the Mills Brothers, Frank Sinatra, Vincent Price, Errol Flynn, and others. They played or appeared at places such as the Commodore Ballroom, the Cave Supper Club, and the Orpheum, and then retired to the Penthouse for drinks and, in the very early days, a jam session or, years later, a floorshow. Chapman features candid photos of celebrities visiting the Penthouse alongside Fillipone family portraits: an appropriate pairing considering that this clandestine space was a combination of family guest parlour and Hollywood hangout. We witness the struggles and ups and downs of the Penthouse business and the strains on the Fillipones’ marriage. Later, with the untimely deaths of the most of the men behind the business, we seem to witness the passing of some golden era.

Then there is the late 2011 fire, which could have spelled the end of the club, but Chapman depicts, almost tenderly, the phoenix-like rebirth of the Penthouse. The author should be commended here, and throughout the book, for narrating with a light touch: he stands back and lets Danny Fillipone describe the death and resurrection of the Penthouse like that of a loved one saved from the brink by some miracle.

A much different and arguably more subdued venue re-opened in early 2012, with local indie band shows and community events. Are the Penthouse’s best years behind it or have they yet to happen? Once again, Chapman leaves us to see for ourselves.

Liquor, Lust and The Law: The Story of Vancouver’s Legendary Penthouse Nightclub
By Aaron Chapman 
Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press, 2012. 272 pp, $24.95 paper