Liquor, Lust and the Law book launch party, Thursday, Nov. 22, 7 p.m. at The Penthouse, 1019 Seymour St. More info at www.arsenalpulp.com.
AMATEUR historian and member of Celtic rock road warriors the Town Pants, Aaron Chapman put his penny whistle on the shelf a while ago so he could spend more time at The Penthouse.
Sadly it wasn't as seedy as it sounds. Chapman was writing and researching his new book Liquor, Lust and the Law: The Story of Vancouver's Legendary Penthouse Nightclub (Arsenal Pulp Press). It's filled with photos, recently unearthed police documents and the kind of lurid tales you'd expect from an after-hours watering hole that was opened in 1947 by brothers Joe, Ross, Mickey and Jimmy Filippone, and has catered to jazz greats, movie stars, Rat Pack alumni, mobsters, undercover cops, exotic dancers and lonely high school teachers. Chapman talked about the iconic nightclub, his late night writing rituals and run-ins with Marilyn Manson.
Question: Why has The Penthouse endured? Aaron Chapman: It's amazing that it has. City hall, the police and even a fire almost threatened to shut it down forever. It's a credit to Danny Filippone that he's been deft enough in some of his business decisions to keep it going. Remarkably, he's shown blueprints all the time to build a condo development there and he would stand to earn millions from the sale of a lot originally
bought in 1941 for $1,400. But the building is hallowed ground to the Filippone family. And for Danny - it's the family business that his father and uncles entrusted to him.
Question: How many times have you visited The Penthouse for work or pleasure?
Aaron Chapman: I've actually spent far less time there than most people would expect. This isn't a book written by a Penthouse regular by any stretch.
LL&L is really a local history book that covers a lot of show business and entertainment history of Vancouver, and how the antiquated liquor laws of the city were used by politicians and the police to try to shut down the Penthouse, but it's also the history of an Italian immigrant family to Vancouver, and finally a crime history book of Vancouver with almost a little Law & Order episode thrown in the middle of it.
Question: What's a typical writing day like?
Aaron Chapman: I took some time off touring to write the book. As romantic as it sounds, I knew I couldn't properly write it after gigs back in the hotel rooms on tour. My musician hours don't make me much of a morning person, so a great deal of it was written in the middle of the night. I'd stay up and put on Miles Davis's Kind of Blue, and that Mingus album with "Goodbye Porkpie Hat" on it and put those on repeat while I wrote. Considering the content, that put me in the mood to certainly write.
I'd work until 5 a.m. some nights that way. I hope when people read the book it feels as though it was written at night, with some tone of the nighttime and neon.
Question: What's the most memorable show you've seen at The Penthouse?
Aaron Chapman: The Town Pants performed there as part of the New Music West festival around 2001. Marilyn Manson came in while we were playing. He hung around, had a couple of drinks, watched us play for a while, and chatted with people. I heard he walked out without paying his bill!
Question: In keeping with the title of your book, what's your liquor of choice?
Aaron Chapman: A good gin and tonic will cure most of what ails the modern man.
Question: What celebrity do you lust after?
Aaron Chapman: Maybe Ann Margaret in her heyday. These days... I don't know if Monica Bellucci is ever looking to meet up with a mildly employed musician and Vancouver history writer anytime soon, but if she is, I will be ready.
Question: Any brushes with the law?
Aaron Chapman: I'm probably doing a disservice to my public image or my punk rock past, but I'm free of any criminal record. But the day after I signed on to write (the book) I was ticketed for jaywalking. I thought, I've only been involved with the Penthouse for a day and I've already run afoul of the law.
Question: Have you always been a history buff?
Aaron Chapman: I'm born and raised in Vancouver, and I was in my early teens when Expo 86 happened.
So I remember a lot of what Vancouver used to look like, and seeing the city change in a relatively short time span began to spark a flame in my interest in it. I noticed over the last decade I'd take off on tour in the summer and come back to find the bookstore on the corner a pizza shop, the
bar I used to play torn down for a condo development, the fleabag hotel down the street a trendy backpackers hostel now. I currently live on a street that didn't even exist in 2006.
Question: What does the future hold for The Penthouse?
Aaron Chapman: I don't think any of Danny's sons have expressed interest in running a nightclub, but I wouldn't predict it closing anytime soon. Back in the '60s the local newspapers were calling it the city's oldest stationary funhouse. It's beaten the odds in a tough market, and its dodged everything from the developer's wrecking ball to local police and politicians who've tried to shut it down. When I walk by I like looking up at that neon sign glowing onto the street with condos that now seem to surround the building and stare down on it.
That always makes me smile. I'm glad it's still there.
Question: If you were an exotic dancer, what would your stage name be?
Aaron Chapman: Male stripper names tend to be even more ridiculous than a lot of female dancers' names from what I can tell. I don't know. As a fan of local history and culture, I'd consider going with "The Endowment Lands."