By: David McPherson
A vital cog of the alternative and indie scene on Vancouver Island, this past October Logan’s Pub closed its doors for good. Another live music venue casualty due to the pandemic. For more than three decades, Victoria’s arts community found a home here. Live music rained from its rickety rafters six nights a week. From country to punk, death metal to alternative rock, all genres were represented. Many bands played this intimate venue before they were better known like Death Cab for Cutie, The Weakerthans, and Japandroids. Those that called it their local affectionately referred to this haven as The Tavern of the Damned. Long-time booker Mihkel Kaup has no idea who dubbed it this, but the moniker fit.
“It was damned alright!” he says. “The paint job was all red and the spirit of the place felt like it had ghosts; it also felt like the people there were damned: with our problems, our issues, our addictions, and our passions. We were all damned to make this a memorable time and damned to make music and art.”
Logan’s Pub was the proving ground for countless musicians. It’s where misfits and outcasts felt most at home in a conservative city, where their “otherness” was often feared. No surprise that the announcement this fall of its closure via Facebook sparked hundreds of comments and lamentations for this loss.
The venue opened at 1821 Cook Street in 1984 as Thursdays Sports Bar — a pub attached to a Nautilus Fitness Club. In 1997, brothers Chris, John, and Stuart Logan, along with another family member, purchased the venue. A couple of years later, they renamed it Logan’s Pub. This was the heyday for the music venue. Chris Logan recalls the beginnings of this seminal time in his life when Nirvana brought alternative music to the mainstream.
“I was 28, living in Halifax, and working at a bar called the Double Deuce, which was the centre of the local music scene,” he recalls. “The scene, like all scenes, eventually petered out and I decided to move to the other coast. I had no master plan, but I wanted to create a similar scene to what I felt at the Deuce.”
Enter Carolyn Mark. The alternative country singer-songwriter had already been booking shows at Thursdays. “She was really the catalyst for us starting to book shows,” Logan says. “We just built from that. There were not many other live music venues in town and word quickly got around.”
Mark shares one of her favourite stories. “When John [Logan] was alive, he would often draw the blinds after last call, indicating the bar was closed, but people wouldn’t have to leave. If they wanted more beer though, there was a price to pay. There was a bicycle with no seat in the bar and John made them ride the bike around the bar naked. One night, my drummer Garth returned home wearing a sheepish grin. ‘What’s up?’ I asked. ‘I rode the bike!’” he replied.
Chris Logan admits it took a while for them to figure things out and get the booking right. New Year’s Eve, 1999, was the first big show after a small stage was built near the front of the bar. Within two years, live music happened almost every night. The bar filled a niche. There was a real hunger for a local place to play. “We would book anything ‘weird,’” Logan comments. “There was a really good punk-rock and art-rock scene in Victoria at this time. That is when we changed from a neighbourhood sports bar to an alternative scene hangout and music venue.”
With a legal capacity of 150 (which the bar surpassed a few times before getting hit with too many violations), Logan’s represented a continuation of the DIY culture made popular by bands like Hüsker Dü and the circuit of clubs that supported these scenes, starting in the early 1980s. The former part-owner says it’s this legacy of which he is most proud. “We gave bands our PA, but they had to do all their own promotion,” he recalls. “It was a real DIY scene. Looking back, that is the real significance of Logan’s.”
BOOK IT MATEY
As Logan’s’ booking agent from its heyday until its recent closure, Mihkel Kaup knows the ins and outs of the bar more than most. He grew up in Toronto but moved to Victoria in 2000. Today, he lives on the West Coast of Vancouver Island. Fate brought him to The Tavern of the Damned. At first, it was his local – the pub around the corner from where he lived where he liked to hang out with like-minded souls and drink a few pints. He felt comfortable there, became friends with the staff, and even built the bar’s first stage with a friend. When Logan’s needed a new booking agent, despite little experience, he jumped at the opportunity.
“When I was younger and starting out I was really naïve,” Kaup says. “I remember my first big contract show was with The Sadies. I booked them for two nights and both sold out. I remember being very nervous. I locked all their money from the ticket sales in my office along with the keys! Luckily, it all worked out.”
Over the years Kaup booked everyone from Dick Dale to the Dayglo Abortions. He compares Logan’s to a ship taken over by pirates. “The ship is sinking, on fire, and everybody around it is terrified, but once you get on board, you realize these are our people – like-minded folks who believe in the counter culture and the music. There was always this sense of how long can we sustain this thing before it sinks. Sadly, COVID took it down. It’s a big loss for the city and for the community.”
Leeroy Stagger was a part of Logan’s’ DIY scene and one of Kaup’s mates. He wished those nights would last forever. In a previous life (that includes The Tavern of the Damned), he was a “straight-up wild child.” Logan’s is where he played his first shows with the Staggers and later his first solo performances. Over the years, he played there at least 30 times. “I don’t remember much about my first gig other than having my own pitcher of draft to myself on stage,” he recalls. “I’m pretty sure I was underage. After the show, I tried to walk through the Wendy’s drive-through unsuccessfully but a car full of cute UVIC girls took pity on me and let me hop in and even drove me home!”
In those early days, Chris Logan intimidated Stagger. “I remember I was always scared to go into his office, probably for fear of getting found out I was underage,” he says. “Chris was always back there smoking and cracking us all up although his humour was over my teenage punk-ass head. Ironically, Chris and I have become great friends later and much more sober in life.”
HOOT, HOOT, HOORAY!
Carolyn Mark’s Hootenanny at Logan’s was as legendary as the bar. The alt-country singer-songwriter started this open mic at another pub before shifting it to Logan’s permanently when Chris Logan and his family took over operations.
“I ran this every Sunday afternoon for years,” Mark recalls, speaking from the farm where she now lives in rural Courtenay, on the east coast of Vancouver Island. “It was an open mic/open stage concept. There were moments of sublime beauty and moments of incredible shit! I liked it when touring bands stopped in … people behaved better. I always made sure they knew my Hootnanny was going on so I could lure them in.”
Stagger admits getting lured into this regular jam. Here is where his career as a solo artist really started thanks to Marks’ encouragement. At this Sunday open jam, over the years, anyone–and everyone–showed up from Wilco to Neko Case, Oh Susanna to Alejandro Escovedo. “I was the kid on the periphery, getting my education from the masters,” Stagger says.
Winnipeg-based singer-songwriter Greg MacPherson recalls a memorable show with Mark nearly 20 years ago. “She worked that whole room,” he says. “From the chairs to the windows to the servers, Carolyn was the atmosphere in that bar for over an hour.”
The loss of Logan’s is yet one more example of the cost of this pandemic on the live music ecosystem—leaving us with only memories to sustain us in the interim.
“I lament the loss of rooms like Logan’s because new venues may open eventually but they won’t have built up 20 years of memories or sit waiting for your arrival with the awkward years behind them, the sound system already figured out, regulars already dancing, years of sacrifice, hard decisions, and hundreds of performances still hanging in the air,” MacPherson concludes.