By Rae Porter
Way back in 1962 John Olson transformed the Strathcona Lounge, B.C.’s first post-prohibition cocktail lounge, into something a little, well different. Intended as a temporary establishment that could cash in on the visitors brought through town by the Seattle World Fair, Big Bad John’s hillbilly homage has been going strong for 55 years. Saturday, November 25 will see friends old and new, raise a glass (or can) in a 14 hour celebration of this not-so-venerable statesman of Victoria’s nightlife.
So what is it about this backwoods beer parlour that keeps Victorians and tourists alike coming back for more? For one, it’s what adorns it’s hallowed walls. The chaotic, eclectic decor has reached legendary status.
Rusty, old farm equipment and vintage lanterns are surrounded by a global array of business cards, IDs, bills, notes, sketches, doodles; anything can be pulled quickly from a purse or hastily scribbled down makes it up onto the wall. And then there’s the peanuts. Let’s talk about the peanuts. Buckets and buckets of peanuts, it’s every allergy sufferers’ worst nightmare. As soon as you hover above a seat a plastic bucket of peanuts is plonked down in front of you. Shells litter most every surface and crunch underfoot. Every so often a peanut might go flying past your face as it’s hurled across the crowded room…well, you have to make friends somehow.
That’s also what sets Big Bad John’s apart from other joints in town. The place is a great leveler.
You might pull up a bar stool next to a politician, or share a corner table with a low key movie star. Impromptu sing-a-longs involving the whole bar are commonplace and spontaneous dance partners have been known to pop up. The atmosphere is always friendly, warm and just a little bit ridiculous. It’s been said when walking through the door of BBJs, you need to bring your sense of humour.
And it’s true; you don’t reach this kind of longevity without being able to laugh at yourself.
All of this, the history, the humour and the stories; all of this is worth celebrating.
Doors to Big Bad John’s Day II will fling open at 12 noon on November 25th, with door prizes up for grabs including a draw to win one of 10 pairs of Harbour Cats tickets. Once again there are limited edition, numbered, commemorative prints, commissioned just for this event, up for grabs.
A great reminder of the time you’ve spent in this Victoria institute, but rest assured time spent crushing cold ones at Big Bads is time well spent.