Infamous Vancouver strip club's mouthy marquee the talk of the town

·3 min read

A Vancouver strip club is turning heads, raising eyebrows and stopping traffic with its tongue-in-cheek marquee.

The Penthouse has been closed since the beginning of the pandemic, but one of its bartenders is keeping the sign current, hoping a little humour can carry the club through the toughest time in its 73-year-history.

Recent creations have said "Pfizer now makes my two favourite things," "Better security than the U.S. Capitol," and "No glory holes, stop asking" — a wink to the BCCDC's updated guidelines for safe sex.

"It started with trying to make my bosses laugh," said Benjamin Jackson. "It just really went viral."

Since it opened in 1947, the club has seen decades of bad behaviour, a major fire, police raids, and even a murder.

It's known for exotic dancing, but it's also a supper club, theatre, and live music venue, with names like Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and Sting gracing the marquee over the years.

The advent of social media changed their marquee strategy. In 2016, the mobile phone app Pokemon Go had just launched with huge success, luring players into all areas of the city in search of mythical digital creatures.

Jackson changed the marquee to say: "Rare Pokemon inside, Tues-Sat 9 p.m. to late." It worked, or backfired — depending on who you ask.

"We had people lined up, all ages trying to get in the club," Jackson said. "We had parents trying to pay for their kids just to go catch the Pokemon and come back."

Jackson has since had a long-running list of ideas and free rein over the marquee, with one initial rule: keep politics and religion out of it.

Then, Donald Trump was elected president and soon afterward, cannabis was legalized in Canada.

"The politics ones were too good to pass up," Jackson said. "So we changed the rule a bit."

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

'You have to be creative in order to survive in this business'

Owner Danny Filippone said he's trusted Jackson to strike the right tone. So far, it's been good for business and kept them relevant during the closure.

"My father and uncle Joe, when they were running the bar back in the '70s and the '60s, one thing that they had always taught me before I started was, you have to be creative in order to survive in this business," he said.

Some of his favourite signs over the years include "Happy Father's Day we've got it from here," "Lost and found: wedding ring" and "Back to school special: clothing 100 per cent off."

Not everyone has appreciated the Penthouse's humour.

The club had a particularly pointed marquee when former president Bill Clinton was visiting town several years back, referencing the scandal with Monica Lewinsky.

"His motorcade was scheduled to come down Seymour Street," Filippone said. "I got, personally, a phone call from the secret service and they asked us to remove the sign."

WestJet also sent the club a cease and desist letter for a sign that said "We take off more than WestJet."

When nightclubs were ordered to close temporarily last year due to COVID-19, Filippone said he never dreamed they'd still be closed almost a year later.

Instead of reopening with a stripped-back business plan, he spent the past several months renovating the club, giving it a new look for whenever the doors can reopen.

Filippone expects Vancouver's nightlife will come roaring back once the pandemic is over.

"The Penthouse will survive," he said.

"When Bonnie [Henry] gives everyone the green light that you can go back to bars without having to wear your mask, without having to be six feet apart, I'm very confident that ... once it gets going, it's going to kick right back off."

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC