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Sunday, April 11, 1993 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Night And Day -- Club-Hopping In Vancouver: Dancing, Pool, Dancing, Pizza

VANCOUVER, B.C. - It's 3:30 a.m.

I'm at The World, one of Vancouver's after-hours night clubs. It's open until dawn. I'm trying to dance to a mindless drum machine spitting out the latest techno/rave beats.

I've been to six nightclubs tonight. I'm sweaty and tired and there's a blister forming on my left foot. The strobe lights blind me.

Non-sequiturs blurring by on an electronic bulletin board suspended from the ceiling distract me: "Peace and love to all humanoids . . . Fractal brain separation increases ESP activity . . . Take a mental vacation to an alternate world outside time and reality."

At the tender age of 24, I feel really old - like I'm 40 or something. I don't understand this music, this techno/rave pulp. It's too loud. I think about going home and watching Saturday Night Live and drinking hot chocolate.

But wait; I don't have time to be tired. I'm here to have fun.

I'm one of the approximately 400,000 Washingtonians who cross the border each year to visit Vancouver. Vancouver is the "Seattle" of Canada, several Canadians tell me during my visit, although many young Vancouverites say they prefer Seattle's live music scene. One native Vancouverite sums it up best: "You have better live shows, we have better dance clubs."

There's no official breakdown indicating how many of the 400,000 Washingtonians who visit Vancouver each year are between the ages of 19 and 30. But inquiries to Tourism B.C. about Canada's legal drinking age (19, compared to our 21) suggest an interest.

That's a long way to go for a beer. There must be something else.

What makes Vancouver so appealing for Seattle kids? The proximity to the mountains? The tourist draws of Granville Market and Stanley Park? The abundance of nightclubs? Whistler skiing? Are Canadian kids cooler, or do they just have better haircuts?

To find out, I hit a dozen clubs, several cafes, shops and all-night food joints, all in less than 48 hours. The clubs and cafes and funky shopping areas are spread all over the city in different neighborhoods, just like Seattle. There's Gastown, Vancouver's version of Pioneer Square, in the downtown area. There's Yale Town, Vancouver's latest trendy neighborhood, just on the outskirts of downtown. Then there's Commercial Drive, the Capitol Hill of Vancouver.

I quickly learned that Vancouverites of the 19-to-early 30ish variety like dancing, seeing bands, dancing, playing pool, dancing, skiing and snowboarding, dancing, chugging cappuccino at cafes, dancing, playing backgammon and dancing.

In those two nights I also learned that I'm not as young as I used to be. My back still hurts.

We'd driven from Seattle on a Friday evening and by 10 p.m. had checked into a hotel, changed clothes and headed to the Commodore Ballroom, in the Granville area of downtown Vancouver.

Friday night is "Mega Dance Club 1040 Party," hosted by the alternative music radio station, CKST "Coast" 1040 AM. For $7, you can see a band like The Sundays or Rymes With Orange and then dance until 2 a.m. to music spun by DJ David Hawkes.

The cavernous Commodore still retains some of its glamorous ballroom atmosphere. Blue and green laser lights slice the air, competing with the disco ball and crystal chandeliers. Pink bubbles drift upwards in glass aquarium-like columns. But the red carpeting is worn and the stairway's brass railing is spotty and dull.

I pulled my friend onto the dance floor when a song by the Beastie Boys came on. Instead of dancing, we bounced. Back in the 1940s, when swing was king, rubber tires were placed under the sprawling wooden dance floor to prevent sore feet. The tires are still there, now supporting the slam-dancing and hip-hopping of the '90s.

Although about 950 people crowded the tables, bars and rectangular dance floor, Hawkes the DJ said it was a slow night. "We usually get 1200 or more," he said.

"So what makes Vancouver's `scene' different from Seattle?" I asked, hoping for some insight from the man who's been a DJ in Vancouver for nine years.

Hawkes saluted me with both arms raised:

"We're Canadian!"

The Roxy, just down the street from the Commodore, looks like a typical "American" bar - empty Budweiser bottles everywhere. The house band, Dr. Strangeglove, was playing Bruce Springsteen's "Fire."

As I made my way to the bar, two young men standing in the aisle yelled "OWWWW- WOOOOOOH."

I traveled 150 miles for this? The world's biggest frat party?

At the bar, two bartenders were showing off: one juggled three shot glasses while the other tossed a tumbler of Kahlua in the air.

I felt like I was in a beer commercial.

Robin Stocks, another bartender, told me to check out the Big Bam Boo, "a Top 40 club with a sushi bar."

Maybe the bartenders knew the key to Vancouver's "youth scene."

"What makes Vancouver different from Seattle?" I asked.

"The women," Stocks said immediately. "We have the most beautiful women in the world."

Like Seattle, most of the clubs close around 2 a.m. By 2:30 a.m., we were starving. We headed for Did's Pizza, a popular 24-hour joint which looks more like a nightclub than pizza parlor. Streaks of red, orange and purple spray-paint and glitter dot the stucco cement walls. From the wall, Wolverine, a comic book hero snarls, "EAT MY PIZZA." Dozens of sweaty, restless college kids and fashionably flanneled rockers sat outside, surrounded by empty, greasy paper plates and pizza crusts.

Inside, two clean-cut guys leaned against the counter, waiting for their slices and nodding their heads to the background music.

How can those guys like this song? I thought to myself. It's too loud. And who sings this song?

Suddenly, in one night, I've turned into my mother.

I'm still hip, I'm still cool, I'm still hip, I repeated to myself. I'll recognize the song in a few minutes. I'm just tired.

Saturday night began on a more mellow note than did Friday, with a relaxed, two-hour dinner of tapas (Spanish finger food) and a pitcher of sangria at La Bodega downtown restaurant.

Pleasantly stuffed and relaxed, we decided a sedate game of pool would settle our stomachs before we went dancing.

Pool is much more popular in Vancouver than in Seattle. In Seattle, pool playing seems like an afterthought, something to do between bands at a live music club. In Vancouver, you'll find dozens of pool sharks and novices playing side by side at any time during the day or night. I was surprised earlier that afternoon at the number of people waiting to play on one of the four pool tables at the popular Joe's Cafe, located in the funky neighborhood of Commercial Drive, east of downtown.

Pool halls are popping up everywhere, especially in Yale Town, Vancouver's latest fashionable neighborhood. There's Bar None, the Automotive and SoHo, for starters.

At the SoHo cafe, we played on what is said to be Western Canada's only oval pool table. After about 20 minutes of hopelessly trying to sink any balls, we gave up and went dancing.

There were lines everywhere outside the clubs, spilling out into the streets. By 1 a.m., we were at Celebrities, one of Vancouver's most popular gay nightclubs. Celebrities was a bit smaller than the Commodore, but very crowded with a mixed clientele of gay and straight youths.

Ashley Lambert-Maberly, a 27-year-old graphic designer, is a Celebrities regular. "I got here at 11 o'clock but waited in line for 1 1/2 hours."

Vancouver, he said, is Canada's version of Seattle. "We have the best economy. Everyone moves here from all over Canada after they finish their education. I was born in Vancouver, and I only know two others who were born here, too. Everyone is from somewhere else."

"So what do you do for fun?" I asked.

"I love going to Broadway on Capitol Hill," he said.

We danced at Celebrities until closing.

Surprisingly, I was still wide awake and we headed to the New World, an after-hours club. Three blocks away we could already hear the music, thumping and twitching like an erratic heartbeat.

Jolted by caffeine and curiosity, we entered a subterranean planet of black walls, steam, strobe lights and pink citrus juice slushees called "boinks." Bodies bobbed to a mindless, pulsating drum machine accented by droning keyboards and a bubbling bass line.

We danced for two more hours. Or tried to.

I'm bored, my friend announced.

Same with me, I agreed. We leaned against the wall and watched the bodies bob for a few minutes. I sipped the rest of my boink.

We flagged a cab around 4 a.m.

It was 6 a.m. before I could fall asleep.

We had to check out of the hotel by 11 a.m. I was tired and cranky and my ears were still ringing. My blister had popped and I was down to my last pair of clean underwear. And I was having a bad hair day.

I couldn't wait to return to Seattle.

Although I was grumpy (I'm always grumpy in the morning), I had to admit I had a lot of fun. But I never did discover the big secret to Vancouver's night life and what made it different from Seattle. Beer's beer and a club's a club, even across the border.

Of course, the minute I arrived home, I couldn't wait to plan another weekend in Vancouver. But this time, I'm going to do it right. I'll do some shopping on Commercial Drive, hang out at the beach if the weather's nice and then go to one nightclub, not 20.

I think I can handle that. After all, I'm only 24.

Copyright (c) 1993 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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