I’ve always found it appropriate that it’s in one of the dark corners of the city. There it hides, tucked away at the farthest end of the Granville strip. In order to get there, you need to walk past every nightclub, every liquor store, and every sex-shop on the drag. There are few who make it all the way down that seedy boulevard, but I’m proud to say that I’ve been one of them.
There’s a lot to love about the Yale. You can read her personality on her face. Her brick walls tell you she’s got stories, her covered windows tell you she’s got secrets, and her wailin’ blue-neon sax tells you she’s got soul. Like any late-night mistress, she’s mysterious, but if you can drink whisky and tap your toes, she’s open for business.
I discovered The Yale on a Sunday night in 2006, and immediately fell in love. I felt strangely comfortable, hiding in its neon-red ambiance, protected from the outside world by its heavy black shutters. The first thing I noticed was the crowd. Safe to say that midnight on Sunday ain’t exactly happy hour, so the room was generally quiet. Here a lonely man solemnly contemplated his drink, there a pair of accidental lovers kissed for the first time – maybe for the last time. I liked these people, and I liked being one of them. In this place, there were no age categories, no class distinctions, no prejudices. It didn’t matter who you were or where you came from. Here the lonely found common cause. It was the real deal – a genuine blues joint.
Yes, The Yale was a magical place. But here’s what needs to be said: it wasn’t the bar that made me come back the next Sunday, and every Sunday for the next five years. It was the band.
You get the impression, watching Brickhouse play, that they understand music completely. Let me explain in more detail what I mean by that. Of course, they are uniquely talented, each having reached a level of skill that few musicians ever reach. Their uncanny musical intuition is nothing short of astonishing, their sensitivity to the slightest musical details is simply baffling. The man at the microphone has a vocal talent that is nothing short of world class. If you’ve seen them, you know what I’m talking about, and you know that no description will do.
But that’s not what I mean. When I say they “understand music”, I don’t just mean that they know how to play music; I mean that they understand its purpose. They play because they love playing – because playing music is way too much fun. And because it brings people together, and that’s the ultimate point of everything.
There is, I think, a bigger lesson here, too. I don’t know about everyone else, but I can tell you that after a full week of TV commercials, traffic jams, photocopiers, microwave dinners, and all the other trappings of this tedious little game of pretend that we all seem to be playing, its nice once a week to remember what it feels like move your body to the beat of a drum. It’s fulfilling, liberating, spiritually cathartic – a reminder of our most basic humanity.
And it ain’t always a party, necessarily. In fact, some of my fondest memories of the band come from sitting back and just listening. Maybe it was the dark lighting, maybe it was the cinnamon whisky, but sometimes I was so captivated by the music that I forgot I was even at the Yale. The band strikes that necessary balance in music – equal parts performance and art.
Well it comes to this; we all know why I’m writing this now. The Yale is closing its doors for over a year, and when it reopens, no matter how hard they try to preserve it, they will have changed it irrevocably; even if the place reopens better than ever, The Yale as we have come to know it will be gone.
I will confess that I feel a very real sadness. Those of you who know me will know what an important place it has been for me. Absolutely every person in my life has been there with me at some point, many of them have joined me as regulars. Those people have enriched the experience in a way that is beyond my power to explain.
However, as sad as I am to see The Yale close, another part of me thinks that it ultimately doesn’t matter, and that’s the real point that I want to make here. My friends are all still around, and our bonds of camaraderie run too deeply to be broken by the renovation of a bar. And Brickhouse doesn’t need The Yale; they’re way too good, and their fans are going to show up whenever and wherever the band feels like playing. Let’s not forget, the Yale is the venue, not the show.
So, as last call approaches, having wiled away the romances of my mid-twenties at The Yale Hotel, I’m reminded of Robbie’s classic line: “Stick around, have a cocktail, fall in love”. I’ve always believed that phrase had a certain poignancy. I don’t know about you, but personally, I’ve never given a damn if it was Monday morning outside; I’ve always been one to stick around for the last set.