Check Out These Incredible Photos of Vancouver Nightlife Circa 1980

Graceland, the Gandy Dancer and our first Pride Parade—a local photographer takes us on a journey into the '80s club scene.

July 14, 2017

By Anicka Quin / Photo: Oraf

We made many incredible discoveries searching through 50 years of Vancouver magazine’s archives, and one such delight was artist Oraf’s photographs of an early ’90s Graceland, the epic nightclub that’s synonymous with peak Vancouver for many club kids. In fact, Oraf spent the ’80s and early ’90s archiving Vancouver’s social life, including spending all of one year—1981—with the larger-than-life Oliv, in the gay bars of the city. “There were 12 gay bars in the West End in 1980,” he says. “It was the gay ghetto.”

He considers himself an artist first, photographer second. “I still don’t know what kind of camera I have,” he says. “I never look through it when I’m taking the shot.”

Most of the photos here were taken during that year with Oliv, in her run-up to being named Empress of Vancouver at the annual Coronation Ball—a tradition that still exists some 36 years later. As Oraf shares, it’s a glimpse into a time before the party ended: when the AIDS crisis was still a rumour, and optimism reigned.

First Pride Parade, 1981, Nelson Park
“We’d started to hear that people were dying in San Francisco from something called GRID, and you got it by inhaling the fog machine on the dance floor. This was the last party. Truly. There was real optimism then.”

Sidney Morozoff, Graceland, 1988 
Legenday impresario Sidney Morozoff does his best Elvis impersonation backstage. “You couldn’t get into many places with a camera in those days—no one wanted to be caught cheating.”

Tough Drag Show, 1981 
“This was an after-hours club called the Playpen South, a real den of iniquity. Those tough drag shows really don’t exist anymore. They were part of Coronation Week, when the Empress of Vancouver was crowned.”

Backstage at Graceland, 1981
The NYC-based performance artist Joey Arias (centre) was one of many seminal acts that Morozoff brought to Graceland. (Also seen in the picture, the duo the Big Wigs.)

Lloyd Simmonds, 1981 
“I shot this on the street outside the Gandy Dancer. Lloyd’s now the creative director of makeup for YSL—you wouldn’t recognize him without the makeup.”

Basement of the Gandy Dancer, 1981 
“I called it the Glandy Prancer, but there were all kinds of nicknames for it. This was when Yaletown was a warehouse district, and you were literally taking your life in your hands to go down there. It was so very Saturday Night Fever—it had a Plexiglas dance floor. It’s also when Oliv [in the mask in the centre] was running to be Empress of Vancouver, February of that year. She was Vancouver’s 10th Empress.”


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