Prohibition Era Soiree in the Name of Vancouver Art

Dr. Emile's Saloon des Booze-Arts mixed three parts 1920s speakeasy with four parts gypsy jazz rhythms to benefit the Gramorail Project.

Hootsuite account manager Katie Shindler was ‘on fire’ at the Gramorail fundraiser, Dr. Emile’s Saloon des Booze-Arts.


The inventor of the gramophone inspires one hell of a party train at fundraiser for Gramorail Project


The recent Vancouver fundraising soiree Dr. Emile’s Saloon des Booze-Arts mixed three parts 1920s speakeasy with four parts gypsy jazz rhythms shaken inside a warehouse art laboratory for seven hours.


Named after Dr. Emile Berliner, a man of intrigue and adventure, and the inventor of the gramophone in 1887, it was the third incarnation of the Gramorail crew’s highly successful and extremely fun shindigs.


“A night of ’20s and ’30s fashion and frivolity in celebration of everyone’s favourite pedal-powered rail car,” said Natalie Ethier, the group’s event organizer and treasurer.


The rail car, a.k.a the Gramorail, is a cohesive hybrid of human energy, a gramophone and standard size rail lines. This fusion creates an interactive art piece that is inviting, comfortable and thought provoking about what is possible with pedal power. Four people pedal to propell the rail car, carrying up to eight passengers, to the tune of the enormous sound system. Eventually, the crew want to see the “human-powered party train” take on the unused rail lines around Vancouver.



Cast of Gramorail at New Forms Festival
The Gramoralians at the 2010 New Forms festival at W2 in Gastown. (Image: Matt Grant / Flickr)


The concept originated as a Vancouver Design Nerds project and has taken on a life of its own. Designed and constructed as a collaborative project led by Mark Eijsermans and crew, the Gramorail was finished at the eatART Lab—which also served as venue for the fundraiser party—in the light industrial area of the Great Northern Way Campus.


The Gramorail has been a big hit at events around Vancouver, such as the New Forms Festival at the W2 Storyeum and the eatART Powers the VAG fundraiser, as well as at this year’s Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert. Dr. Emile’s Saloon des Booze-Arts party, and the two celebrations that came before it, supports the completion of the Gramorail.



Gramorail at the 2010 Burning Man Festival

The Gramorail at the edge of the playa at the 2010 Burning Man festival in Black Rock Desert, Navada. (Image: Moni Habib / Flickr)



I arrived at this happening just after 10 to find it in full swing. The energy of the first band, Maria in the Shower, was entirely infectious. The East Vancouver band blends old-timey vocal, guitar, trumpets, stand-up bass and a toe-tapping high hat beat, making it impossible to stand still. The music transformed the eatART warehouse space into a something like one of the popping and rocking underground clubs you might have found in 1920s Chicago.



Maria in the Shower guitarist

Maria in the Shower’s Brendon Hartley puts on a fierce look straight out of Clockwork Orange. (Image: Peter Holmes Photography)



The bar poured custom cocktails suited to the Prohibition era theme of the party. Black cherry- and lemongrass-infused alcohols and local beer were on tap. I drank Abbey Road, a tasty red concoction mixed with gin, until they ran out.


The bar was busy all night but the real action was nearby on the dance floor, where well-shod party revelers—among them a contingent of some of Vancouver’s brightest young entrepreneurs, inventors, thought-leaders and creative types—tore it up until 5 a.m., break dancing, jiving, twisting and old school swinging.



Maria in the Shower drummer

Maria in the Shower’s Jack Garton projecting gypsy jazz in red no. 40. (Image: Peter Holmes Photography)



The ardent sense of community that has become a hallmark of the eatART/Gramorail family of supporters was palpable everywhere from the dance floor to the bar, from the “bathroom” to the public photo booth, with old friends as well as strangers mixing and mingling.



Natalie Either and Polly Tan

Gramorail treasurer Natalie Either and fellow Gramorailian Polly Tan happy as clams. (Image: Peter Holmes Photography)



After Maria in the Shower, local band Moonshine Express kept up the 1920s boom town vibe, followed by DJs Oker Chen, Leigh Christie and Matthew Johnson taking turns turning out tasty beats until the early morning.

“When Matt played ‘Sing Sing Sing’ by Benny Goodman… there was not a person in the room who wasn’t dancing,” said organizer Natalie.



Scraggly Dan, drummer of Vancouver band Moonshine Express

Moonshine Express drummer “Scraggly Dan” tap-tap-tappin’ on the high hats. (Image: Peter Holmes Photography)



Natalie mentioned that the group had originally only planned to do one or maybe two parties but that they’ve become so successful that they’re considering another early in the New Year.


As for the Gramorail, these parties help repay those who funded the up-front material costs as well as fund future improvements and deployments.


Look for an announcement next year of the Gramorail “mobile party” event, which will see the musical pedal-powered rail car cruising down the old Arbutus rail line blasting “Sing Sing Sing” on its giant (but unfinished) gramophone.


Dr. Emile would be proud.



Saul Brown of Saul Good Gifting Co.

Saul Good Gifting Co. president Saul Brown looks on as the pretty dames get served tasty Prohibition hooch, like Abbey Road and Black Cherry. (Image: Peter Holmes Photography)


Eva Shaffer from eatART

eatART cohort Eva Shaffer transforms into a fashionable feline on top ‘o the fridge sometime around midnight. (Image: Peter Holmes Photography)


Vancouver painter Kate Kennedy and digital designer Jo Lee

Vancouver impressionist painter Kate Kennedy swinging up a red devil with digital designer Jo Lee. (Image: Peter Holmes Photography)


Granville magazine online editor Hilary Henegar

UBC students Jorge Amigo and Marie Ducak help Hilary Henegar have some hoppin’ hot hours on the dance floor. (Image: Peter Holmes Photography)


Leigh Christie and Matthew Johnson

eatART executive director Leigh Christie and DJ/filmmaker Matthew Johnson in the zen of the music mixing zone. (Image: Peter Holmes Photography)


Vancouver DJ Oker Chen

Vancouver DJ Oker Chen turns up the awesome dial on the decks—making the light dance. (Image: Peter Holmes Photography)



Peter Holmes, Vancouver photographer and writer


Peter Holmes is a writer, photographer and UBC student. He escaped to Vancouver four years ago from the Alberta Praries to take international relations and to contribute to the growing art community here. He tries to travel as much as possible but when home can be found biking around between campus, music venues friend’s houses and art openings—”I love this city.” Writing | Photography | Email