The Roxy is an institution in Vancouver. Opened in June 1988 by industry veteran Blaine Culling, the nightclub has been home to live music of all genres for the last three decades.
“The premise of live music seven nights a week is what makes the Roxy, and it is the same philosophy as when it first opened up,” says General Manager Sasha Pocekovic. “The only change from when it first opened is that we’re able to open Sundays and be open later.” Pocekovic has been with the Roxy since it opened.
Because of this consistent philosophy, the Roxy stays relevant with patrons. “The concept has stayed the same, but we have evolved,” explains Pocekovic. “We play pop and rock that are relevant today, with some of the older Roxy anthems from the last 35 years sprinkled throughout.”
“The consistency is something that people love,” adds Marketing & Promotions Director Kristen Lindahl. “At our 30th anniversary party, an old General Manager said the Roxy is like the McDonald’s of nightclubs—you know what you’re going to get, it’s going to be a quality product, and you’re going to love it.”
Pocekovic agrees. “You know the Roxy is going to be a good experience.” There is after all the saying, ‘All roads lead back to the Roxy.’
Their business is reliant on regular customers and is open seven days a week, which is unusual for a nightclub. Nostalgia and comfort are key to the Roxy’s success and something the staff work hard to preserve.
“It is actually quite difficult to stay relevant and evolved over the 35 years, while looking and acting the same,” says Pocekovic. “People who came here 20 years ago and now have their kids coming here say, ‘you haven’t changed the carpet or the pictures on the wall.’ But we have. We change them every year! But we intentionally use the same carpet, upholstery, and paint.”
The customers aren’t the only ones who’ve been at the Roxy for decades. The staff have too. “The execution of the Roxy is the collection of thousands of people who have worked here over the 35 years. They’re not numbers or irrelevant. They’re the lifeblood of the place,” describes Pocekovic.
“To Blaine’s credit,” adds Pocekovic, “he makes sure we have the ability to take care of staff. They can use the Roxy to expand themselves through going back to school, having other jobs, and evolving to whatever field they may want to go into next.” Plus, “What happens at the Roxy, stays at the Roxy.”
COVID-19 was unsurprisingly very challenging for the venue. Initially, Culling voluntarily closed: “Blaine and his philosophy of COVID and maintaining the integrity of the Roxy, protecting the staff and customers, decided that it would be prudent and the right thing to do to close,” says Pocekovic. They would end up being closed from March 2020 to September 2021.
This could have been devastating for the business, but like many in the industry, they persevered. “Blaine was quite insistent that we needed to keep the Roxy alive,” recalls Pocekovic. “When we were able to, we were streaming live music from the venue, while implementing COVID protocols.” During closures, they did maintenance work and renovations.
Reopening in fall 2021 brought additional challenges, from the vaccine passport to patrons not being allowed to stand or walk around. “It was incredibly difficult,” says Pocekovic. “The atmosphere had nothing to do with who we are and what we’re about.”
By the end of October 2021, rules lifted, and patrons got a taste of what the Roxy was like—only to be closed again in December. Then in April 2022, construction next door closed the Roxy, followed by a flood closing them again for seven weeks in July.
“We’ve had some bad luck and closed for a significant period of time over the last two years,” says Pocekovic. “We’ve survived because of Blaine. Most of our staff came back and customers came back. We’re not going to lose our identity. We’re back to being the Roxy.”
Promoting and supporting the live music scene is core to that identity. The Roxy has put over 400 bands per year on their stage that are local talent or talent coming through the area.
Pocekovic acknowledges that the entertainment dollar is shrinking, and businesses have to work hard to make the experience interesting, consistent, and affordable—and its focuses on those core values that keep customers coming back making sure the Roxy isn’t going anywhere.