I recently purchased the print from which the above scan was produced. It was made by one of my favourite early Vancouver professional photographers, Stuart Thomson. The photo seems to have been taken in a commercial food/drink establishment, somewhere in Vancouver I’m assuming. There is no year on the print, but I’m guessing it was a fairly early Thomson image, made in the 1920s, perhaps.
After buying the print, I did quite a lot of hunting for a similar image. I didn’t have much success.
The closest I came in my search was the interior shot shown below of the Peter Pan Cafe also made by Thomson (in 1929). I thought the space shown in my print might have been an earlier incarnation of the Peter Pan at 1138 Granville Street.
This image has some features in common with space shown in my print, but there are a number of differences, too (not least, that the space in the print appears to be wider than in the Peter Pan). At the end of the day, however, I eliminated the Peter Pan space as a possible contender by the fact that there is no evidence that it was ever a restaurant prior to it becoming the Peter Pan.*
Ultimately, after pursuing the photo search for several more days, I said “Enough!” and decided to let the mystery rest in my subconscious for awhile.
This week, I was reading an excellent volume of oral histories by Vancouver old-timers .** I was reading David deCamillis’ early recollections, when I came across these sentences:
My father rented the basement of the Lotus Hotel and called it the Lotus Cabaret, with a partner who used to own a taxi company here. I was about 18  and I went down to see my father….It was fixed up real nice with these booths on the side with curtains, and we had a five-piece orchestra up on a stage that was built-in. (Opening Doors: Vancouver’s East End, p.82)
I allowed myself a muted and internalized “Eureka!” after reading (and re-reading) these lines. I couldn’t find evidence of a drinking establishment at the Lotus Hotel known as the “Lotus Cabaret”. Indeed, as far as I can tell, it was known at the time – in city directories, at least – as the “Lotus Hotel Beer Parlour” – a much less mysterious/sexy name. But the description of the place offered by Mr. deCamillis was enticingly similar to what appears in my scanned print.
I should emphasize that I don’t consider the case closed.
I’m not convinced that my print is actually of the Lotus Cabaret. On the other hand, I’m not convinced that it is not. More digging is wanted. I’ll pursue this with the staff at today’s Lotus Hotel (an SRO, currently) and see if they have any photos that show something akin to the scene in my print.
Researchers tend to be optimistic. I continue to hope that I or someone else will eventually find a matching photo and/or some other clinching piece of evidence as to the location of the Thomson print. Perhaps not this month or this year. But eventually.
If it turns out that you figure out the location of the image, I’d appreciate hearing from you!
*B.C. Electric and Vancouver Gas Co. appear to have been occupants of the space for several years prior to it becoming the Peter Pan Cafe.
**It is called Opening Doors: Vancouver’s East End. Part of the Sound Heritage series (Vol VIII, Nos. 1 & 2). n.d. (c1980).