Stauffer’s and Mitten’s Arctic Club

Arctic Club interior. Phone booths, coat check, staff and members, n.d. The man standing nearest to the camera appears to be Robert White (a bartender at the Arctic Club for several years who was a victim of murder in 1959); Ken Stauffer is the other man standing, farther from the camera. Tom Carter Collection.

The Arctic Club was one of several cocktail and supper clubs in Vancouver in the ’30s, 40s, and ’50s (including the Quadra, the World, and Jean Fuller’s). According to recollections of the Arctic Club at the Vancouver Jazz Forum, it was a “suit and tie” joint where you needed to display a purchased membership card and sign in before entering. It was located at 718 W. Pender (south side of Pender, between Granville and Howe). (1)

In October 1934, notice was given in the local press that the Arctic Club, Ltd. would be applying for a provincial liquor license. The Club was co-owned by Bob Mitten, Sr. (1881-1956) and Ken Stauffer (1910-1978); Stauffer and Mitten both came to Vancouver from Saskatchewan — Mitten in 1929 and Stauffer in 1932. By 1935, Mitten and Stauffer established the Arctic Club. I suspect that the two men met while working for the Liberal Party in Vancouver, as both were active in the party (Mitten Sr. would marry Euphemia Stauffer thereby becoming Ken’s brother-in-law). In his obituary, Mitten is described as an “active campaigner” for the party and Stauffer was the Vancouver party president for awhile (Sun, 6 Nov 1948).

Mitten Sr. retired as a Club owner in 1943 due to ill health and his son, Bob Mitten Jr., ultimately took over his Dad’s share of the business. In 1959, Stauffer and Mitten Jr. bought The Cave supper club (626 Hornby) together from Isy Walters, and ran both night spots for a few years. Bob Mitten, Jr. died while in Hawaii in 1971. Stauffer ultimately sold The Cave to auto dealer, Stan Grozina (1937-2014) in 1973. (2) Grozina was the last Cave owner; it was demolished in 1981.

The alley view of the post-fire Arctic Club and Leonard’s Cafe. 1961. This photo was downloaded some years ago (by Tom Carter) from the “Nostalgic and Sentimental Vancouver” group on Facebook. The photo was supplied at that site by Ken Stauffer’s daughter-in-law, Barbara? Stauffer.

In December 1961, fire destroyed the Arctic Club, which took up the top floor of two buildings (together with a Leonard’s Coffee outlet and the Arctic Barber Shop, which were at street level). In the Club, 40 jobs were lost. Stauffer speculated shortly after the blaze that the Arctic might be rebuilt, possibly on the same site. But that didn’t happen. (3)

A napkin from the Arctic Club. n.d. Tom Carter Collection.

Odds and Ends

  • When the Arctic Club first opened, it had a reputation as a gambling joint with a major poker game. The Arctic Club’s gaming associations seem to have been exclusively during the 1930s (Sun, 19 Mar 1947).
  • Robert White, a bartender at the Arctic, was murdered in his West End apartment in 1959. A Romanian sailor was later extradited from Hawaii and charged with White’s murder. He was found guilty of the reduced charged of manslaughter; he served just a few months of his 3-year sentence in B.C. and then was deported to West Germany (Montreal Gazette, 17 Sept 1959). White appears to be included in the photo featured above, standing next to Ken Stauffer.
  • Legendary local jazz pianist Chris Gage (1927-1964) was a fixture at the Arctic Club after his first night there in 1957. By 1959 he was being described in the local press as the Arctic Club’s pianist”. I believe he continued in that capacity until the 1961 fire. The Arctic Club had a reputation for being supportive of all sorts of local music talent.
  • Australian, Rolf Harris, had one of his first major gigs at the Arctic Club in 1961. And a “live” LP recording was made of “Rolf Harris at the Arctic Club” (possibly a year or two later). Following Stauffer’s passing, this quote was attributed to Harris: “Kenny’s death is a big loss. . . I owe virtually everything to him” (Victoria Times-Colonist, 11 Dec 1978).

____________________________________

Notes

(1) The Arctic Club on Pender Street was not the first club of that name; another club, the full name of which was the Arctic Brotherhood Club, was often referred to in abbreviated form as “the Arctic Club”. The Brotherhood met in the offices of senior members of the club, until taking rooms near the corner of Main and Broadway (World, 20 Jun 1908). One of the principal requirements of membership in Vancouver’s Arctic Club was that you had resided north of the 54th parallel for at least a year. Whether the Arctic Brotherhood Club had any substantive connection to the Arctic Club on Pender Street remains an open question. However, to me that appears doubtful.

(2) In 1963, Stauffer branched out beyond The Cave by purchasing the Cock ‘n Bull restaurant on West Broadway (today, adjacent to Jordan’s). He renamed the restaurant The Lulubelle (a gay-nineties-themed family spot) and in 1975 changed the name to Charmaine’s, transforming it into a discotheque for the younger set. When the Lulubelle opened, Stauffer took at least two of his former Arctic Club staff with him: Bert Williams (manager) and Samuel Mee (food services) (Province, 16 Jan 1963).

(3) In 1947, Mitten Sr. reportedly bought the the Arctic Club property for $50,000, however by the time of the ’61 fire, the Club property was owned by F. A. Menzies, who was also a part-owner of Leonard’s Cafe.

I’m indebted to Tom Carter for making much of his Arctic Club ephemera available for reproduction in this post.

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