Stories to fuel your mind

The Penthouse Nightclub

A Rich History With A Twinge Of Mystery

Share the story

Story by Joe Leary
Photography by Jacob Couture

“It was the spot where the elite hung out and the pictures that line the walls tell quite the story.”

The Penthouse has been a staple of downtown Vancouver’s nightlife since opening its doors back in 1943. With a history that contains elements of both shady and savvy, the legendary nightspot is the subject of books and documentaries; it has been used frequently for movie and television shoots; and continually hosts narrated tours outlining its incredible past.

The Penthouse Nightclub serves as a shrine to the ‘who’s who’ of the giants of showbiz. Back in the early days, if anyone of note swung through Vancouver, they popped up at the Penthouse: everyone from Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. to Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, the Mills Brothers, and Ella Fitzgerald. More recent celebrity guests include Sylvester Stallone, Halle Berry, the late Ray Liotta, and scores of professional sports stars.

It was the spot where the elite hung out and the pictures that line the walls tell quite the story. Throughout its colorful history, the Penthouse has seen it all: police raids; criminal charges, including living off the avails of prostitution; liquor license seizures; and even murder. Eighty years later, The Penthouse is still going strong and has become a fabled Vancouver entertainment institution.

Ross Filippone with jazz great Louis Armstrong and vocalist Velma Middleton

At a racially divided time when Sammy Davis Jr was denied hotel rooms in Vancouver, the Philippines rolled out the red carpet, letting him stay in their apartment

And while the surrounding landscape has given way to major development and towering condos that dot every square foot of the downtown core, the historic venue endures in its familiar location at 1019 Seymour Street. The club adjoins the original family home: the oldest remaining registered house in Downtown/Yaletown South. It was there where the four Filippone brothers—Joe, Mickey, Jimmy, and Ross— began their base of operations in the 1930s. In 2011 it was also the scene of a nearly disastrous fire, which threatened to gut the entire 30,000-square-footto work structure.

Danny Fillipone is the owner of The Penthouse and has been working at the legendary nightspot since he was 18 years old. Starting as a waiter, Danny had the opportunity of working for a few years with his uncle, Joe Filippone, the family patriarch. It was a real treat to learn the operation from Uncle Joe, says Danny.

Working alongside him was always an adventure. He could make everyone feel like they were walking right into his living room. I recognized, growing up, that being a Filippone had its perks—especially when it came to my grades in high school.

Joe Fillipone was shot dead in his office in 1983 in a botched robbery attempt, at which point control of the family business went to Danny’s father, Ross. He had always been working alongside his brother but dealt with the financial and business side, allowing Joe to hold court and showcase his larger-than-life personality.

After my Uncle Joe passed away, it was a sit-down face-to-face with my father and he simply asked, ‘We need to know—are you in or are you out?’ Danny Filippone was all in and Expo 86 became his first true test as Manager, bringing in a few new ideas; a renovation refresh and live music acts to attract new clientele. My goal was to make the Penthouse a multi-venue space. Ross Filippone passed away in 2007.

The Penthouse is still owned by the Filippone family and operated by Ross’ son Danny, who dutifully carries on the family legacy and the Penthouse remains a beacon in the city’s nightlife scene.

We’ve done a good job in Vancouver of bringing in the new but not always preserving the old, says Aaron Chapman, local historian and author of the best-selling chronicle on the Penthouse, Liquor, Lust and the Law. The city has changed so much— especially downtown—over the years, but there are a few places left that your grandparents might have gone to, your parents went to, and that you can go to. You can almost count them on one hand.

The Penthouse is one of those places that make up the DNA of the city. And for all the stories about the police liquor raids, celebrities, musicians, and sports stars who visited, ate, drank, and entertained inside those four walls, that you can still go there on a night yourself, that’s a great thing. It’s living history.

Sponsored Ads

Danny Filipone now operates The Penthouse and has been working at the legendary nightspot since he was 18 years old

The four Filippone Brothers were posthumously inducted into the BC Entertainment Hall of Fame and proudly hold their place in Vancouver’s history.

And while the vaunted structure remains in its original location amid the ever-changing neighborhood, developers stand at the ready, checkbooks in hand, should Danny Filippone decide it’s time to finally turn out the lights at the Penthouse for good.

Over the years, it’s impossible to not notice the changes in development that surround us, he states.

It seems like every couple of months I’m getting a knock on the door from developers and realtors.

My goal is to operate the Penthouse Nightclub for as long as customers keep marching through those famous front doors!

Sponsored Ads

Related Articles