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The Flamingo: Former Strip-Club Transformed Into Arts Hub

Written by Johnny Papan

The Flamingo Hotel and Lounge is one of Surrey’s most storied entertainment and lifestyle venues. Opening its doors in 1955 as a motor-hotel, the Flamingo became a preferred spot for pleasant social gatherings such as dinners and even weddings throughout the 50s and 60s. As time progressed, however, the venue located on King George Boulevard turned from a wholesome family establishment to an adult nightlife-destination caught up in a vulgar hurricane of sex, drugs and violence. The 1970s saw the property’s addition of Surrey’s most notorious strip-bar: the Byrd Exotic Show Lounge, which was met with a plethora of controversial events from the mid-80s to late-2000s. The Flamingo Hotel and Lounge as well as the Byrd were shut down in Spring 2016.

Penmar Community Arts Society is a non-profit organization headed by David Geertz who, alongside marketing manager Dione Costanzo and many others, are reinventing the run-down strip club and lounge as music venues to help pump some much-wanted air into the Surrey arts-industry.

“David found out there was an empty strip club sitting here with a stage and a sound system and said: ‘Oh, my God! We could fit 250 people in there and start live shows!’ That’s the story of where the idea came from,” Costanzo chuckles.

Costanzo discovered and attended indie-rock concerts at Ocean Park Hall in White Rock. These shows were being put on by Geertz’s promotion company: Legion of Sound, which specializes in bringing live-music to communities that are often overlooked by touring artists. Once Costanzo and Geertz made contact, they put together and promoted a sold-out fundraiser for Penmar Community Arts Society with 400 people in attendance, one of which was Flamingo property-owner Charan Sethi.

“We built a proposal to help reinvigorate the network of the neighborhood by using music and culture as a way to do that,” Geertz explains. “This is not only a project that gives musicians, promoters, artists and people who work in the creative industry a way to make sustainable wages, it’s also a way to help increase the visibility of the future neighborhood.”

Costanzo and Geertz confirm that putting the needs of local artists and music fans at the forefront of the project. They hope that this ambitious effort can help add financial growth to local musicians, photographers, digital designers and sound engineers while providing appreciators of the arts venues to feed their interests.

Geertz states that the Flamingo will offer extremely competitive booking rates for artists and promoters in comparison to other venues.

“The cost of the room is basically zero. We do have a sound man fee, which is typical if you’re booking multiple bands in one night. These fees are lower than any other venue in the city and we are willing to waive those fees depending on bar expectations, etc.” Geertz continues: “Bands make 100% of the ticket income and we provide those tickets, both physical and digital, for free with no transaction fees and no ticketing fees. Any promoter or band that are promoting their own show can contact us and be listed on the site through our brokerage. They get to keep all their own contacts we get an export and give them their client list after the fact.”

The Flamingo will also aid in event management by providing security, door people, coat-check staff, sound engineers and bartenders to all booked events. Fancy lighting can be discussed on an show-by-show basis. Aside from the musical portion, a small casino is also being built within the Byrd to help boost fundraisers and things of the like. The casino will also be open during concerts and any profit made by the venue will be paid forward to performing artists.

Costanzo is in the middle of building a street-team to help spread word about events taking place at the Flamingo. Perks include free admission to shows, and commissions on ticket sales with opportunity for advancement.

“What I want to do is build a network of young people that are able to get the word out through postering and talking to local businesses and selling tickets,” Costanzo explains.

Geertz, Costanzo and Sethi hope to make the Flamingo venue-trifecta, consisting of the Flamingo Lounge, the Byrd as well as what will formerly be known as Panchos Top 40 Rock Club, the hub for Surrey’s arts community for the next five to six years. The buildings will then be torn down, highrises will be built, and, if this project proves to be successful, a brand new all-purpose venue will be structured as well.

The first live concert to be held on the property will be alternative rock band Slevyn with special guests Sly Detrick, Caustic Sodapop and Landmark 20 on Friday, January 12.

For more information visit www.theflamingo.ca

Johnny Papan
Jonathan Nicholas “Johnny” Papan is a Canadian writer, filmmaker, and musician born in Surrey, British Columbia to a Guyanese mother and half-Hungarian, half-Trinidadian father. Aside from film and music, Johnny also enjoys performing standup comedy. His interest in journalism surfaced after watching documentaries on influential writers Nora Ephron and Hunter S. Thompson. - www.johnnypapan.tk

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