Bryan Searle, a founder and co-owner of Vancouver’s infamous Elbow Room Cafe, has died at age 87.
A sign on a window of the restaurant advised that Searle died last Thursday (December 14) at 10:15 p.m. A cause of death was not given.
The well-known Searle and his partner (in business and in marriage), Patrice (Patrick) Savoie, founded the popular brunch spot in its original West End location (720 Jervis Street, just north of Robson Street) in 1983. They moved to the current location at 560 Davie Street, between the West End and Yaletown, in 1996.
The Elbow Room was famous for its “big-ass” breakfasts and burgers and for liberal lashings of sarcastic banter (“Food and service is our name; abuse is our game!”) from its owners and employees. In its earliest days, failure to clean your plate could mean a “forced” donation to Oxfam to make up for the “wasted” food. For many years afterward, Searle and Savoie raised almost $100,000 for local charity A Loving Spoonful, which provides free healthy meals to people living with HIV and AIDS.
Searle, Savoie, or likeminded servers could unleash good-natured insults for any slight, real or imagined, but especially if a patron broke any of the restaurant’s “rules”. These included asking for water, a coffee refill, or inquiring how long it would be to receive your order.
Earlier this year, such banter may have led to an incident where a man entered the restaurant, sprayed pepper spray, and fled, leading to the evacuation of the premises and up to 16 customers being treated by emergency personnel on the sidewalk outside. No one was seriously injured.
The window notice, signed by “Elbow Room staff”, said: “There will be a celebration of life at a later time, when Patrick is ready for one. We will keep you informed.”
Earlier this year, Elbow Room Cafe: The Musical made its debut at the York Theatre. In a Georgia Straight preview of the show, playright Dave Devau referenced the restaurant’s founders and their eventual legacy. “Our focal point is Bryan and Patrick and the Elbow Room—and the notion of growing old, and what stamp we sort of leave on the world through the people or the things that we leave behind. As the real-life Bryan and Patrick are aging, that’s something they think about a lot. Will they be remembered? How might they be remembered?”
Cameron Mackenzie, director of Elbow Room Cafe: The Musical, helped answer that question when he told the Straight: “In our community, we often forget about our elders. AIDS wiped out a large, large portion of gay men that would otherwise have been a link between generations.…Young gay people don’t have the opportunity to learn about their history and the battles that came before them, because it’s hard to meet older queer people. So, for me, this is the interesting thing. For me, the café is the physical tie between generations—and that sort of represents the marginalized. It’s a story that we don’t often hear.”