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The Former BaBalu Lounge – Where Michael Buble Got His Start

Jun 7th, 2010 | By | Category: Michael Buble Locations

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Another Michael Buble location that I found thanks to the book Michael Buble: The Biography, by Juliet Peel was BaBalu Lounge, the Downtown Vancouver nightclub where the cutie crooner performed regularly for two years before becoming famous.  And, let me tell you, once I heard about it, I became pretty hell-bent on the idea of grabbing a drink at the very spot where MB had honed his craft all those years ago.  As I quickly found out, though, the BaBalu Lounge is sadly no longer.  Apparently, the now-defunct club used to be located on the bottom floor of the Nelson-at-Granville Comfort Inn Hotel, but in 2001, a fire broke out on the top floor of the building and completely gutted the entire property, including Michael’s former singing spot.  The building was eventually purchased by a real estate development company who renovated the entire property and a new restaurant named Doolin’s Irish Pub subsequently opened in the former BaBalu space.  Such a bummer!  But even though BaBalu is no longer, I just had to stalk the hallowed ground where it once stood.

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Especially since the club had played such an important role on Michael’s road to fame.  In 2001, the singer even named his second independently produced album “BaBalu” (pictured above) in honor of the lounge where he had sung every Sunday and Monday night for over two years beginning in 1997.  Of MB’s premiere album, titled “First Dance”, biographer Juliet Peel states, “It made no impact whatsoever on the world at the time, but this, and the other two independent albums Michael brought out before he hit the big time, are now collectors’ items.  Whole internet chains have been established trying to track them down (for a Buble fan, finding one of these records is equivalent to stumbling across a signed first edition of an early J.K. Rowling.)”   You’re telling me, Juliet!  What I wouldn’t give to own one of those albums! 

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Michael’s love of music was originally cultivated thanks to his beloved maternal grandfather, Mitch Santaga.  Mitch, who made his living as a plumber, not only first introduced Michael to the Standards, the songs that he would one day become famous for singing, but he also traded free plumbing services to local band-leaders in exchange for them allowing MB a chance to sing during their shows.  After he became famous, Michael, whom Mitch had long-before dubbed “Sunshine”, said, “Isn’t that hilarious?  He’d put in, like, a hot-water dispenser or something so that they would let me get up and sing.”  Love it!  In 1997, Michael landed his first regular paying gig at BaBalu Lounge, where he performed along with the Smokin’ Section band, for over two years.  He credits his years there as a major learning experience, saying of the patrons, “They came to meet a woman or get wasted, but I learned my craft.  It taught me how not to reek of desperation, how to step back and try to be charismatic and let them fall in love with me.”  And fall in love with him they did.  Michael quickly garnered a very loyal local fan base of mostly women :) , who would come to watch him sing every single time he set foot onstage.  After two shorts years at BaBalu, MB moved to Toronto with then-girlfriend Debbie Timuss.  In a fortuitous twist of fate, shortly after that move, Michael performed at a corporate event where a man named Michael Sweeney was sitting in the audience.  After the show, Sweeney introduced himself to Michael, who in turn gave him one of his self-produced albums.  Sweeney passed along that CD to his close friend, Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, who immediately hired the singer to perform at his daughter’s upcoming wedding.  One of the guests at that wedding turned out to be none other than music-producing legend David Foster, who is perhaps better known by his nickname – “the hit-maker”.  Foster was immediately taken with the with the Canadian crooner and had him move out to L.A. so that they could work together the very next week.  And, the rest, as they say, is history.

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Unfortunately, because it was raining when we arrived at Doolin’s Irish Pub, I opted to stay in the car and take pictures through the window instead of getting out to stalk the inside of the place.  From what I’ve read, though, it seems like a very cool place to hang out.

Until next time, Happy Stalking!  :)

Stalk It: Doolin’s Irish Pub, the site of the former BaBalu Nightclub, is located at 654 Nelson Street in Vancouver, British Columbia.  You can visit the Doolin’s website here.

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10 comments

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  1. Steve Oatway says:

    Just south of Babalus on Granville Street back in 2000 was a big live Band Bar called the Hotel California, a former Tavern, a Disco, and now part of a Howard Johnson Hotel. The first time I met Michael was there at a Wrap Party for the Film “Duets” which both of us were in. My Scene wasn’t with him, but with my all my past music connections I had heard about this young guy who was impressing even the best Jazz Players in town. A few of us were standing by the Bar when this good size Band began playing on their stage, and that young guy started singing. Well everyone at the Bar stopped talking, their jaws dropped, and I was just blown away by his talent. I danced a bit, but mainly just wanted to hear them play. At a Break I was chatting with Michael, and I remember saying something like, “Hey kid you’re pretty good, you keep plugging away and who knows, you might just be famous someday”. I still chuckle about that, and buy his new CDs as soon as they come out. He IS my favourite Singer in the world today.

  2. David Levine says:

    Brian Evans (www.brianevans.com) got his start here too. Personally, I like him better.

  3. Carolyn says:

    I was very fortunate to work in downtown Vancouver from 1997-1999. My girlfriends and I loved to go to Babalu and swing dance while Michael was singing. He was so charismatic, you couldn’t help but to feel like you were in the presence of a star. I love telling this story to people. Back in those days it was a swing dancing, martini and cigar bar.

  4. Rob says:

    I live in NYC but grew up in Vancouver. Not sure how I came upon your blog but I visit it from time to time. You have done a great job and you really seem to have fun playing detective. I take visitors here on little side tours of “Law & Order” sites and other non-touristy destinations such as the arraignment court at 100 Center Street, Truman Capote’s home in Brooklyn, and a haunt of the guy who designed the Macy’s logo (now that’s obscure). I actually have a blog but have let it slide. Every time I visit your site I say to myself, “I should really post on my site again.” Anyway, I had to laugh when I saw that it was raining on your visit to Vancouver. What did you think of the city? It’s a funny place. Amazing when it is sunny, quite depressing when it rains (which is a fair amount). Great downtown (beaches, Stanley Park, Robson Street) but architecturally devoid outside of that. Miss summer at the beaches though!

  5. Jan says:

    Hmmmm…..I think I’ve seen a Sr. picture of him, but I can’t remember where it was posted. On his website forums there were actually some people who use to post (this was back in early 2000) that went to high school with him. And if I’m remembering right nobody said anything about him dropping out. Did you get to go to his favorite pizza place up in Burnaby? If you want I’ll see if I can find the info on it. I have it bookmarked somewhere!
    Take care!
    Jan

    • Lindsay says:

      It’s entirely possible that the book is wrong – it’s a very strange book. I had a hard time getting through it even though the subject matter was something I was extremely interested in. :) We didn’t get to his favorite pizza place, but I did read about it online. :( Let me know if you find out anything out re: him dropping out of high school. According to the book, he attended Cariboo Hill for two years and then dropped out at 16.

    • Lindsay says:

      I took that part out of the blog, as I can’t find anything about it online. I’m guessing that the book was wrong. :(

  6. Jan says:

    Hi Lindsey,
    Love your site! Just wanted to add something…I could be wrong but I don’t think Michael dropped out of high school. Is this info from the book? I’m thinking he graduated in 1993 from Cariboo Hill Secondary School, Burnaby, BC. Anyhow love your posts and I share your MB obession!

    • Lindsay says:

      Hi Jan,
      Yeah, according to the book MB dropped out of Cariboo Hill Secondary at 16 to pursue a career in music.
      Happy Stalking :) ,
      Lindsay

  7. Lavonna says:

    Great Post! Find one of those albums would be great!


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