David Blake opens up about the Tangent Cafe closing down

The venue that played such a big part in our lives for 10 years is renamed to Daybreakers

David Blake opens up about the Tangent Cafe closing down
Photo: Claudia Arisso

David Blake, in his own words, tells all about the end of Jazz at the Tangent – with the restaurant now renamed to Daybreakers as of August 2, 2023 under new ownership. David and I talked at length and covered his view of the story thoroughly:

  • What it was like to relaunch from the pandemic almost two years ago in late 2021, when David had already left for New York
  • His reaction when the now-former owners told him that a sale was in the cards, and his first impressions of the new owners
  • The people's reaction on the ground as the changes set in
  • The jarring way that David found out the new owners were ending the jazz series
  • Fallout, reflections, and ending with optimism

We started our interview with the 2021/22 reopening under the original ownership, because that picks up the story where our podcast episode left off. Below this line, David is in plain text, with my headings for context and spacing out the reading experience.

Reopening, from late 2021, while in New York

It was pretty uncertain whether or not it would resume at all. I was kind of anticipating that Tangent wasn't going to resume, but eventually, Nate decided to get it going again.

I had like this two-year-old calendar of canceled gigs, I don't think anybody was really banking on these happening, but I wanted to do good by these people. People wanted to play, people missed Tangent, and I just would email somebody and be like, 'Hey, do you want a gig at Tangent?'

But the weird thing was not being there. l used to spend a lot of time there, There was a sort of golden era of Tangent, between 2015 and maybe 2018, where there was this core group of staff that had been there for a long time. They knew the musicians. I was friends with them all. It just felt like people were more down to hang out at Tangent as well as go hear the music and play. I remember sometimes we'd be there until three in the morning, drinking after the gig, the staff and some musicians and, and me and sometimes Nate [Coli, the Tangent co-founder/co-owner with his wife Linda] would be there. It was a real family feeling.

When it restarted, I wasn't there, so I had no idea what was going on in terms of attendance. Nate would report to me if a show was packed, but he was such a supporter of what was happening that if it was a slow night, he wasn't gonna get on my case about it. But the other weird thing was that most of the staff I knew were gone.

The sale of the business

I remember when Nate told me, I felt some sense of dread. I wasn't surprised that somebody else had bought the place, because it wasn't a secret that Nate and Linda wanted to sell the operation. It had been something even probably before the pandemic, something that was always kind of a possibility. It was sad, because Nate and Linda are both amazing people, and what they created there was this beautiful community hub for a lot of people: a staple of the drive, and certainly the jazz scene.

And then the question was, of course, like, are these new owners going to want to keep the music going at the time? Obviously we know how that ends now, but it wasn't clear then, and my first impressions of the new owners when I talked to them – it's a fellow named Juval and his business partner, Val – at first he was open to it and I was optimistic.

New owners and the initial reception

I know that unfortunately, that first week was a slow week. You know, it was Vancouver in the spring. It was like three-in-a-row kind of slow nights, and that was not a good look for the new owners. Of course if it wasn't the new owner, it would've been totally chill. [The new owners'] attitude was, this is a business – fair enough – and they end up spending a bunch of money on music. So how are we gonna make this work?

We ended up coming to this idea that we tried, doing music just one night a week [on Wednesdays]. I had booked all the way through the end of the summer, and then I had to fire a bunch of people, because of getting rid of Thursdays. So that sucked, but people were understanding.

I mean, I had no stake in the game. I'm not an owner, so they can do whatever they want. I was trying to be supportive – as, like, the spokesperson for the old Tangent community – of the changes they were trying to make.

But I was starting to think to myself, all I'm hearing from the jazz community back home is that Tangent sucks now and nobody wants to go anymore.

The end of the jazz series

At first I was a little frustrated, because I was like, 'Man, I've been doing this for most of the last ten years, and now they're selling pierogis and now you guys are gonna bail? Let's weather the storm.’

But then, I pretty quickly got the impression that the new owners had kind of stripped a lot of what was great about it, and now it was becoming this super-generic bar, just like anywhere else. Almost as soon as this change happened, everybody was just giving me the message like, ‘Now they've ruined Tangent! I don't even want to hang out there anymore.’

And I'm like, ‘Man, I'm still booking music there!’

So I reached out to the new owners and said, ‘Hey man, what do you think about me making a Jazz at Tangent Instagram page?’ I could start directly posting about things that happened, sharing photos that Vince [Lim] and Sapalo [Shafooli] take and other clips, and people would tag it. I would start to get a following there so I can get deeper into the promotion.

So I sent him this message, and he got back to me promptly. He’s like, ‘Hey man. That would be a great idea, you could do that for the last four shows. But we're gonna stop jazz in August.’

And I was like, that's weird. First of all, why wouldn't you tell me – why did I have to reach out to you to find this out? And second of all, why would you say, ‘Yeah, go ahead and put a bunch of energy into this Instagram.’ If you guys are canceling Tangent, I'm not gonna fight. I'm not gonna expend any energy to try and get some money out of some customers for you. I'm not gonna do free advertising when you just said, ‘Sorry, Tangent music is gone. And also you just lost one of your jobs.’

That's brutal. It's fine that they want to go their own way, but I felt disrespected by the way that that went down. Don't get me wrong, they didn't owe me that. But Nate and Linda certainly expressed a lot of gratitude over the years and when they left.

Fallout and reflection

So then, they gutted their Instagram. Tangent Cafe [on Instagram] was following all these people in the community, and they have years and years of photos that all the staff members over the years were in, nice moments because it was this cool family vibe where people actually cared about each other. They just gutted it, deleted the photos from the page, and unfollowed everybody as this sort of posturing thing.

I was there in June. I played two nights in a row because I was like, this is my last chance. I'm gonna fight, I'm gonna play. Some of the staff that used to work there in the past came out. and there were a lot of people there, so it felt a little bit like nothing had really changed. Everybody had been telling me that it feels different and that the vibe has changed, but when I was there, it kind of felt familiar to me. So I didn't really experience the decline of Tangent over the months of the new owners coming in.

In my opinion, it's a new restaurant. It has nothing to do with Tangent, and Tangent is gone.

Ending with optimism

I think what Dan [Daniel Deorksen]'s got going at Tyrant is exceptionally cool, and I hope that has a long life. Of course there's Frankie's with Cory, and Sharon is picking up a lot, she's just so amazing that she has the energy to do a zillion things at once. Tim Reinert, I mean, man! If I had a Tim Reinert in my life when I was like, 20 years old... Now we've got all these young musicians who are playing with their band at Frankie's and at the Lido, and they've got Tim making it happen.

From what I can see, things in Vancouver seem really good. I hope all these places have a long life. If there's ever a time for Tangent to end, now it has this wonderful community around it to absorb the loss.