Ex-Press Salon: The Railway Club Regulars
Natasha Moric tended bar at Vancouver’s Railway Club for more than 20 years, in the days before selfies and Instagram, but she took her camera to work and captured the regulars — in their comfort zone without filters
By Katherine Monk
VANCOUVER, BC — Shakespeare said truth was best found at the bottom of a wine cup, which is why bar life has always attracted the artistic eye.
Jan Steen created a tradition with his paintings of rosy-cheeked drunkards in the 1600s, followed centuries later by Van Gogh and the Impressionists. Then photography came along and allowed what French writer Pierre Mac Orlan described as the ability “to capture the fantastic forms of life which require at least a second’s immobility to be perceptible.”
In the world of street photography, these glimmering moments of truth come to us a flashes in the darkness: a frozen moment of euphoria on the dancefloor, the desperation of a lurid glance near closing time, the beauty of youth caught in the headlights before it’s rendered roadkill by the wheels of time.
Paris had Bressai and Cartier-Bresson. Post-war beer parlours in the Big Apple had Weegee. Studio 54 had an entire press pool, highlighted by Bobby Miller and Ron Galella, while CBGB had house photographer David Godlis, as well as regular Patti Smith.
Vancouver had a few of its own night hawks with cameras, but as Oraf Orafsson and Lincoln Clarkes were squeezing their shutters and gaining celebrity, Natasha Moric was quietly slinging beer and snapping shots of Railway Club regulars.
Beginning around 1987 and continuing on and off for several years, Moric amassed a significant album of images. She’s not sure of the exact number. She’s still in the midst of pulling them all together and scanning them into digital format for the first time.
“I guess I started taking the pictures a year or so after I started in ’85. I was a budding photographer and thought it would be fun to capture the regulars. We were all young and silly. I don’t remember how it all started. I asked them if they cared to have their photograph taken… and I took the camera out,” she says.
“I was really just looking for something to do. I guess it was a challenge. I’m not that comfortable taking pictures of people. But they knew me. The bar was a comfort zone.”
You can see much of Moric’s work on her Facebook page, but she’s agreed to share them here, in the newly created Ex-Press Salon — a showcase for the artists we know and love, and who may not be getting the attention they deserve.
And just about every old hack in Vancouver knows and loves the woman we call “Nash”: she probably served every one of us a beer at some time or other. And she remembered your order. It’s why the Railway had so many regulars. Especially for newspaper types orphaned after the Press Club closed its doors, The Rail became a second home, and Moric our sassy den mother.
That, too, was many years ago. The old Railway Club closed and reopened as the somewhat shinier Railway Stage and Beer Cafe, but the memories remain — at least, for now.
Moric says she hadn’t thought about her photographic record of the old Rail for decades. She’s been busy cataloguing her striking shots of old Vancouver which she now sells to private collectors. It was a death that pushed her into the dusty archive.
“I started looking at the pictures again seriously a little while ago. A regular had passed away. And it really hit me: It was 30 years ago. I felt I had to do something with them, otherwise, why hang onto them? You know, what do they mean to me — alone? I should share them with other people,” she says.
“When I look at them, I often get stuck on the technical parts. The things I did wrong. But when people react to them, like they have on Facebook, they have more meaning,” says Moric.
“I think they capture a time.”