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History Social History

Liquor, Lust, and the Law

The Story of Vancouver's Legendary Penthouse Nightclub

by (author) Aaron Chapman

Arsenal Pulp Press
Initial publish date
Oct 2012
Social History, Western Provinces, General
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Oct 2012
    List Price
    $24.95 USD

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BC Book Prize finalist

Few Vancouver nightspots evoke such a fabled history as the Penthouse Nightclub. The after-hours watering hole for the famous and infamous, the Penthouse was opened in 1947 by brothers Joe, Ross, Mickey, and Jimmy Filippone and soon became the place to see and be seen in Vancouver in the 1950s and '60s. Acts like Sammy Davis Jr, Nat King Cole, and Duke Ellington regularly performed on the Penthouse stage, and the venue was one of the few in town not only to welcome African American entertainers, but to house them as well, at a time when Vancouver hotels refused to. Audiences often included visiting stars such as Frank Sinatra, Errol Flynn, Gary Cooper, and many others.

In the 1970s, the Penthouse became infamous for its exotic dancers, resulting in a colourful, lurid history involving vice squads, politicians, judges, and con men, and culminating in the murder of Joe Philliponi, known as the "Godfather of Seymour Street," in 1983. However, through decades of evolving social mores and changing cultural styles in a city constantly trying to reinvent itself, the Penthouse has somehow survived, a testament to its storied history and the fortitude of the Filippone family that still owns it.

This first-ever book on the Penthouse includes recently unearthed photographs, police documents, and untold stories, kept under wraps over the course of sixty-plus years--until now. It is also the story of an immigrant Italian family starting a new life in a new country, and the changing times and attitudes of a port city coming of age.

Rife with nostalgia and just a hint of scandal, Liquor, Lust, and the Law reveals a glamorous and slightly naughty view of historic Vancouver after dark.

About the author

Aaron Chapman is a writer, historian, and musician with a special interest in Vancouver's entertainment history. He is the author of Vancouver After Dark: The Wild History of a City's Nightlife, winner of the Bill Duthie Booksellers' Choice Award (BC Book Prizes) in 2020; The Last Gang in Town, the story of Vancouver's Clark Park Gang; Liquor, Lust, and the Law, the story of Vancouver's Penthouse Nightclub, now available in a second edition; Vancouver Vice: Crime and Spectacle in the City's West End; and Live at the Commodore, a history of the Commodore Ballroom that won the Bill Duthie Booksellers' Choice Award (BC Book Prizes) in 2015 (a new edition appears in 2023). In 2020 he was elected as a member of the Royal Historical Society. He lives in Vancouver.

Aaron Chapman's profile page


  • Short-listed, BC Book Prize

Editorial Reviews

Aaron Chapman's lively history is written in razzle-dazzle journalistic prose.
-Quill and Quire

Quill and Quire

Up to now, local venue histories have not been in great supply. Should they become a trend among British Columbia historians, Aaron Chapman's Liquor, Lust and the Law may be seen as a pioneering effort ... Chapman depicts, almost tenderly, the phoenix-like rebirth of the Penthouse.
-BC Studies

BC Studies

Chapman brings out all the glory and dirt of this fabled oasis of sin, covering visits in the 1950s and '60s by such giants as Duke Ellington and Nat King Cole, as well as later run-ins with the vice squad and, most notorious, the murder on the premises of the Penthouse's patriarch, Joe Phillipone, in 1983.
-Georgia Straight

Georgia Straight

There's an old line from pantomime: 'Infamy! Infamy! They've got it all ... Infamy.' Everyone from the Liquor Control Board to the Police, morally tight-assed politicians, pimps, and the occasional small-time hood had it in for the Penthouse. But it survived and continues to survive because it did something simple well: it served up sin stylishly. This book tells the dramatic and sometimes tragic story of a remarkable family, their storied venue, and a multi-generational campaign to keep the 'fun' in Vancouver.
-John Belshaw, co-author of Vancouver Noir

John Belshaw

The book pulls no punches in exploring the sometimes seamy side of city history, painting a picture of vice squads, con men and meddling politicians. Featuring period photographs and newly unearthed police documents plus many previously untold stories.

Chapman does an excellent job demonstrating the inextricable relationship between the notorious establishment and the family that poured their heart and soul into it.
-Scout Magazine

Scout Magazine

Aaron Chapman is a wonderful storyteller and he recounts the tales of celebrity high-jinks and police raids with glee. Yet what struck me most was Chapman's touching portrayal of the Filippone family. A third-generation Italian-Canadian family that has battled, worked, loved and persevered together. This is a remarkable case study on the Italian community in Vancouver and a delightful read.
-Will Woods, Founder, Forbidden Vancouver Walking Tours

Will Woods

The Penthouse deserves a central role in the dark side of the city's history because of the attempt to shut it down in 1975. Chapman tells the story well in this nostalgia-inducing book, well illustrated with photos from the club's "lost" collection.
-Daniel Francis, author-historian

Daniel Francis

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