What do Vanilla Ice, Kenny Rogers, Hedley, 2 Live Crew, Bif Naked, Skid Row, Trooper and many Vancouver-area bands have in common?
Over the years they all played the Newton Inn, the joint on King George Highway (now Boulevard) that was a magnet for live music from the early 1970s to the mid-2000s.
The Surrey hotel’s bars were busy until the day the inn was demolished to make way for a shopping centre anchored by Save-On-Foods, at 73rd Avenue.
There, on the east side of the highway, the so-called “Rootin’ Tootin’ Newton Inn” opened in October 1972 and soon found favour with the local country-music crowd. The place later morphed into a hard-rock hangout and eventually became a spot for DJ-played party songs of the early 2000s.
For years the cabaret was called Shooters, next door to Delanies strip club, and took the name Centre-Point for a bit before the arrival of the Ozone, the name of the nightclub from the early 1990s until the hotel’s final days.
White Rock-based concert promoter Rob Warwick remembers the Ozone club for its good sight-lines of a stage located in the corner of a large space.
“It had a cool atmosphere for the kind of shows I was doing, in the heart of Surrey, when I first got into this business,” said Warwick, who runs Rock.It Boy Entertainment. “It worked perfectly for awhile.
“There’s nothing like the Ozone now in Surrey, and I don’t think it would really work in this day and age,” Warwick added. “I don’t think nightclubs like that are a thing anymore, to be honest, because you’ve got pubs running like nightclubs and they offer more than just drinking, and that includes food and also some live entertainment.”
Now a partner in pub/restaurant juggernaut Joseph Richard Group, Surrey-raised André Bourque got his bar-management start at the Ozone in the early days of this millennium.
“I worked there as a bartender first, and then I ended up buying the lease and running the place, doing everything to get it going with some partners,” Bourque recalled. “I took a chance in my early 20s on a bar with a strip club in an old hotel that was run-down and in debt…. We were able to turn it around and actually did amazing sales. If they hadn’t sold it, we’d have done crazy well.”
The Ozone attracted a young crowd from mostly Surrey, Delta and Langley, Bourque remembered.
“You know, if you’re out of high school and turned 19, it was the place to go, kind of a starter bar,” he explained. “And then you’d get into the Mirage as you got older, at that time, and it just worked. It had sticky floors, it was gross, but it had some charm that you couldn’t do again, like the Roxy. You can’t make another Ozone, it was what it was.
“The men’s bathroom stalls didn’t have walls or doors, and people wouldn’t care, they’d (defecate) with everyone in there, and they’d piss in the garbage cans, it was a free-for-all in there. But people loved it and showed up every Friday and Saturday night. People just wouldn’t go to something like that now.”
By the mid-2000s, when he knew the hotel was going to be sold and the busy club closed down, Bourque had an idea.
“I called Ryan (Moreno), my business partner now (in Joseph Richard Group), my best friend since Grade 5, and told him, ‘The Ozone is closing down and we’re packed, I need a place to put all these people.’ We ended up buying the Vanilla Room (nightclub) in Langley. He had worked there before and knew the owner, and we got in there two weeks before the Ozone closed and managed to pull all those people over to the Vanilla Room and got it going in Langley. That’s where we got our start together.”
Warwick remembers Bourque and the other Ozone operators as smart, hard-working bar managers.
“The thing I always admired about those guys was they were always in there first thing in the morning strategizing, working on promotions and really running it as a business, which you don’t always see in the nightclub industry. That’s how I knew they’d become very successful in whatever they did.”
The Newton Inn kicked it country-music style back in the 1970s and ’80s, and RCA Records promo man Ray Ramsay came calling one night with American country star Charley Pride.
“He had a night off and wanted to go to a country club, and I knew that was the one at the time,” Ramsay recalled. “The club sent a limo for him, which was cool, he walks in and everyone’s jaw drops.”
Pride didn’t perform at the Newton Inn that night, but Ramsay said Kenny Rogers did on another night there.
“It was just when ‘The Gambler’ was coming out and blowing up really big,” Ramsay said. “It was called a routing date, and he had an open night, to keep the calendar filled. Kitty Wells played there, too.”
In the 1980s, the inn’s Shooters club attracted rockers like Rob Begg, a musician in several bands of the day.
“It was a pretty wild place, pretty interesting,” Begg recalled. “It was a true rock bar in the sense that they liked it pretty heavy. It had that Sunset Strip kind of lifestyle, and I know because I was living down in L.A. before that – especially when Steve (Harris) came in. He was the manager, and he was at Club Soda (in Vancouver) during those Bon Jovi days, when they were in town recording and all that.”
Fellow musician Colin Hartridge, a drummer, played at Shooters with his band, Sparkling Apple.
“Harris was there in some capacity,” Hartridge recalled. “His trademark was the Billy Badass, a shooter that was a concoction of tequila and Jack Daniels. He would announce, ‘Band to the bar,’ which meant that we would each have to drink a Billy Badass before going back on stage!”
Shooters was also a haunt for Sherman Friesen and his band, Witchazel.
“You sort of had to play there a few times in the day to understand what went on,” he noted. “There will never be another Rootin’ Tootin’ Newton Inn! Imagine an outpost on the far reaches of the galaxy in a Star Wars movie.”
By 1993 the hotel name changed to Parkside Inn.
A decade-plus later, the place was demolished.
“A Surrey landmark of sorts will soon move from strippers to strip mall,” the Now’s Ted Colley reported in November 2005.
The Newton Inn also had a gruesome past, having been the scene of two murders, Colley wrote.
“Aaron Bradley Tammie is serving a life sentence for the rape and murder of Patricia Ann MacPherson. The 23-year-old victim was strangled in one of the hotel’s rooms and her body dumped in an adjacent vacant lot.
Surrey resident Jagrup Singh is also doing life for the second-degree murder of Rick Lof on April 5, 2000. Lof, who was at the pub for a friend’s birthday celebration, was hit in the head by a stray bullet, one of five fired by Singh at a bouncer who was not hurt. Singh got into an altercation with bar staff after he and his companions had been ejected from the establishment.”
Surrey Now & Then is a look back at Surrey-area landmark sites, events and people. Email story ideas and tips to firstname.lastname@example.org. We thank Surrey Archives for assistance with this series.