Open House, Open Hearts; Goodbye Rhizome!


Mural by Melanie Schambach, at Rhizome
Mural by Melanie Schambach, at Rhizome

In 2008, during my first year at UBC, and also my first year living in Vancouver, I discovered the Rhizome Cafe at 317 E Broadway. It quickly became one of my favourite lunch and brunch spots because it had options for everyone: vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, organic, ethical, spicy, cheesy, comforting, and all-round delicious. I was immediately attracted to the space for all of its art and colour and warmth. The location was the perfect middle ground for me and a lot of my friends at the time because half of us lived in east van and the rest lived in Kitsilano or closer to UBC.

Over the years, I have had many cups of coffee and interesting conversations at the Rhizome, and devoured a few too many bowls of my favourite comfort food there, the Rhizome’s own decadent three cheese macaroni. I’ve been to a handful of social justice related events and memorable live performances in this space, so I was quite unsettled when I heard that the Rhizome may be closing its Vancouver doors for good. When I first heard this from a friend, I hoped it was just some tangled gossip, a loose thread out of place, a rumour… but then I read “an open letter to the Rhizome community” from the Rhizome owners themselves.

“It is with both sadness and gratitude that we write to you to tell you that we’ve made the difficult decision to transition out of Rhizome, at some point in the coming months.”

You can read the full letter here:

I never realized just how many lives and communities have been touched and changed and inspired by this cafe and social justice hub until I attended the Rhizome Community Open House on Saturday June 22, 2013. It was a seven hour long event, marking the seven year anniversary of the Rhizome cafe, and likely the last Rhizome anniversary party to be held here in Vancouver. Seven hours filled with delicious food, delightful people, and exceptional live performances. From 4:30PM onwards the Rhizome was packed from wall to wall with friends, families, children, elders, Rhizome regulars, lovers, and community. People came and went all day long and enjoyed steaming bowls of “3 sisters stew” by donation, and watched performing artists of all genres perform stories, poetry, hip hop, rap, drumming, and dance. The performers all spoke fondly of the Rhizome, sharing stories and memories and reflecting on how the Rhizome has impacted their own lives and successes.

Before her performance, singer, musician, and spoken word artist, Kim Villagante, revealed, that six years ago, at 18, she spat her very first spoken word piece at the Rhizome. Hip Hop Artist, JB the First Lady, spoke of her first album release party at the Rhizome before performing her popular song “Get Ready, Get Steady” to which everyone sang along to: “Get, Ready, Get Steady, cause it’s gonna gonna gonna, get heavy!”.

With enchanting musical accompaniment, Naomi Steinberg told a powerful and moving story about two women who changed the lives of everyone in their village by creating the tastiest, ethical “stone soup”. It was the first performance that brought tears to my eyes, but was definitely not the last. It was an emotional event for everyone. MC’s Hari Alluri and Alejandra Lopez kept warning us that they may break down and cry into their microphones at any point.

There were over a dozen performing artists and groups throughout the day; one of my favourite performances was Sawagi Taiko, Vancouver’s all women’s multigenerational Taiko group. Inside the cozy, crowded space of the Rhizome you could feel their drumming vibrating through the walls and floor and into your feet, syncing with your heartbeat. Between performances, during each intermission, there were activities other than just eating and socializing: you could reminisce and read a whole wall of Rhizome events from 2006-2013, pages and pages documenting performances, workshops, meetings, and events, or you could get your photo taken. There was a photo booth equipped with costumes and a professional photographer, and a zine making station at the back.  People contributed pages of art, writing, poetry, and memoir for the Rhizome’s zine, which once put together, will truly capture some of the unique and beautiful voices that have been heard and amplified by the Rhizome and its community.

At the Rhizome Community Open House it became clear that the Rhizome will live on in the memories of so many people who have performed there, been entertained there, drank there and eaten there. It is a place and space that has touched the lives of so many, in different ways. And until the Rhizome closes its Vancouver doors for good, we can still eat there, drink there, laugh there. There is still time for you to experience some (or more) of the magic that is the Rhizome, its food, its events, and its community.