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Crazy, memorable 20-year ride for Lorenzo's cafe owner coming to a close

Lorne Costley, the charismatic owner of Lorenzo's Cafe, says he's ready, after 20 years, to go to somebody else's party.
May 04, 2015 - 7:36 PM

ENDERBY - You’d have to be at least a little crazy to run Lorenzo’s Cafe, an iconic music venue nestled down a windy, back road in the rural North Okanagan, and owner Lorne Costley comes by it honestly.

He got the nickname Lorenzo in Mexico back in the 1980s, and it refers to someone who is ‘poco loco’ or ‘a little crazy.’

“I thought being a little crazy could come in handy for doing what I’m doing, so it was a suitable name,” Costley, 64, says. “You get a little crazy when you come to Lorenzo’s; there’s a little Lorenzo in all of us.”

He's sitting on a bar stool at his Mabel Lake Road cafe, and home, on a quiet spring morning. He’s been living in the area 43 years, and running Lorenzo’s for the past 20. In that time, he’s showcased over 1,000 acts from around the world, including awarding winning jazz, blues and Latino bands, as well as comedians, hypnotists, and burlesque dancers — the calibre of the shows more likely to be found in San Francisco or Toronto than the rural North Okanagan. He’s felt air burst from trombones in the small, intimate venue, pasted hundreds of posters and photographs on the walls of the historic 1920s schoolhouse, and collected cracked drumsticks, now proudly displayed in empty beer bottles behind the bar. He’s cooked hundreds of meals, tended bar and stayed up with the last of the patrons, always the last to bed. But now, after many memorable moments, laughs and late night conversations, he’d rather visit the cafe as a patron, not the guy running the show.

The decor at Lorenzo's is made up of the current art show, past concert posters, broken drum sticks, and relics of the old schoolhouse, like this blackboard (the date still features July 22, 2006, when Lorne held a ten year anniversary music festival.)
The decor at Lorenzo's is made up of the current art show, past concert posters, broken drum sticks, and relics of the old schoolhouse, like this blackboard (the date still features July 22, 2006, when Lorne held a ten year anniversary music festival.)

“I’ve been thinking about it for awhile,” he says, pausing to take a drag from his cigarette. “I’ve enjoyed the ride, but now I want to go to somebody else’s party.”

He’s not in a rush to give up the business he’s so lovingly cultivated over the last two decades, and will be looking for the right buyer, someone who appreciates the lifestyle and the music.

“I don’t have a lot of money, but where I’m a rich man is in lifestyle,” he says.

Costley moved from Vancouver to the Ashton Creek area in the 1970s, bought 160 acres of property, and lived with his wife and kids in a geodesic home where they gardened, had livestock, and lived off the land. He has fond memories of canoeing his daughter Tundra across the river every day so she could catch the school bus.

A wood worker by trade, Lorne rented out the old Ashton Creek schoolhouse as a workshop and eventually bought it in 1990 (the school closed down in the 1960s). Today, Lorenzo’s Cafe is a large, two storey, bright yellow building nestled in the shade of tall cedar trees. The original schoolhouse represents only the area of what is now the bar and front entranceway. You can see old photos of the school tacked on the walls, and the original blackboard hung up behind the bar. The porch, now the cloak room, was a detachable structure, and for a few years, Lorne’s daughters used it as an ice cream stand. You can still see the massive ice cream cone he built for them leaned up against a tree in the front yard. With a constant stream of tourists passing by, the girls did quite well.

“That gave me the idea to sell a few burgers and beers,” Lorne says.

A few years later in 1996, Lorenzo’s Cafe opened its doors and Lorne’s buddies played the inaugural show. In 2000, he designed and built an addition with an unusual ‘bowl room’ stage carved into the middle of the cafe, below floor level, almost like an amphitheatre.

“Normally stages are raised up, but being down below, the rapport between musicians and the audience in both directions is excellent,” Lorne says. “The audience is not intimidated by the band, and they can also talk to them between songs. The band feels comfortable with the intimacy with the audience too.”

Lorenzo's Cafe features a 'Bowl Room Dance Floor' which is lower than the area where the audience sits. An open, upper chamber in the ceiling makes for top notch acoustics.
Lorenzo's Cafe features a 'Bowl Room Dance Floor' which is lower than the area where the audience sits. An open, upper chamber in the ceiling makes for top notch acoustics.

Lorenzo’s is one of the most intimate venues around with its homey, laid-back atmosphere, likely one of the reasons bands reach out to Lorne wanting to play there, not the other way around. Costley lives in an apartment upstairs, so it’s almost as if he’s welcoming musicians, and audiences, into his own living room with every show. He’s even got his own version of the nude displayed behind every good saloon bar: a butt-naked baby portrait of himself.

Many visitors who traverse the 10 km route from Enderby to Lorenzo’s Cafe — likely thinking they’ve taken a wrong turn and gotten lost — refer to the joint as ‘the middle of nowhere’ to which Costley gives his standard reply.

“It’s the centre of the universe,” he says.

For upcoming events, directions and contact information, click here. Costley will continue to book bands and run business as usual until a suitable buyer is found.

Lorne has a butt-naked baby portrait displayed behind the bar as the cafe's very own 'nude behind the bar.'
Lorne has a butt-naked baby portrait displayed behind the bar as the cafe's very own 'nude behind the bar.'

To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at chelston@infonews.ca or call 250-309-5230. To contact the editor, email mjones@infonews.ca or call 250-718-2724.

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2015
InfoTel News Ltd

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