Back in the day – we’re talking 1886 – Gastown was the epitome of cool. Granted, Gastown was also the epicenter of everything then, officially incorporated as the City of Vancouver that year, making it Vancouver’s first and, by default, only neighborhood. But it was still cool, since the ‘hood was established around the area’s first tavern. Named after one of its unofficial founders, “Gassy Jack” Deighton, the roots grew deep. The area has continued to attract entrepreneurs, adventurers, risk-takers and drinkers alike today.
Gastown has had more than its fair run of peaks and plummets, with the latest rise over the past decade seeing upwards of 500 businesses including galleries, boutiques, restaurants and drinking establishments. A fringe area prior, low rents drew the creatively extravagant and financially tapped to set up shop in the 1990s. Whilst some people nowadays are looking for townhomes in the Coquitlam area, the location is still a thriving part of Vancouver. Now, Gastown is the heart of Vancouver’s dining scene, where an adroit cocktail, coffee or course is rarely more than a block away.
Start off, as any good adventure does, with caffeine. Revolver is serious about coffee, and draws the likes of folks who fetishize about it. Customers can chose their bitter black by one of five brewing methods: default steel filter, clever, AeroPress, siphon or French press; or they can get their espresso on with expertly pulled shots and poured drinks. There is a lineup of beans to choose from daily as well as a curio gallery of books and vinyl to peruse and purchase in the adjoining shared table space.
If it’s a weekend, all bets are on brunch, and while you will probably still wait (this is the West Coast, brunch is a sport), there are ample seats to sink into. Wildebeest is top form for dinner, with an unabashedly adventurous wine list to match the pulse-quickening menu. But no need to wait until the sun is over the yardarm to partake in your salty orange wine paired with scrambled eggs and bone marrow.
Across the street from Revolver, you can queue for lunch with hungry hordes at Meat & Bread. True to name, it doesn’t get much more simple than that. And when it comes right down to it, there are few things more satisfying, more gratifying, more budget-soothing and soul-comforting than a kick-ass sandwich. With interiors as deceptively simple and utilitarian as the eatery’s name and concept, you’ll be pleasantly surprised there are only four sandwiches making up the daily menu (pick the classic Porchetta). Pair with one of the rotating craft brews or ciders.
If you’d like to deepen your beer selection, Six Acres reflects Gastown’s saloon-start, with a location tucked into the oldest brick building in Vancouver, the Alhambra, and boasting one of the most extensive beer lists in the city-over 40 bottles available. Muse through a few alongside poutine or mini crab burgers.
You may need a caffeine pick up before a nap takes over, so revive with a dual hit of coffee plus chocolate at East Van Roasters. A top bean-to-bar establishment, this winning social enterprise provides training and employment to local disenfranchised women, educating them and the public about single origin chocolate and the skill of coffee roasting. If you’ve never experienced the bliss of freshly roasted coffee alongside cacao nibs, speed here.
By now, you’re well into the cocktail hour, and Gastown is the nucleus of the city for serious bar culture. The Diamond’s luster shines bright, and may best be known as the place where the industry heads for their post-shift chill down. If luck shines on you, you’ll be there when Giancarlo Quiroz Jesus is behind the bar, as this Kiwi expat with Peruvian roots will astound you with his creations. Serious drinks, unpretentious scene and one of the last bars to close in town.
If you’d rather your spirits neat, straight and plentiful, slide into Shebeen Whisk(e)y House, recently named one of the world’s top 10 international Irish whiskey bars. A library and beacon of all things whiskey, Shebeen is tucked behind equally venerable The Irish Heather, a longtime Vancouver GastroPub institution and the only place for an authentic pint and pie (both owned-and-operated by Irishman Seán Heather).
In a Spanish state of mind? You’ll feel a distinct and all-too comforting déjà-vu when you slip into the cozy (aptly-named) The Sardine Can. Though the narrow, understated slice of a room might be an anomaly in our bigger=better culture, it’s a natural fit on any neighborhood side street in Barcelona, where 18 or so folks can stand or prop or bar-stool it for tumblers of wine, shots of sherry and the scents of sultry tapas and pintxos drifting out from the open kitchen.
When you’re looking to tuck in for a full night of dinner and drinks, land a seat at L’Abattoir. The site of Vancouver’s first jail, this gastro-resto is one of the best tables in town, as much for its local French-influenced fare like roasted brown butter Ling Cod with clams, fregola and spiced sausage as its libations. The wine list often includes Beaujolais Blanc and the cocktail menu shines with sippers like the Gastown Swizzle with Citadelle gin, Aperol, passion fruit, orange and Fernet-Branca.
The story original ran in the summer issue of Sip Northwest magazine. For the full story and more stories like this, click here to subscribe.