For anyone who had a connection to the late, great Railway Club music venue and bar, the news that the space was bought by Vancouver’s Donnelly Group was met with various shades of apprehension.
The Railway Club was a dark dive with a storied past, and Donnelly’s pubs have earned a rep for being a little inauthentic. Let’s face it: There will be a lot of people, then, who have already made their mind up about the Railway Club’s rebirth as Donnelly’s The Railway Stage & Beer Cafe.
If it’s at all possible to separate what the Railway Club used to be and what the Donnelly Group may have been, the Railway Stage & Beer Cafe is actually a pretty chill spot that for the most part honours its past while smartly being set up as a modern-day venue.
A couple of the key considerations for the revamp were to first let the light in (hello, windows!) and second make sure the sound system was top-notch. While the Railway Club was a hideout, the new bar/restaurant/live entertainment venue is more of an all-day hangout.
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Once you make your way up the stairs (and yes, there are some Donnelly decor touches in the stairwell) into the main room you’ll see a new mirrored ceiling that helps make the small space feel bigger, plus seating in front of the stage, and, during the daytime, on the stage, too.
Round the corner and follow the bar that runs the length of the room (you won’t have to duck anymore, dear former Club patrons) and see what’s on tap; one major plus is that The Railway Stage & Beer Cafe is taking the “Beer” part of their name quite seriously, and have some thoughtful craft brews available at the main bar.
As a bonus, beer lovers take note that in the back bar they have a set of four hand pumped engines for tapping casks, which will be pouring experimental, limited release, and specialty beers. Recently they’ve had a fun Fuggles & Warlock Pineapple IPA, for example. Plus, on the patio that’s set to debut this spring, they’ve got more taps to ensure a fresh beer is never too many steps away.
Keep your eye out near the start of the bar for a square of the wood-top bar that doesn’t match the rest; that’s where that ancient, crazy-heavy gold-hued cash register used to sit. Head on to the Seymour Street side of the venue to find more cafeteria-style communal seating, a seating nook with music journalism-themed walls, and steps into the old back bar.
It’s in this old back bar you’ll find the new “games room.” There’s the old oak bar that once upon a time was brought over from New England piece by piece, those aforementioned beer engines, a pool table, a shuffle board table, and two things Donnelly would never (like, ever) be forgiven for ditching, at least according to fearful fans who reached out to the new owners: The working model train and the dart boards. For fun with the latter, the Railway has started up a darts league, too.
Only some of the old vibe is authentic back here; the crazy carpeting is not, in fact, vintage, and only one layer of the wallpaper is, too. Sadly this design feature may have been Donnelly’s biggest misstep; they took to the wall like a fashion Instagrammer takes to a new pair of jeans they desperately want to have that “worn in” look, and went ahead and added new layers of striped wall paper that they tore to look old. At the very bottom is the yellowed, smoke-stained actual old wallpaper–the real deal is pretty cool.
The Railway Stage & Beer Cafe won’t have live bands daily, but they will have live something daily, and that means things like comedy, album release parties, open mic, and live performances.
What the space is hoping to do is to serve the local neighbourhood, with its cubicle dwellers and budget-conscious students, as an affordable, easygoing food and drink option. Working with a kitchen with limited space and equipment, they’ve put together The Alvin Food Bar (named for their chef) featuring soup, salads, and sandwiches. Everything is around $10 or less, and comes out fast and fresh.
Soup, like a hearty corn and chicken, is an ample serving and great as an entree or a starter if you’re really hungry. Salads are simple but satisfying, like a Kale and Romaine Caesar (with an add-on option like chicken for just a couple bucks more), or a Corn and Black Bean option.
Sandwiches are done on the press, so you’ve got melty cheese and toasty bread. Customize to your heart’s content; add turkey sausage to your grilled cheddar, provolone and beer onions panini, or go for grilled avocado tucked in your turkey and swiss.
Sandwiches come with your choice of salad or fries for just $10 a pop. With the food on point, you can save room in your belly and wallet for beers, though if you are really trying to watch the bottom line, take note that they offer a daily beer for just $3, which means it’s Happy Hour any hour, pretty much. Ask what’s in the casks, or the truly indecisive can opt for a flight featuring three 4-ounce pours for just $5.25.
With one of Vancouver’s scant rooftop patios about to kick into gear for the summer, and a cheap and cheerful menu (with a cheeky pint, why not?) for lunch, post-work, dinner, or late night, The Railway Stage & Beer Cafe is definitely not what it used to be, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
The Railway Stage & Beer Cafe is open Sunday through Thursday from 11 am to 2 am and Friday and Saturday from 11 am to 3 am.
Address: 579 Dunsmuir Street, Vancouver (upstairs)