Over the last decade a lot has changed in Vancouver. With this change brought the emergence of great new neighbourhoods. Neighbourhoods like Gastown, Yaletown, Mount Pleasant solidified their distinct cultural roles in the city. The Star’s Lola Augustine Brown wrote an article on Vancouver’s emerging neighbourhoods. For the most part it’s bang on. I would argue that Olympic Village and Railtown deserve honourable mentions as well.
It was always fun to visit Chinatown and cruise the stores full of bamboo and lanterns, get dim-sum or steamed buns, but a trip to this ‘hood always included navigating your way around the less salubrious citizens of the downtown east side. New development and investment in Chinatown have spearheaded real improvements, and helped drag it up by the boot-straps to become an urban destination with much more to offer.
The historic Wing Sang building, on East Pender, has been respectfully renovated to create a beautiful gallery space showcasing the contemporary art collection of Vancouver real estate mogul Bob Rennie, and it is open to the public, for free, every Thursday and Saturday. If you’d rather make art than look at it, then walk a block north and check out Blim, a family run arts and craft studio/ store where you can create a screen-printed masterpiece, make buttons, or learn to knit (this is one of many little indie boutiques springing up in Chinatown).
Nightlife in Chinatown got a lot cooler with the 2010 opening of apothecary/ opium den styled Keefer Bar (on Keefer Street) where locally themed cocktails are mixed using house made ingredients and there’s an inventive menu of bar food. Just up the street is Bao Bai, a truly excellent Chinese brasserie where a modern spin is put on traditional cuisine (such as their Kick-Ass Fried Rice, the ingredients of which change daily). The Union (on Union Street) and The Electric Owl (on Main Street) are two other newish and fun local bars, and the kooky Jimmy Hendrix Shrine (also on Union) is worth a look.
Note: It should be noted that Fortune Soundclub was not mentioned in the article. A huge oversight, as it has done so much for the Chinatown nightlife. To add further, expect a bunch of new buildings going up in Chinatown.
Once junkie central, East Hastings Street has changed dramatically over the past few years, and become a vibrant neighborhood with the pretty name of Hastings Sunrise. Start at the refurbished Waldorf Hotel, whose Tiki Lounge was always cool even when the area was a little scary, which has been “reimagined as a creative compound” where you can see artsy shows, catch some live music or get a fantastic Lebanese meal at the brand new Café Nuba (based on one of the city’s best loved food carts).
A little further along, The Red Wagon Café offers what might be the world’s most perfect hangover breakfast—pulled pork pancakes with Jack Daniels maple syrup. Actually everything on the menu is fab, and worth lining up for. The few blocks around there are a foodie dream, as there are lots of cool little restaurants intermingled with unique ethnic food stores. Also noteworthy is charcuterie Au Petite Chavignol, the much adored by locals Latin restaurant El Barrio, and gourmet pizza place Campagnolo Roma.
Note: Hastings Sunrise has been re-branded as East Village much to the chagrin of a few area residents.
South Slope aka South Hill
This multi-ethnic neighbourhood in southeast Vancouver is attracting young families who love its close proximity to the city but (slightly) more affordable house prices. Visitors will love browsing the interesting stores full of tchotchkes from afar and little hole-the-wall restaurants offering cuisine from Tibet, China, Japan, India and the Philippines.
Start exploring at Fraser Street and 41st, then walk up to 49th before cutting through to Main Street (which runs parallel to Fraser) to explore the Punjabi Market, a strip of East Indian stores and restaurants. Check out All India Sweets, for their tasty $9.95 vegetarian buffet and display cases full of gold leaf coated sweets and cakes, or one of the many sari stores next door for bargains on silks and pretty things. Cross the street to Roots Café, a new and very modern eatery, which offers a varied menu full of dishes like butter chicken poutine and ribs, as well as great coffee and cakes.
Note: This neighbourhood is going through immense change. Once the epicentre of “white flight”, gentrification is slowly starting to creep in and increasing the cultural diversity in the neighbourhood. Main Streets “Little India” isn’t fairing to well these days and its days are numbered as businesses continue to flee to Surrey and take advantage of the larger, more culturally devout Sikhs reside.
More of a micro-neighborhood, Crosstown is a block long section of Beatty Street that sits between Gastown, Chinatown and Yaletown. Here you’ll find the excellent Dirty Apron Cooking School, where you can spend a day or an evening learning new culinary techniques and cooking up a gourmet meal (think lobsters tails and ribeye) that you’ll then share with other students. The wine flows freely, and the food is excellent, which is why the school has had 20,000 people through it’s classes in the three years it has been open.
The Dirty Apron also has a neat deli, but just up the block is the Medina Café, which is the sweet little sister to legendary Vancouver favourite Shambar [Chambar], located just next door. Both restaurants offer fine Belgian food, and are consistently superb, so reservations are essential. Across the street is a gorgeous high-end housewares store, Provide, and at the end of the block is a barbers, but that’s pretty much Crosstown in a nutshell.
Image by Canadian Pacific