A Very Frank Few Minutes With Sean Heather, King Of Gastown

May 22, 2009.


Sean Heather is the owner of the Irish Heather Gastropub, the Shebeen Whiskey House, the Salty Tongue Deli, and Salt Tasting Room. He and Salt partner Scott Hawthorn are opening a new tapas bar in Gastown’s Blood Alley this summer called Judas Goat.


Scout Q&A

The number of fist fights you’ve been in: 3, and I lost them all…more of the lover-not-a-fighter type.

Quality you admire most in yourself: Being consistently rock steady despite being consistently up to my neck in shit.

The thing you’re addicted to: Sweet liquor. It eases the pain.

Your three favorite sounds: The Bells of Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin; “Time gentlemen, please”; and the crack of a wood fire.

Talent you wish you possessed: I don’t suffer fools easily…It would make my life a lot easier if I had the patience to deal with these folks, as there sure are a lot of fools around.

The trend you wish you never followed, but did: Flared Jeans. The 1970’s were a friend to nobody.

Best fine dining restaurant in the city: Bishop’s…love the man, love the place.

Album that first made you love music: Bruce Springsteen’s The River.

Musical instrument you long to play: Irish Fiddle.

Sport you gave up: Try all of them. I used to do long distance running, but now I couldn’t run around the fucking block.

Mac or PC: Mac, baby.

The scariest situation you’ve ever been in: Getting the night train from Luxor to Cairo the same day as “Desert Storm” kicked off. Each Pullman carriage had 4 Egyptian soldiers “protecting” foreigners. The scariest thing was that they were conscript, young, tired and armed. This one chap had was sitting, with his aka-47 butt resting on the carriage floor between his boots, muzzle bouncing back and forth between his knees as he drifted in and out of sleep.

Three things of no value that you will keep until you die: A Child of Prague that my grandfather left me, the original Irish Heather business plan & a menu from Maxims de Paris

Three things about Gastown that make you want to live there: Close to work (I live above the pub), cobblestones, the restaurant and bar talent that are drawn here.

The thing that you eat that is bad for you that you will never stop eating: Peanut butter balls from Butter Bakery.

Default drink of choice:
Guinness or Powers Irish Whisky (or both).

Drink you’ll never have again: Got wasted on Grappa in Ventimiglia on the Italian Riviera and sobered up fishing off a pier in Monte Carlo, without knowing how I got there. I still get the nightmares.

Sexiest fashion item for the opposite sex: Manolo Blahniks: I brought my wife to the London store for her birthday. You know you are in trouble when there aren’t any prices. She ended up getting a pair that they had been keeping for Kate Moss-anyways; I’m a sucker for a great pair of shoes!

One thing you’d like to change about Vancouver: The liquor laws. Don’t get me started!

Bartender who could sell you anything: Sean Hamilton (Hammy to his pals). Currently owning/managing at Revel.

Saddest thing about Vancouver: The Downtown Eastside drug shit-show.

Cheap place for dinner: Benny Bagels. Soup with toasted and buttered Super Purist Bagel.

Last place traveled: Spain, Dublin & London gathering info for my next restaurant project. http://www.newsaltproject.blogspot.com/

Under what circumstances would you join the army:
Actually joined the Medical Corp of the Irish Army Reserves when I was 16 years old. Made it all the way to Sergeant, before resigning to move to London.

The career path you considered but never followed: Foreign Legion. Actually got as far as the recruitment office in Marseille once, but bottled it.

The first three things you do every morning: Wake the kids, walk the dogs, let the morning crew into the Salty Tongue Cafe.

Your paternal grandfather’s personal story: My grandfather, (John Heather-son of the Italian), was a wonderful man who didn’t drink, was handy with his fists, went to mass every morning, loved ballroom dancing, and was intensely proud of his working class roots. Like many of his generation, he witnessed the horror of war first hand. He spent the WW2 years in London removing rubble during the day and pulling fire warden duties at night. I knew that it had had a profound effect on him but he would never talk about it. He returned to Dublin joining the City Corporation, where he became a foreman, responsible for dealing with the cleanup/securing of burned/exploded buildings (the Blitz experience stood him in good stead). In 1966 the IRA blew up Nelson’s Pillar, a 131 ft tall granite column with a statue of Lord Nelson on top. Located in the center of the city and towering over most buildings, the column was a constant reminder to every Irish person of British rule that so many had died trying to break free of. When the IRA. blew it up, my grandfather’s Corporation crew was charged with cleaning up the mess. He found Nelson’s head and shoulders fairly intact and hid it in the back yard of his mother’s house. A couple of days later it was stolen but a part of the neck remained. My grandfather gave me a part of the neck, and to this day, I have a part of Admiral Lord Nelson’s neck in my home.

Best bar stool in the city: Well, ahem…but despite the obvious, probably Cascade Room.

What are you proud of: My marriage and my kids.

Saddest thing about Vancouver: The Downtown Eastside drug shit-show

The thing that makes you the angriest: People asking for a “Car Bomb” shooter at the pub and then dealing with their indifference as we tell them that we don’t serve them because I and others working with me have witnessed first hand, the horrifying impact of car bombs. To me it is the same as going into a bar in NY and asking for a 911 shooter.

Cliché that you use too often: “If you could shite walking you’d be a horse of a man”, or if someone is happy they’re “like a dog with two mickeys”.

Dead film actor you wish was still making pictures: Anthony Minghella. Yes I know he wasn’t an actor, but he did make amazing movies: The English Patient, Talented Mister Ripley, Breaking and Entering, and Cold Mountain.

Biggest fear: Not being able to give my kids the upbringing that I didn’t have.

The dish you’re most proud of:
Probably Chef Lee Humphries braised lamb cheeks [at the Irish Heather]

Best sneaker in the world: Adidas Rom.

Your ancestry: A mixed bag, really. Mother’s family are small village Newfoundlanders of Presbyterian stock, while my father’s crowd are Dublin, Ireland-based for as far back as we can go. My great grandmother was Italian by birth. Her family had a chip shop and ice cream parlor in Dublin. Her father, Giuseppe Pacelli, introduced raspberry ripple ice cream to Dublin, earning him the nickname “Raspberry Joe”.

Dumbest purchase ever: Lucky Diner…enough said.

The game you’re best at: Scrabble.

The thing that makes you the most nervous: Failure.

Town you were born in: Toronto.

Old television shows you can tolerate re-runs of: The Sweeny, Minder, Fawlty Towers.

Local person you admire most: Patrick Reid, a tank commander in WW2, father-in-law to Rick Hansen; Ambassador and Commissioner General of Expo ‘86; former Vancouver Port Corporation Chair; designer of the Canadian flag; and fellow Irishman.

The thing you’re most ashamed of: That I can sing “Wham Rap” from start to finish.

Best concert experience ever: Thin Lizzy’s second to last concert in Galway.

Perfume you loathe: Giorgio.

First memory:
Being stung by a bee in a sand box.

Default junk food of choice:
TopPot Doughnuts, classic icing type. Used to be that I could only have them when I was visiting Seattle, then Starbucks started to carry them.

The one country that you have no interest in ever visiting:
Democratic Republic of the Congo

Biggest hope: Barack Obama makes it ok to love America and the Americans again

Luckiest moment of your life: When I met my wife.

Favorite book as a child: When I was 14 years old, my mother decided to confine me to my room, with a book for 30 minutes a day, after which she would quiz me to make sure that I had spent the time reading. I hated her and the book at first, but by months end I found myself reading for hours a day. Fables of Irish Myth and Mythology, To Kill A Mocking Bird and Irwin Shaw’s Richman Poorman…Falconetti was a true hard ass.

How you waste time at work: Are you fucking kidding? Have you seen my workload?

This was the 44th interview of what will eventually amount to 500 profiles of people who have made life in BC that much more interesting. At the rate we’re going it’ll take three years, at which time we’ll probably just start shooting for 1,000.

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