200 Seat “Electric Owl” To Open In American Hotel On Main St.

April 20, 2011.

by Andrew Morrison | If you’ve walked down Main between Terminal and Prior in the last five years, you’ve likely got an eyeful of the eyesore that is the skeletal remains of the old American Hotel. It’s now in the latter stages of its renovation, and we have news of its innards to break.

We’ll get to what will be unveiled in a sec, but it should be remembered first that the 928 Main St. address has written quite the saga for itself in recent years, from the controversial eviction of its low income tenants and subsequent boarding up back in 2006 to the very public speculation ever since on its future affordability to those in need of shelter. It’s also something of a local lightning rod whenever talk turns to change on the periphery of the DTES. Some scream “unfair” and lament further gentrification for fear it will raise the cost of living for the low income set, while others call it inevitable, progress, or a hot bubble bath of condo-dwelling, latter-day hipsters more interested in granite counter tops than social welfare.

I’m not interested in having that debate here, aside from saying the hotel, which has been around since 1907, was in dire need of a facelift and that majoring in boutique hotel entertainment while still minoring in Single Room Occupancy is better than being a total dropout (6 of 42 rooms are set aside at $400 a month with more hovering at the $770 mark).

So, if you must, consider that a little prism through which you can view the coming of Electric Owl, the new 8,000 square foot establishment slated for the main floor. It will include a new, 200+ seat restaurant, live music venue, infused sake bar and lounge. The whole operation – bent on a Japanese izakaya theme – is due to open this May.

That’s pretty darn shortly, but considering it’s been seven years since someone sat down for a paid pint in there (not a legal drop since 2004), even a glass of water would probably be worth the wait. In the schematics above you can trace a front door on Main leading to the lounge and bar area (with off-sales, woot!) opening up to a booth-lined dance floor and a medium stage. At the rear and facing still-sketchy Station St. will be the central bar and restaurant spilling out to a 34 seat patio. They’re aiming for long hours for alcohol service, from 9am until 2am.

So what to think?

An izakaya – in essence a casual Japanese drinking hole with inventive snacks for casual types who tolerate irreverence – may prove a tricky thing to pull off if it’s just a conceptual lark not born out of any interest in or fealty to authenticity. I don’t know if that will be the case. I hope it’s not.

There are many good izakayas in Vancouver – the Guus, Kingyo, Motomachi Shokudo, the four Hapas, etc. – and a distilled version is not something that people interested in food would be all that keen on if it was the least bit lame. A lip-synched phoney would suck for a reason: because our city is awash in superb Japanese food of many stripes, and it would just pale in competitive comparison. Why spend a dime for the Disney version when the real deal is seventeen times more exciting, and cheaper, too?

The owner of the building – Steven Lippman (a partner in “928 Main Holdings Ltd.”) – also counts plenty of other spaces around town in his stable, including Save On Meats (tour it here). He’s likely no dummy. If the newly refurbished London Hotel down the street can brush aside concerns over its authenticity (and be full), then you’d think the American Hotel could, too. But British pub grub and environment is a lot easier to fake than the food and feel of a really good izakaya, so I have my doubts.

As for the owners of Electric Owl, I’m pretty much in the dark there, too. I know only of Adam Levine, who made his money starting and navigating successful turns in the biofuel trade beginning in the early Naughties. Guu might be his favourite restaurant, but how much does he know about owning something like it? I take comfort in the hope that someone suitably capable is doing the soon-to-be-nicknamed “Owl” food and that it won’t be just a loose stab at irony in place of substance (no geishas, naked sushi models or hibachi dudes spinning their blunt blades). Again, I just don’t know, and a hope is just a hope. From someone who lives just blocks away and already has enough silly in his eating life, perhaps it’s a fool’s hope.

Will it end up being a wonderfully staged stroke of genius striking the perfect balance with the neighbourhood a la punk rock shows and kickass karaage or an abject disaster that stinks of invasive Earlism and the end of culture as we know it? I fear the latter, but only out of ignorance. I expect the middle, speculatively.

Dani Vachon on Electric Owl "Where else can you eat dinner, see a show, and leave with a six pack or bottle of wine?"

Handling the entertainment side of things will be Dani Vachon, formerly of Gastown’s Guilt & Company. According to an early copy of press materials that have landed my way, Vachon will “curate everything from emerging artists and renowned music acts to sumo wrestling and Japanese fan dancing.” Do I hear an Etsy-inspired, homemade Samurai fashion show with board games, too?

Prediction: a curious, hopefully not all-that-garish conundrum to people who live in the area and the coolest thing since the last coolest thing that every Skytrainer worth his/her weight in Costco gyozas will celebrate before seeking out a $2,500 per month shoebox nearby (includes small dog). Cue the Starbucks, et cetera.

But would I go check it out? You bet. What about you?


  • Geoffro

    Yes, yes — let us worry about the karaage. No bother that it’s a live music venue, which our city needs more of.

    The times, they are a changin’.

  • Antonio

    True that. Live music venues would be great… The Japanese izakaya concept doesn’t interest me at all for all the reasons stated by Andrew in addition to the fact that I wish Vancouver could be so much more like the cities I really dig. There are so many trends, concepts, and food genres that haven’t been tapped in wee Vancouver and that are exploding everywhere else I just feel like those with the means, connections, and big dreams just aren’t reaching far enough for their concepts and inspiriation… at times its a small incestuous pool of hospitality praising one another into mediocrity.

    All that being said I don’t think its fair to judge this place and concept until it opens. Just please don’t be over designed.

  • wolfsleepy

    With that name, they had better serve those Hitachino Nest beers.

    Owls are so kawaii! \{^v^}/

  • Rick Kane

    New live music venue, offsales and !!! coming- hell yeah! What the heck does that have to do with Starbucks? Bring it to me Owl !

  • David J. Cooper

    It’s now an official comment thread now that someone has thrown out the first “there is so many better cities with cooler ideas,and better concepts then here”.

    I’ve lived in Vancouver long enough to remeber what the American used to be. A good place to buy drugs, afterhours beer and to get yourself mudered. Half the clientele were awakned at closing time by having their faces stuck in a can of bleach. Even the worst gyoza bar full of yuppies, hipsters and douchebags is better then what this place used to be.

    I’d rather have a city full of Starbucks, Milestones and freaky nail parlours then a bunch of biker hangouts and HA run “beer parlours”.

  • http://bradgough.ca Brad Gough

    Fantastic!! I am a long term resident of Strathcona and can not wait to stagger home from the ELECTRIC OWL! I do miss all the beefy Hell’s Angels from the old American Hotel though.

  • Pat

    Great, I am all for Izakaya, Sake and live music…don’t knock it until you try it people!

    I’ll be there, as it is a stone throw away. I am sure it will make me wear ear plugs every night though (downside as I already have to deal with the Colbalt once or twice a week)…but oh well.

    I welcome any restaurants in the area because the choices are slim. I hear the Habit/Cascades Restaurant owners are bringing one in just around the corner from Electric Owl just over at the V6A.

    The one thing I am not sure about is the Patio for Electric Owl on Station street in the plans…the city has to clean up Station street – it’s an eye soar big time and dumping grounds. Or maybe they would just put up frosted glass like Campanolo has and just ignore it all?

  • Dirk Mattress

    I got a good feeling about this one – diggin the live music with sake setup, multiple bars and hopefully some solid izakaya..its crazy enough to work…and cuz i’m in the neighborhood it will be quick 6 pack and tall pickup as well. Yuppies, hipsters, starbucks weenies, whatever…stuff the labels, ..i want owl bar open.

  • Steve Martin those aren’t two pillow

    I know most things- the spaghetti is done when it hits and sticks and that irregardless is not a word even if Webster thinks it is. Irregardlessly– I did not know about this new joint! WOW- in the neighborhood and put together by Vancouver guys- so good. I am pickin up what the Owl is layin down and that sh*t is sticky.

    Back from Coachella and want MORE- here we go.

  • Paul D

    On a side note, PR flacks and journo hacks who use the word “curate” to describe that act of programming music or cultural content should have their thumbs broken.

    It’s a fucking playlist, not a relgious calling.

  • Paul D

    umm “religious”. Sorry about that.

  • Scout Magazine

    Haha. And those psychologically bogged down by semantics should be tickled?

  • Paul D

    Tickle at your peril.

  • Andre Genest

    Nobody said this life was gonna be simple ! Stop crying like a baby and get a grip.

  • Geoffro

    Ooh, ooh; spelling errors in vitriolic , pseudo-intellectual comments — oh yeah, like a warm fucking bath.

  • Paul D

    @Geoffro: Really? An ad hominem attack based on a typo that I corrected myself?

    Perhaps you should have consulted a style guide before you started tossing “pseudo” around. It would have told you that no-one uses spaces before commas or dashes–except, perhaps, the pseudo-literate.

  • Master P

    Will they have PABST sake bomb night? Oh oh! How about how does the ebi mayo look on my ironic mustache night?

  • Ron

    Food was really good at Electrci Owl on Friday. Had fun!

  • neil unwin

    Good for grapes has driven me to your site and look forward to seeing them and your place.

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