Just when you thought Gastown restaurateur Sean Heather would take a breath (his first in five years), he goes ahead and secures another location, arguably the best remaining/available address in the whole of the neighbourhood: the southwest corner of Cordova and Carrall, directly across from the original Boneta.
The space – formerly Prime Time Chicken – has been the source of wild rumours for a couple of years. If you’ve been privy to them, you dreaded it was going to be a chain of some kind; a Keg, an American Apparel, a Cactus Club, you name it. In recent months, it’s been a rotating set for period movies and television shows, doubling for old Paris and then quick-changing to New York. That has only served to make the truth of it murkier. I’ve been told of many discussions and some near signings. Lots of restaurateurs and retailers have eye-balled this space, but the fear in the neighbourhood was that it would go to a chain outlet of some kind, a Le Chateau or an Earls. It’s funny how Sean Heather can have eight establishments (Salty Tongue, The Shebeen, The Irish Heather, Judas Goat, Salt Tasting Room, The Everything Cafe, Fetch and the upcoming Bitter) and have them not be carbon copies of each other. It just makes chains look wicked lazy.
Heather’s new pickup was once pretty run down. It’s been fixed up by BC Housing to the clean state of a starched skeleton, though its mosaic floor has been reduced to 1/4 of the total voluminous space (a previous abomination). Its windows still drink up plenty of natural light, and air is thick with lore. Though this particular space doesn’t even have an official address any more, it was part of the The Rainer Hotel, built in 1907 for off-duty loggers and passers-through of every stripe. Once upon a time it was a bustling place, the outer navel of an earlier inner city.
But why another eatery, Sean Heather? “Business is good at my other places,” he says, “and yeah, it was either do this or let it go to someone else.” I guess that makes better sense than just waiting around for another business (read: potential competitor) to come in to the neighbourhood that you’ve already invested so much in. I see it as a net positive for the area, like a move in the game Monopoly. I’d much prefer an Irish pub owner over an old man in a top hat with a grey moustache, you know what I mean?
So what’s it going to be? Though the name isn’t set in stone just yet, Heather is leaning toward The Rainier Delicatessen. He’s secured two strategic partnerships with Moccia Urbani Foods, the local purveyors of arguably Vancouver’s finest salamis and Dovre Import & Export Ltd, deliverers of fine cheeses from Neal’s Yard in the UK (among other swell things like the olives and cornichons sold exclusively to Whole Foods). JN&Z is on board with smoked meats, too. The deli side will include a retail section, a couple of tables and chairs in the windows, a lengthy counter with a glass case displaying all the goods, and – woah – a patio on Carrall. We’ll probably see a few steaks and such as well. Another choice butcher’s in Gastown?Huzzah!
But that’s just 1/4 of the space, the part still covered in mosaic and the sidewalk outside. The rest of The Rainier will see a 100 seat restaurant. I’ve been told to imagine a rough amalgam of the soupy, sandwichy Salty Tongue, the always interesting Judas Goat and Bitter. Quite the mix, but I trust the concept will be refined as time goes on (and Sean takes that breath).
The bar is going to be the original Guinness demonstration bar which once graced the global company’s Coquitlam office. It will stand in front of the massive west wall of original brick. As far as bars go, this one has had quite a remarkable ride. 10 years ago it was leant out to Heather when he opened the original Shebeen in Gaoler’s Mews (past the rear of L’Abattoir). In fact, it was from behind its wood that Heather served the Shebeen’s very first pints. Despite Heather’s attempts at securing it from the brewer’s local office (for obvious sentimental reasons), it disappeared off the map for a couple of years and he believed it to be lost. Oddly enough, it ended up in an alley where some dude picked it up and garaged it out in Port Moody for a few more years. By a stroke of blind luck, Heather just found the fellow on Craigslist selling it in dismantled but fine condition for only $800. It is now at The Rainer waiting to be assembled, but I suppose Heather will be concentrating on opening Bitter in the short term.
Indeed, don’t expect The Rainer to open until January 2012. Can you imagine if it had been a Gap?