VANCOUVER WOULD BE COOLER IF #237 | If It Had More “Horseshoe” Lunch Counters

July 2, 2014.

the-only

by Andrew Morrison | A couple of years ago I was reminded of the enduring attractiveness of horseshoe-shaped lunch counters while exploring the hot messes that were the interiors of The Only (the once legendary restaurant with the spectacular sea horse neon signage) and The Logger’s Social Club directly above it. Both establishments were in shocking states of disrepair, but the integrity and beauty of their once bustling lunch counters was still plainly obvious…

Just the way they were shaped – to allow for omnipresent service and customer interaction (chairs bolted to the ground) – tickles my fancy to this day. Of course, Vancouver used to boast well over a dozen eateries that showcased seating in this style (eg. The Aristocratic), the most impressive among them being the beautifully stark cafeteria in the old Waterfront Station building (see below)…

Lunch-Counter

As to why the style went out of fashion is a mystery to me. Perhaps it has something to do with maximizing a dining room’s seating capacity, or maybe it’s about the increasingly anti-social nature of the modern, smartphone-wielding customer who doesn’t want to see or talk to anyone or be seen to be dining alone. But if that were true, why are communal tables so popular today? Horseshoe lunch counters and communal tables are essentially the same thing, except the former affords customers a little more personal space (in front) and allows for much better service (in between). Did restaurant designers simply forget about them? What ever the truth of it may be, I’d like to see more.

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The only complete horseshoe lunch counter that I know of that currently serves customers in Vancouver is the one inside Acme Cafe at 51 West Hastings (above). I say “complete” horseshoe because there are others that are broken up at the apex by a service station (I’m thinking of Moderne Burger on the West Side). It’s only four years old, which is to say that the style is still practical, even in the age of wifi. Alas, contrary to today’s norm, you’ll find no signal inside. Nor will you find an outlet to power your laptop. Owner Peggy Hoffman explains that this is by design to encourage customers to interact with one another. “So many relationships have started right here,” she told me proudly this afternoon while motioning to her lunch counter. It draws a lot of single diners, she added. “Once it’s full, you can’t tell who’s single any more.”

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