I’ve loved Hy’s Encore for as long as I’ve been going out for dinner. The steakhouse has been in the “special occasion” rotation of family and friends for decades, so it’s been a fascinating thing to slip in once or twice and year and behold how nothing has changed. Aside from the impossibly delicious stuffed potatoes, table-side Caesar salads, perfect steaks, and excellent service, its seeming intransigence against change is my favourite thing about it.
I’ve written about Hy’s at length before, so instead of drafting another love letter, I’ll get straight to the point: it’s changing.
Now calm down. Don’t freak out. On the main floor, they’re just redoing the bathrooms, refreshing old carpet, replacing some chandeliers, adding a booth in the lounge area, building new shelving for wine storage, modernizing the coat check, giving everything a deep clean, and changing the location of the staircase. They were nearly done when I toured the address (637 Hornby St.) yesterday afternoon, and the alterations were so imperceptible (to me, at least) that they had to be pointed out.
You’ll be able to see for yourself when it finally reopens tomorrow night.
No, the real changes are happening upstairs, where the secretive private dining rooms used to be. The whole floor is being turned into an a 70 seat la carte bar and lounge. It’s being designed so that it can section off for private events, either as a whole or in parts.
There’s a big market in Vancouver for corporate and private functions, so improving for the sake of versatility is smart. Bookers can expect it to be modern with all the audio/visual bells and whistles, but it’ll exude the same old school mahogany-heavy atmosphere that has come to define the company’s aesthetic.
Though the space was pretty well gutted on my tour, Hy’s president Neil Aisenstat drew me a thorough picture. “That wall will be covered with bookcases, and that one over there will store wine…” It wasn’t hard to see. But as I don’t exist in the corporate world (and generally find group participation of any kind to be prohibitively taxing), it’s the new bar that I’m really interested in. Yes, for the first time in Vancouver, Hy’s will have a sit down bar.
That means you can casually pop upstairs for a properly made Old Fashioned cocktail and an order of their addictive cheese toast and not feel weird about it. None of that big spender stuff. Want a beer? Here you go. It also means Happy Hour specials, social conviviality, ambient music, and maybe a discreetly screened Canuck game or three, all coddled in Hy’s trademark comfort. Bonus: they’re bringing in Gotham barman Ryan Shimozawa to run the cocktail program.
Of course, if you know the restaurant, those might sound like somewhat dramatic shifts away from what it’s long been known for. But change – upstairs at least – had to come. The technical advancements (new sound system, A/V, live DJ) are just the icing on the cake; it’s only Hy’s taking advantage of modern possibilities. The real impetus was the fact that they were turning customers away. “We just weren’t big enough,” says general manger Chris Langridge.
So it’s not change for the sake of change, as Chief Operating Officer Megan Buckley remarked during my walk-through: “We know exactly who we are. We’re not trying to be the new kid on the block.” Thank goodness for that. Can you imagine Hy’s trying to edge in on some Kinfolk long table brunch action? Shudder.
As mentioned, the main floor opens tomorrow night. The new upstairs lounge won’t be ready until November 2nd. Oh, and don’t mind the scaffolding; they’re updating the frontage, adding some glass to a facade that has – to me at least – always looked like an 11th century Norman battlement. I have no idea how the exterior will look when it’s finished, but chances are it’ll prove slightly more inviting. Take a closer look inside and out below…