When most of us sit down at the bar, we usually have two things in mind: a drink and a brief but much needed escape from the stresses of daily life. More often than not, we are so focused on this mission that we overlook our surroundings. But if we studied the shelves of liquor we’d likely find the most curious of items: an old trinket, a hand-drawn octopus, scribbled upon note of foreign currency, a random, dusty can of spam. BARTIFACTS looks to trace the origins of these artifacts, one bar at a time.
The Keefer Bar in Chinatown is a great place to start this column. Given the Chinese apothecary theme of the bar, it’s easy to make assumptions about the origins of the seven odd-looking implements hanging among the bottles on the back bar. Are they medicinal measuring instruments? Traditional salve and tincture stirrers? Far from it. The original bar manager, Dani Tatarin, purchased the utensils during the Christmas season of 2011, just prior to The Keefer’s launch. She stumbled upon them at her favourite antique shop in Hastings-Sunrise. The shopkeeper had bought them off a woman that had been clearing out her husband’s things after he had passed away. The story goes that he had made the tools by hand from copper and deer antlers while he was living in a cabin in Saskatchewan. Dani was so enamoured with them that she bought the whole set. Though she can’t recall the exact price she paid she says they “weren’t outrageous.” She kept a few for herself and gifted a couple of pieces to her father. The rest – seven in all – now live at The Keefer Bar just below a tidy selection of tequila. Give ’em a wink and a knowing nod the next time you’re in.
Chinatown, a commercial (and increasingly residential) neighbourhood within the Downtown Eastside, has been one of Vancouver’s most vibrant areas since the City’s beginnings. It got its start as a ghetto on the edge of the Granville Townsite in the late 1880s when scores of Chinese immigrants arrived to work BC’s mines and build its railroads. Despite the institutional racism of the 1923 Chinese Exclusion Act and the anti-animated neon signage laws of 1974, it has endured with outside forces doing little to curb its vibrancy. Today it is home to an eclectic mix of traditional and trendy eateries, markets, gardens, temples, and a wide assortment of businesses ranging from tea shops and apothecaries to art galleries and vintage stores. Its future is uncertain, however, as developers are cashing in on its cool cachet and consequently – dramatically – impacting the neighbourhood’s affordability while also eroding its unique character. How much more of this it can take remains to be seen, but the tipping point between its survival and its end feels closer than ever. Chinatown’s borders are debatable, but they can be squared roughly by Abbott St. in the west, Gore Ave. in the east, E. Pender St. in the north and E. Georgia St. in the south.
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Blue/Orange facades of Ho Sun Hing Printers & Fresh Egg Mart on East Georgia; the leafiness of Dr. Sun Yat Sen Classical Gardens; ugly blue LED streetlights; Erin Templeton shop facade; cheese sauce at Bestie; Mamie Taylor’s green walls; Matchstick Coffee’ house “Catalogue” blend; yellow window shutters above Fat Mao; orange awning above New Town Bakery; omnipresent decorative red and gold; freshly horked old man loogie; marinated eggplant with soy, garlic, and ginger at Bao Bei; stinky summer fish gut puddle; the best table in the house (#43) at Kissa Tanto; green signage at Kent’s Kitchen; dead alleyway pigeon tri-colour; dried tokay gecko on a stick.
DEAD LIZARDS FOR YOUR PENIS*
$8.99 (AND CHEAPER) HAIRCUTS
EXCELLENT PARADES WITH BAGPIPES, DRAGONS, & SIKHS ON MOTORCYCLES
THE RENNIE COLLECTION AT WING SANG
THE OFTEN BIZARRE ASSORTMENT OF VINTAGE AT SPACE LAB
THE OCCASIONAL RAT
PRESENTS FOR YOUR MOM
GAMES OF POOL AT THE LONDON PUB
THE VIEW FROM THE TOP OF THE KEEFER PARKADE
AN UNSUSTAINABLE AMOUNT OF MARIJUANA DISPENSARIES
AMAZING JAPANESE KNIVES AT AI & OM
OUT OF THE ORDINARY BLIM WORKSHOPS
SWEET VINTAGE AT DUCHESSE
TERRIFYING GUTTER PUDDLES
THE NICE GUYS AT THE SHOP
THE PLAZA SKATEPARK
SUPPLIES FOR LIQUOR LOVERS
A WHOLE LOTTA PIGEONS
LEATHER BAGS AT ERIN TEMPLETON
* the dried lizards (tokay geckos) are a traditional Chinese medicine for impotence, tuberculosis, and asthma.
MARINATED EGGPLANT (OR PRETTY MUCH ANYTHING) AT BAO BEI
APOTHECARY COCKTAILS AT THE KEEFER BAR
HOT & SOUR PORK NOODLES AT FAT MAO
“RED” RAMEN FROM THE RAMEN BUTCHER
THE FRIED CHICKEN SANDWICHES AT JUKE
STRANGER WINGS PIZZA AT VIRTUOUS PIE
LATE NIGHT FRIED RICE AT GAIN WAH
ICE CREAM SANDWICHES FROM SCENT OF A SANDWICH
BBQ DUCK AT MONEY FOODS
GIN & TONICS AT JUNIPER
GOOD AEROPRESS COFFEE & CONVERSATION AT AUBADE
HAM & MUSTARD GALETTES AT MATCHSTICK
SWEET & SOUR PORK FROM SAI WOO
APPLE PIE FROM THE PIE SHOPPE
CHICKEN WINGS & GARLIC PRAWNS AT PHNOM PENH
HAM GRENADES AT MAMIE TAYLOR’S
AVOCADO TOAST AT ROOST
EXCELLENT BEANS AND SPACE TO BREATHE AT PROPAGANDA COFFEE
PORK BUNS AT NEW TOWN BAKERY
SOFT SERVE ICE CREAM FROM PRIME TIME CHICKEN
TORTELLINI & SINGAPORE SLINGS AT KISSA TANTO
PORK THURINGER CURRYWURST AT BESTIE
– The oldest standing structure in Chinatown is the Wing Sang Building on Pender, built in 1889 by Chinatown pioneer Yip Sang.
– Market Alley, spanning from Main Street and Carrall between Hastings and Pender, was a turn-of-the-century hotspot for opium production, gambling, and after-hours debauchery.
– Dr. Sun Yet-Sen Classical Chinese Garden was the first of its kind to be constructed outside of China.
– Vancouver’s Chinatown is the largest in Canada and one of the largest in North America.
– Note so cool: a city ordinance was passed in 1937 that prohibited Chinese-owned restaurants from employing white women. In 1939, city council amended the law to permit white waitresses in Chinatown restaurants that served “English meals to English customers”.