Never Heard Of It is a collection of reviews of the countless and often extraordinary hole-in-the-wall restaurants of the Lower Mainland that don’t get anywhere near the attention they deserve. Explore the NHOI archive here.
Someone told me a while back that the first time she ever tasted pesto was at Did’s Pizza. And I thought – yeah that too was probably the first time for me. And likely hundreds, if not thousands of young Vancouverites who lived through the clubbing heyday of the 80’s through to the end of the 90’s. Did’s was our likely introduction to pesto.
For those who participated in the Luv-a-Fair, Graceland, Celebrities dance triangle downtown, going to Did’s at Davie & Granville, still sweaty and drunk on watered down highballs from a night of clubbing was an unbreakable (and, in retrospect, probably a bad) habit. Dancing was our way of working off our life of precarity. For some of us (you know who you are) – this happened four, five, maybe seven nights a week. After 2:00am closing time, you sought invitations to after-hours warehouse parties and booze-cans set in empty Yaletown and Strathcona light-industrial spaces. These were often fun right up to the inevitable police raids, after which, you made your way to Did’s to get a slice.
Then, I’m sure this happened to most of you too – life happened. You went to university (or finally got serious about it), moved away, got a job (a real one), got married, had kids. Settled down. You stopped going to clubs and you stopped eating at Did’s. The next time you heard about the Luv-a-Fair was when it was demolished to make way for condos.
Despite the growth of dance music globally, the club scene in this city quickly eroded and fizzled out. As it turns out, dance club culture died out in nearly every city that had one (see also Manhattan, London, Berlin). They had proliferated where ever you could find cheap real estate and old underused industrial spaces. When Vancouver’s Luv-a-Fair opened in 1976, Downtown South fit that exact description. But during the run up to Expo 86, the City of Vancouver planners used their powers to concentrate all the nightclubs onto the Granville Strip to make room for future residential developments. Didier saw a marked increase in business when that started to happen. As the demand for housing grew, venues made way for high rise condos. And one-by-one, the dance clubs moved or went away.
It might be a stretch to blame real estate development for the diminished global dance club scene. Some people have blamed the people’s changing musical tastes, macroeconomic effects, the AIDs epidemic, or the ascendant music festival culture where you can do weekend binges on dance and designer drugs. Whatever the causes are, those golden days are gone forever.
Ex-Montrealer Didier (“Mr. Did”) opened the original Did’s Pizza in 1983. In 1994, he sold the shop and moved the whole operation down to Los Angeles. The business grew to become a mini-chain of pizza slice joints strung along on Venice Beach. He was, by all accounts, a bit of a celebrity there. But then a bitter divorce forced him to shutter and sell off the operations as part of his settlement. With the support of one of his former customers, he took a two year program in computer sciences at a local college. After finishing he spent the next few years installing Internet satellite systems around the world. He came back to Vancouver a few years ago without much of a plan. At the urging of his 13 year old son, he started making pizza again.
Life may have taken its toll, but Did hasn’t really changed much. His mood still teeters between gruff and gregarious. While he was gone the new by-the-slice upstarts like Goldie’s and Uncle Fatih’s assumed the mantle. But Did has reservations. “Ranch Dressing? Sesame seeds on the crust? Could you imagine that?”, he exclaims. He despises Ranch so much that he wrote and framed a manifesto decrying the stuff and hung it on the wall.
But is his pizza still good? Was it ever actually “good”? It doesn’t matter when you are drunk and hungry. That it was “the best pizza in Vancouver” was likely true at a time when we had some truly terrible pizza. But his pizza is different now. Didier used to bake his pies with a convection oven in steel pans. This method resulted in an greasy pie. Now he uses a proper deck oven and cooks his pies directly on its heat conductive stone hearth. The results are much leaner and far less greasy. I think it’s better now.
And yes, you can still order his signature pesto pizza. His food costs a bit more than his competition at $3 to $4.50 a slice; and whole pies run $14 to $15. Calzones are $11. The pastas go for around $9.
Did’s Pizza is located directly beneath the Railway Club (whose patrons descend on his place after last call). Much of his weekday business comes from the students who attend BCIT and the nearby international schools. Some stragglers from the 1990’s time portal still pop in to chat and order a slice for old time’s sake. “Back then, this city was full of creative artists and musicians”, he laments. “But you don’t see that many now. This city is different from the old days”.
It’s hard to argue with Mr. Did.