by Stevie Wilson | It has been renovated and repurposed as one of Gastown’s most popular restaurants, yet the Alibi Room at 157 Alexander Street still retains much of the unique character and historic architectural features of the building’s many previous iterations. Constructed on three small lots in 1913 by E.W. Cook & Co., the Classic Revival-style building was designed by famed Canadian architect William Marshall Dodd and is celebrated as his only example of commercial architecture on record in Vancouver.
Originally, this address served as the warehouse for Jacobsen and Goldberg Co., one of the thriving businesses engaged in the province’s fur trade. Later, the “White Seal” mittens decal across the western wall of the building (now covered) advertised the products of White Manufacturing Co.. The BC Grinnall glove manufacturers were another company found on the ground floor. The H.G. White Manufacturing Co., a shipping company, purchased the building circa 1919, when the address was 149 Alexander. The property was an excellent location for each and every one of its successive businesses, including Burnyeats B.C. Limited in the 1930s, due to its proximity to the nearby port and the CPR Railway.
The exterior of the building remains virtually untouched, including the mock voussoirs above the first-storey windows and brick corbelling across the top. The original glass in the arched fenestration on the ground floor, reminiscent of the building’s original commercial purpose, is still intact (the glass on the bottom half has been updated for safety reasons).
In later decades, the address’ upper storeys were converted into offices, and by the 1970s the ground floor was known as the Banjo Palace, a 20’s-themed club boasting the country’s largest circular barbecue. The owner, George Patey, had purchased pieces of the brick wall involved in the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre and had it re-constructed in the men’s room (true story).
Prior to the Alibi Room (which was reopened in 2006 after a change in ownership), the address was home to the Archimedes Club, an infamous watering hole for Vancouver’s taxi drivers where a signature on the membership book got you access to $5 pitchers (or so go the legends).
The historic brick interior is still on display all throughout the Alibi Room, where they have since turned the basement – once an office space – into a secondary seating hub perfect for a few pints with friends. The next time you bend an elbow within its cozy confines, let your eyes wander and your ears imagine all the old brick walls have heard in the last 101 years.
Special thanks to Perrin Grauer at the Alibi Room
Alibi | The Alibi Room is a beer-focused restaurant offering some 50 odd taps on the eastern edge of Gastown. It has acted as the de facto schwerpunkt for Vancouver’s craft beer renaissance over the last seven years.
Usage: “Have you tried the new cask ale at Alibi yet”?
Hello, Spring. We’ve been waiting for quite some time. Can I offer you a preparatory ale? Right this way…
Brassneck | Brewery | A beer-fetishist’s brewery that opened on Main Street in 2013. Co-owned by Nigel Springthorpe of the Alibi Room.
Usage | “Meet me at Brassneck and bring your growlers.”
The good people over at our favourite watering hole, Gastown’s Alibi Room, are now proud member supporters of Scout. We will be publishing their news and press releases on our front page and hosting a page for them in our list of recommended restaurants. Click ahead or jump to their Scout page here. Read more
The biggest draw of Gastown right now seems to be the temporary German beerhall set up in the parking lot next to Steamworks. It’s not even in Gastown proper, but rather at its gates, sucking a lot of the daytime Olympic traffic from the neighbourhood. I went by yesterday and marveled at all the folks lined up when over a dozen kickass watering holes were within reach down the street. I hear zee Germans actually sold more beer in the first 9 days of the Games than they did at Turin altogether. Word is they actually ran out and had to charter a flight full of Thuringian suds to meet the ridiculous demand.
To help the local establishments out, Richard Gallagher, partner and creative director of Gastown’s Engine Digital, put this cool two-sided flyer together. Feel free to tweet, copy, paste, Facebook and forward it to all your contacts. All of those included - The Alibi Room, Cobre, The Diamond, Shebeen, Irish Heather, Boneta, Chill Winston, Six Acres, Salt, Jules, Revel Room, Black Frog, Pourhouse, Greedy Pig – are just a wedge to a 3-wood off the typical tourist track. Check ‘em out, not least because paying a $20 cover to line the pockets of people who aren’t invested in the city is sort of dumb. “No Tents. No Line-Ups. Actual Bars”. Dig it.
Nigel Springthorpe is the co-owner and omnipresent life force behind the very kickass Alibi Room on Alexander.
The thing that you eat that is bad for you that you will never stop eating: Chunky Kitkats.
Default drink of choice: If there’s no quality beer available, I’ll take a scotch with a drop of water.
Drink you’ll never have again: Molson Canadian.
The one place you’d move to: Savary Island.
Beer of choice: Dead heat between North Coast Brewing – Old Rasputin Imperial Stout, and Central City Brewing – Empire IPA.
The best thing about your job: Converts. Some dude who comes to the bar asking for “a bud” or “just gimme any kind of lager” and ends up with one of BC’s biggest juiciest IPA’s and LOVES IT!!
Book you’re reading: Oz and James Drink to Britain – two dudes who take a Bentley with a caravan attached all over the British Isles visiting various wineries (yes, there are wineries in the North East of England), micro breweries and whiskey distilleries.
Last place traveled: The Algarve
Biggest fear: Losing everything.
Under what circumstances would you join the army: If I lost everything.
Best sneaker in the world: Every year me old mum sends me a pair of UK Adidas Sambas in the mail [ed. note: your mum is awesome].
Place in BC that you love escaping to: My father-in-law has a small organic blueberry farm in Powell River. It’s a perfect spot to escape the city for a couple of days.
Your paternal grandfather’s personal story: It’s heavy. I never met him. He stabbed my grandmother then committed suicide one afternoon. Whoa! Told you it was heavy.
What are you proud of: Of course, my daughter Frankie & my son Fynn. And lately I’ve been feeling quite proud of my wife, my sister and I for taking the Alibi Room from the brink of death three years ago and turning it into a place people really seem to enjoy coming once again. Yeah, I’m really proud of that.
The thing that makes you the angriest: Don’t want to be predicictable but the only time I really seem to lose my marbles is when confronted with rude drivers. I don’t mind fast, I don’t even mind crazy drivers. It’s the pushy fuckers usually driving one of those BMW SUV’s nudging their way in this, squeezing their way in that, not waiting their turn the other…actually I’ve noticed the newly crowned asshole king of the road is the Ford Edge driver. Motherfuckers.
Saddest thing about Vancouver: It’s been sad to watch Vancouver turn from a big city with a small town soul into just another big city. I think it started when the bus bumpers had the very friendly “thanks for the brake!” with a Thumbs Up sign, replaced with “YIELD! IT’S THE LAW”, that was the beginning of the end for me…Although, the Gastown Steam Clock is still a major tourist attraction.
Favourite restaurant in Vancouver: I’m a casual diner. Cascade is a personal favourite. I read a lot of mixed things out there on the web about their food, but I think they have it figured out perfectly. I’ve never been disappointed.
Talent you wish you possessed: Well, I do wish I was an ace ballet dancer…and boxer. But not one without the other.
The game you’re best at: Soccer
Three songs on your current playlist:
My Bloody Valentine – Come in Alone
Black Mountain – Angels
T.V. on the Radio – Wolf Like Me
Somewhere within an hour of Vancouver that few may have heard about but is worth checking out: About 10 years ago a friend of my wife bought a book of logging road maps of BC from the ‘70’s. There was a map to a lake called Starvation Lake. The lake doesn’t appear on any other maps. Its just before Squamish. You can only drive so far along a very bumpy old logging road then you have to hike in. You cross the rail tracks on the way. Leave a penny on the tracks. Spend the day basking in a very quiet lake. Then pick up the squashed little souvenir of your perfect day on the way back. Special.
The scariest situation you’ve ever been in: The moment the flood level of the water caused by the Monsoon I was in touched my testicles. I froze. I was scared.
Two things of no monetary value that you will keep until you die: the placenta in my freezer (it’s already been three and a half years, what’s another fifty?). I also have a lock of my son’s hair from his first cut.
BC chef that you admire most: Jeff van Geest
Best concert experience ever: Fugazi – Burnaby 2001
How you waste time at work: Dreaming up ways to get the dosh I need to own a brewery whilst intermittently picking on my business partner.
The thing you wished people cared more about: Giving the friendly wave when another driver does you a good turn.
The thing that makes you the most nervous: How uncertain the future is always being made out to be.
Town you were born in: Gateshead, UK
Old television shows you can tolerate re-runs of: Seinfeld
Album that first made you love music: Faith No More – From Out of Nowhere (I was 13)
The career path you considered but never followed: Motorcycle mechanic – I went to trade school. I had the opposite of Midas thing going. Everything mechanical I touched turned to shit right before my eyes.
Biggest hope: Don’t want to sound like a sap but… I feel that my generation has had a great deal of uncertainty thrown our way. There always seems to be a new crisis or disaster lurking around the corner each more heinous than the last. Whether it be war, a pandemic, a tsunami, financial melt down or terrorist attack. I just hope my children will have less fear to distract them from the simple joys of life.
This was the 45th interview of what will eventually amount to 500 profiles of people who have made life in BC that much more interesting. At the rate we’re going it’ll take three years, at which time we’ll probably just start shooting for 1,000.
Nigel Springthorpe | Owner & Chief Beer Selector
Raya Audet | Owner & Manager
Greg Armstrong | Chef
About Alibi Room
In the summer of 2006, after working under the previous ownership for over seven years, Nigel Springthorpe with his sister-in-law Raya Audet, decided to take the ridiculous risk of buying the Alibi Room.
They opted to keep the name, but try to re-invent the concept (Restaurant Hari Kari, many would have thought!). But after almost 4 years, the Alibi Room that used to be is a faded memory. Now, under the skilled and experienced hand of Chef Greg Armstrong, we know where we stand in the very exciting and competitive world of Vancouver restaurants. We have never tried to re-write culinary history. We just want to produce familiar, comforting dishes without cutting corners or compromising the quality of our ingredients. All of our food is prepared from scratch utilizing the local bounty of naturally raised, organic or wild proteins and produce.
And then of course there’s the beer thing. Over the past few years we have developed an excellent relationship with the BC Craft Brewing scene. We are in the very privileged position of getting some special treatment from the best of our local brewers and breweries. Most of our 25 taps and 3 beer engines pour beers available only at the Alibi Room (outside of the brewery or brew pub). We’ve put together a showcase of the best local beers from around the province.
We call ourselves a “Modern Tavern”. We feel this best sums up all the elements of the Alibi Room: a 100 year old heritage building (with trains trundling by so close to the windows you can almost reach out and touch them). Quality food. Many beers.
Awards & Press
Camra Vancouver - Best restaurant, café or pub – silver 2008, Gold 2009, Gold 2010
Northwest Brewing News – Best Restaurant/Pub, BC – 1st Place 2009/2010
Northwest Brewing News – Nigel Springthorpe | Best Bartender, BC – 1st Place (remember its beer specific!)
Vancouver Courier “Stars of Vancouver” – Best Pub – 1st Place 2010
NBC – Official Olympic Website – Top 5 places to go in Vancouver for a beer.
Lonely Planet “Vancouver Encounters” – Alibi Room & Nigel Springthorpe, Profile & photo feature.
Lonely Planet “Pacific Northwest Journey’s” – Alibi Room & Nigel Springthorpe, Feature.
Vancouver Magazine – http://www.vanmag.com/restaurant/Alibi_Room
Westender - http://www.westender.com/articles/entry/beer-lovers-need-an-alibi/