DINER | Iconic “Ovaltine Cafe” On The DTES To Change Hands Next Week Before Reboot

September 10, 2014 

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by Andrew Morrison | Rachel Chen, who owns the little Perks cafe at 39 East Pender in Chinatown, has agreed to take over the Ovaltine Cafe at 291 East Hastings from the current owner, an old family friend.

The Ovaltine, as you’re very likely aware, is one of the most iconic diners in the city. It has stood as a beacon of continuity on the Downtown Eastside since 1942. Conversations about the eatery these days seldom dwell on its grilled cheese sandwiches and hot coffee, focusing instead on either the lasting beauty of its facade (with its competing horizontal and vertical neon signs) or the likelihood of it being able to stick around much longer in this new age of greed/opportunity on the DTES.

The neighbourhood is for sale, it seems, and as we’ve seen especially of late, preservation is evidently not Vancouver’s official strong suit. Worry that the Ovaltine might be demolished to make way for cheesy condominiums or be replaced with a new restaurant that was somehow inappropriate for the area (say, a foie gras and leather bar) has been in the back and fore of many local heads. In Scout’s irreverent dictionary, the Vancouver Lexicon, the cafe’s own entry offers the following as its usage in speech: “I’m taking bets on how long the Ovaltine will last…”. The angst continued in a recent Vancouver Courier article:

[Local historian John] Atkin worries about the Ovaltine’s chances for survival with scant customers and low-priced fare. Diminished evening hours mean customers no longer see neon reflected down the long counter, but he doesn’t want the cafe “hipsterized” and serving craft beer.

Invoking the dreaded hipster/craft beer nexus is merely another way of employing the G-Word without actually saying it. Gentrification cometh, but in the case of the Ovaltine, it looks like Atkin needn’t worry too much. Rachel and her mother Grace aren’t going to be doing much to the place except give it a good clean, a lick of paint, and a menu makeover that might make it busy again.

It certainly deserves the love. The place has been through the ringer in recent years. And when it hasn’t been serving its regulars – some of whom can measure their patronage in decades – it’s been starring in countless TV shows and even a blockbuster or two. The building itself – a four-storey Edwardian Italian Renaissance Revival pile housing the Afton Hotel – was put together some 102 years ago. The cafe may have given the property a quaint Rockwellian coffee counter, varnished wood panelling, worn cloisters, and smoky mirrors, but the address kept other restaurants before it, not to mention a tailor’s shop, government offices, apartments, even a postal substation. It’s definitely got as much history as it does personality.

And so does Grace, who is something of a legend on the DTES. She used to own the diner at Save On Meats. She took it over in 1999, long before it was reimagined by restaurateur Mark Brand in 2011. Grace gave Rachel her start in the business when she was 11. The youngster would pull shifts after school and on the weekends, both serving and cooking; enduring Welfare Wednesday rushes with her mom and grandmother by the time she was 15.

Needless to say, Rachel and Grace will be drawing on their Save On Meats experiences and repertoire for the Ovaltine Cafe’s new menu, offering up things like root beer pulled pork, fully loaded 1/2 lb bacon cheeseburgers, and fish and chips using the old recipe from The Only Seafood, which still lies beautifully dormant a couple blocks east (the last owner is a friend of the family, too). I asked Rachel what such a burger with all the fixings might cost, and she quoted me $7 with fries, which is about as much a Big Mac meal goes for these days.

Oh, and did you know that the Ovaltine Cafe was sitting on a full liquor license? True story. And Rachel aims to take advantage of it. Will we see them selling local craft beer? Most probably. Will there be hipsters in attendance? It’s guaranteed. But neither of those apparent detriments should prove obstacles enough to dampen what Atkin was hoping for in the broader scheme of things. From the same Courier piece:

Atkin hopes the Downtown Eastside will morph into a neighbourhood that includes healthy businesses, old and new, alongside affordable housing, service organizations, artists and cultural venues. “If this neighbourhood continues to evolve and returns to what it was in 1978, that’s the perfect balance because you had the hotels serving a certain type of clientele — now you’ve got a ton of social housing here — but you had vibrant and viable retail and you had a slight edge to the neighbourhood,” he said.

I’m glad to see that The Ovaltine will remain, craft beer or no craft beer, and regardless of the maintenance of the neighbourhood’s “slight edge”. That it will continue on much as it had before with new, proven owners (who are very familiar with what area residents view as value for dollar) is a great development.

As far as a timeline is concerned, the Chens take possession of the space early next week. The current cooking regime will be maintained as things get organised, adjusted, and primed (a few days), and then they will briefly shut it down for cleaning, painting, and reopening. The plan is to launch before September is through – same decor, same signage, same name – refreshed and ready, one hopes, for another 72 years. Long live the Ovaltine!

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SEEN IN VANCOUVER #514 | Staff Tasting At Highly Anticipated (Imminent) Gyoza Bar

September 3, 2014 

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by Andrew Morrison | The highly anticipated Gyoza Bar – a new 80 seater at 622 West Pender St. – is set to open for its first service this Saturday. The restaurant, which comes to us via Seigo Nakamura (owner of Miku and Minami), underwent staff training/tasting last night and is headed for a “friends and family” dry run this evening.

I took a look inside last night as the staff were eating their way through the menu. There was a great energy in the space with all the opening hires getting to know one another over a shared, educational supper as GM Nicola Turner and corporate chef Kazuya Matsuoka guiding their chopsticks.

It’s an awesome-looking menu, and the few bites I managed made an impact. When you eventually go for the first time, set aside your gyoza cravings for a moment and aim for the chicken shio ramen. The broth is like an umami sauna, plus they sous vide the meat so it’s wicked tender. Bonus: the noodles,  prepped in house, are insanely good.

Check out the menus in the images below and let the drooling commence. You have until Saturday…

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OPENING SOON | “Steel Toad” Brewpub Set To Open In Olympic Village Later This Month

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by Andrew Morrison | There’s a lot of potential for eating and drinking around Olympic Village. I say “potential” because despite a willing and eager resident market of hungry and thirsty would-be participants, the emerging neighbourhood has yet to be properly served. The two behemoth eateries that dominate the area – namely Tap & Barrel and Craft Beer Market – don’t interest me in the slightest. They’re fine for game nights with chicken wings and such, but the deficit they run in personality is hard to build a community around, and that’s exactly the job new restaurants need to do hereabouts. So there’s room enough for newcomers.

First up: Steel Toad, a new brewpub opening later this month. Located in the old 1918 steel foundry at 97 East 2nd Avenue between Ontario & Quebec, it’s almost as big as the others, boasting 175 liquor primary seats on the main floor, 40 seats on the patio, and an 80 seat dining room on the lofty mezzanine. Though it will share a beery focus not unlike its larger neighbours, Steel Toad comes complete with its own resident brewmaster, Chris Charron, who will be crafting seven (maybe eight) different beers on site (think Golden Ales, English Bitters, Stouts, Saisons, et cetera) to augment a beer list put together by accredited cicerone Jessica Sharpe (formerly of Barvolo in Toronto).

As far as environment is concerned, the place feels just as vast as its neighbours, but instead of a battery of television screens turning evenings into blue light fiestas of Sportsnet zombieness, I’m told that Steel Toad will drop down a single 19′ screen on game nights only, preferring instead to focus on live entertainment. Remember that?

But most importantly, I fully expect the food to be significantly better than what we’ve seen so far from the big chains nearby. The chef is the young (37) and talented Robbie Robinson, who comes to the project – his big executive break – after years spent toiling at The Smoking Dog, The Vancouver Club, the Wedgewood, Le Crocodile, Claridges in London, and West (during the tenure of David Hawksworth). The menu reads well enough – a mix of pizzas, modified pub classics, and off-grid unusual suspects (eg. foie carpaccio, pork neck hoagie) – but it’s the execution that counts. Robinson says he’s ready to go, and I believe him. I just hope he has a good, reliable crew of cooks to back him up, because this place is going to be busy from day 1.

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OPENING SOON | Lebanese Eatery “Jamjar” Set To Open On Commercial Dr. Next Month

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by Andrew Morrison | A new casual Lebanese eatery called Jamjar is opening for lunch and dinner soon on Commercial Drive off East 7th Avenue.

Its the brainchild of Fadi Eid, who has been working on the project since April with designer Adrienne Kavanagh. Eid comes to Vancouver from Lebanon by way of Abu Dhabi. The hospitality management grad has been working in the trade since his teens, having gotten his start toiling in his uncle’s bakery (of late he’s been working front of house for the Fairmont).

The restaurant’s communal, casual concept will see home-style Lebanese food served in sharable “mezze” fashion (eg. falafel, labneh, mjadra, makanik), with equal focus paid to flat breads (“saj”), traditional stews, and a variety of flavoured humus and dips (eg. beet, avocado-cilantro, etc.). The latter will also be sold in branded jars that customers can re-use by bringing them back for refills at a discounted price. The restaurant’s flat bread, flavoured olive oilsm and spices will also be retailed. You can read a draft of the menu here. Lunch will change daily, but the dinner card will be more or less fixed.

To pair with the food, the short bar will be serving local beer and wine, as well as cocktails employing Mediterranean herbs and Levantine spices.

I’ve included Kavanagh’s design renderings with the image set below. The models make it look super clean and modern, but she’s found some cool pieces at Scott Landon Antiques to give the 32 seat space some character, and you never know what an open kitchen can do to the feel of a place when it pumps out the intoxicating aromas of exotic spices and freshly baked breads.

Opening day at Jamjar (2280 Commercial Drive) is set for the end of September.

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SEEN IN VANCOUVER #513 | A Look Inside The (Almost Finished) “Red Truck Brewery”

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by Chuck Hallett & Andrew Morrison | There’s a reason breweries are located in industrial districts. Brewing beer is, at its heart, a result of light industry. It’s a chemical manufacturing process what converts a standard set of input ingredients (barley, hops, yeast and water) into an end product. It differs from producing wood pulp only slightly, and most of that is because the end product is that magical elixir we call beer.

Smaller breweries often play down the technical aspects of beer production simply because they can. Polished concrete countertops and wood-panelled tasting rooms are sexier than the industrial patchwork of tanks, pipes and coolant they conceal.

Once you bust past a certain size, though, the process of actually making beer takes centre stage, as well it should. This is the case with Mount Pleasant’s newest craft brewery: Red Truck. The company has expanded out of their 3,600 hectolitre micro-brewery on the North Shore and into a 40,000sf, 25,000hl facility directly on the spot where the old Brewery Creek emptied into the now-filled False Creek Flats. The added capacity is already allowing them to crank out a steady stream of packaged lager, IPA and pale ale, along with (soon) the odd limited bomber release of something more interesting.

This is a cavernous warehouse of a brewery, with a forest of gleaming 2 storey tall fermenters dotting the snazzily tiled floor. Piping interconnects and steel cat walks criss cross left and right, and a control station on a 2nd floor outcrop monitors the whole operation like it’s some sort of fermentation DJ booth.

Capping off the whole operation is a fully restored vintage red delivery truck, which is suspended from cables above the heads of the workers below. Waxing and washing it is a task that will presumably fall to the interns.

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Still to come on the sunny south-side of the building is a retail kiosk and growler station, plus the highly anticipated 70 seat old school Red Truck Stop diner, which will serve burgers, hot dogs, wings, liquor and plenty of booze in addition to beer. Bonus: a sun-drenched 40 sat patio — a feature not allowed under the more popular Brewery Lounge license.

The numbers above might seem huge but in reality they really aren’t. The 60hl brewhouse is the next logical step for a growing craft brewery, and a 25,000hl/year production target doesn’t even crack the top five list for BC. For comparison, Deschutes Brewing in Oregon’s annual production is just about 750,000hl, proving it is possible to make delicious beer in large quantities.

As mentioned up top and made evident in the images below, the brewery is already making beer. They’ve had their state of the art bottling and packaging line whirring, plus the machine that goes bing has gone bing. There’s not that much left on site to do save for cladding the building’s exterior, finishing/furnishing some of the offices and conference rooms (installing AV, etc), and giving the whole thing a good once over with a broom and a hose.

It’s more complicated than that, of course, but you get the point. They’re close. Hours aren’t yet set in stone, but 10am to 10pm might be right. We’re crossing our fingers for it to be part of our lives by Christmas or New Years.

* Correction: the draft published yesterday stated that Red Truck was owned by the Mark James Group. This was incorrect and we apologise for the error.

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LEXICON | Defining Stephos, Burb Panzer, Puttin’ On The Jacket, Tuff City, And More

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The Vancouver Lexicon – our A-Z dictionary of local slang, myths, legends, and such – might appear to be complete, but we mean to keep adding to it every week. Today we aim to highlight six more localisms that everyone in British Columbia should know about. They are Stephos, Burb Panzer, Home Ownership, Puttin’ On The Jacket, Kids On The Block, and Tuff City.

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DINER | First Look Inside The New Location Of “Chambar” (Now Open On Beatty Street)

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by Andrew Morrison | The new Chambar opened this morning, right next door from the original. Scout broke the news of the award-winning Belgian-Moroccan restaurant’s expansion plans after the location was secured a year ago. We’ve been tracking its construction ever since.

Today was opening day, and the first time the previously evenings-only restaurant had ever served breakfast and lunch. Many of the dishes on offer this morning had transitioned into the new Chambar line-up from a menu made famous at the original location of Cafe Medina (eg. the short rib fricassee, Belgian waffles, etc.) before it moved to its new location on Richards Street last week. The old Medina, you’ll recall, used to be next door to the old Chambar.

Confused? It’s actually not as complicated as it seems.

The short story is that the owners of Chambar (Karri & Nico Schuermans) launched Cafe Medina with a business partner (Robbie Kane) seven years ago. When Chambar announced its plans last year to expand next door with a brunch/lunch service featuring chef Nico’s original dishes designed for Cafe Medina, a future with the two eateries existing side by side and competing against one another with the same dishes was plainly undesirable. The solution was a cordial split between the partners and several city blocks of distance between their respective new restaurants.

The new Chambar, as you can see from the shots above and below, has clearly maintained the soothing, casual aesthetic of the original, and yet is has grown considerably in size, both in seating and production capacities (the new kitchen is massive). It has also gained a patio, which will no doubt be considered one of the better ones in the city before summer’s end.

The quality of the food and drink, in my mind at least, is something of a given. I have no doubts about the kitchen or bar staff. The big question for most people will be this: “Does it feel like the original?” And it’s a fair question to ask, because in addition to the great drinks and delicious food, Chambar tabled a tangible soul — which is a rare thing in the restaurant business. The spirit of the eatery was one of the original location’s best qualities, not to mention a probable cause of the storied Chambar Effect. To date, I’ve only broken bread once at the new address, but I think the answer to that question is a big yes. Chambar remains Chambar, all day and well into the night.

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SEEN IN VANCOUVER #511 | Matching Fred Herzog’s Iconic Photographs To The Present

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by Andrew Morrison | As a summer project, my eldest son James and I have been walking around the city with a copy of Fred Herzog Photographs (Douglas & McIntyre, 2011) and trying to shoot the exact locations where the master framed up his most iconic shots. It’s a book that we both love because a lot of the pictures were taken really close to our house in Strathcona and all around the Downtown Eastside. Because of our familiarity with the territory, most of the locations have been easy to pick out. Others are proving far more difficult because much of what was once there is no more. Truly, working on this has really brought home how dramatic the changes to this city have been over the last 50-60 years. And yet, in some places, it’s uncanny how it has remained largely the same. There’s plenty of summer left and a lot more Herzog haunts to explore, so expect the gallery below – complete with higher resolution side-by-sides and descriptive captions – to expand.

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LEXICON | Defining Yogafart, Condo King, Douche Barge, Jack, Breastaurant, & More

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The Vancouver Lexicon – our A-Z dictionary of local slang, myths, legends, and such – might appear to be complete, but we mean to keep adding to it every week. Today we aim to highlight six more localisms that everyone in British Columbia should know about. They are Condo King, Douche Barge, BreastaurantYogafart, Corner Lad, and Jack.

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OPENING SOON | New Brasserie-Cafe “Au Comptoir” To Bring A Taste Of Paris To Kits

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by Andrew Morrison | Though it won’t be open until the early Autumn, “Au Comptoir” should be on every Vancouver food-lover’s radar. The 50 seat restaurant currently under construction at 2278 West 4th Avenue in Kitsilano is being launched by Maxime Bettili and Julien Aubin, two old friends who met at hospitality school in France 17 years ago. The front of house veterans toiled at cafes and brasseries in France before moving to Vancouver nearly five years ago. Aubin has been a fixture at Les Faux Bourgeois in the Fraserhood ever since, while Bettili has worked at Bistro Pastis, Les Faux Bourgeois, Jules Bistro, and The Acorn.

What’s in a name? Au Comptoir translates as “at the counter/bar” — an honorific of the universal restaurant industry practise of always dining at the bar. Oh, and Au Comptoir will sport a gorgeous tin bar, built especially for them in France. The only other one of its kind in Canada is the absolute thing of beauty at Toronto’s Le Select.

What they have planned for the space is not like most French-themed cafe/bistros one readily comes across here across the pond. They’re going to strive for the same kind of cafe-style service that predominates in Paris, which is to say it’ll be open all day, from morning until night, with no reservations. Such establishments are liberating for customers used to New World protocols. One doesn’t feel rushed or guilty for taking up a table for an hour and a half with a good book and a beer. To French servers, refreshment has no check average, and the pace of a guest’s experience is none of their business. Whether you’re in for a bottle of wine with a steak frites or a cafe au lait with a pain au chocolate at 9am or 9pm, service is service.

Of course, only time will tell if Aubin and Bettili will be able to pull off this uniquely ambivalent shoulder-shrugginess. The chasms between Canadian and French tipping traditions and our understandings of what constitutes a “living wage” are tres deep.

The look is going to be a little different, too. Aside from the stunning bar alluded to above, expect custom-built tables made out of antique sewing machines, a pair of skylights soaking the room with natural light, and accordion-style folding front windows bringing the outside in. They’ve only just begun construction, so the images below will only give you a hint of the aesthetic to come, but I’m imagining a very social environment. It’s a good location.

As far as food is concerned, I’m not privy to the extent of the menu, but in our conversations to date I’ve heard mention of foie gras burgers, “bavette” steaks, magret de canard à l’orange, club and croque-style sandwiches, and pastries galore (the latter made in-house by Franck Buiron, formerly of Blue Water Cafe). It all sounds good. They’ll also have a simple list of cocktails, beers and 5/5 wines by the glass, plus a reserve list for those whose tastes have deeper pockets.

These guys sound like they know exactly what they want out of their first business, and that’s a thick slice of the country they left behind. This is perfectly understandable. They’re a long way from home, and that’s lucky for us, as the zeal with which they’re keen to shorten the distance will likely translate deliciously on our plate and in our glasses.

While West 4th already has it’s fair share of French-themed eateries, I don’t think “market over-saturation” arguments apply in the case of Au Comptoir. It has all the makings of an original, one that should draw in the curious from beyond Kits. As long as the execution is there – and we should have no reason to doubt it considering the owners’ pedigrees – I have my hopes up for good things.

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HOODS | The City’s Best Burger, Yaletown’s Best Patio, DTES’ Best Beers, & Much More

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You, Scout reader, have good taste. We’ve always known this, and we mean to take advantage of it. We want your help in refining our HOODS MAP so that we can keep steering locals and visitors alike to the best of our place in the world. There are five different geo-specific questions that we need answers to. We’ve done the initial curatorial leg-work of narrowing down the options to a shortlist, but we need you to finish the job.

the current polls

What’s your favourite escape on the North Shore? Is it Dundarave Beach, Lighthouse Park, Grouse Mountain, Whytecliff Park, Capilano River Regional Park, or the Maplewood Conservation Area?

 VOTE for your pick (and see results) on our North Shore page.

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Which restaurant serves up the best burger in all of Vancouver? Is it Hawksworth, Mamie Taylor’s, Cannibal Cafe, Pourhouse, Oakwood, or Campagnolo Upstairs?

VOTE for your pick (and see results) on our Commercial Drive or Gastown pages.

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Which Yaletown eatery offers the best patio experience? Is it Blue Water Cafe, Minami, Cioppino’s, Brix, GoodWolfe, or the Homer St. Cafe?

VOTE for your pick (and view results) on our Yaletown page.

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What’s your favourite place for a beer on the DTES? Is it The Astoria, The Patricia, Alibi Room, No. 5 Orange, Bitter Tasting Room, or Dunlevy Snackbar?

VOTE for your pick (and see results) on our DTES page.

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Your favourite dish in Hastings-Sunrise? Is it the Fundido Tater Tots at Tacofino, the Reuben sandwich at Red Wagon, the Spaghetti Carbonara at Campagnolo Roma, the Mujadarrah at Tamam, the Laksa at Laksa King, or the Patty Melt at The Slocan?

VOTE for your pick (and see results) on our Hastings-Sunrise page.

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SMOKE BREAK #1119 | Short Film About Bill, Who Delivers Pizza On By Fixie In Brooklyn

(via) “Bill’s fifty-two years old, has a mountain man beard, and delivers pizza on a fixie in Brooklyn. Over the course of several shifts, DELIVERY unveils an intriguing man rushing food to your door while it’s still hot and fresh.”

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OPENING SOON | First Look Inside The New (And Almost Finished) Location Of Chambar

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by Andrew Morrison | We broke the news of Chambar’s coming expansion back in October. The Belgian-Moroccan eatery – one of my personal favourites since it opened 10 years ago on Beatty Street – is only moving next door…

The new restaurant will be roughly twice the size of the current one, with about 270 seats between two levels, a 50 seat patio, and private rooms that can fit 20 – 80 people. There are lots of opportunities for new design motifs to fit in with the old, but I suspect it will look very similar to the original. Yes, in addition to the branding, relaxed vibe, deep drinks programs, and casual flirtations with fine dining, much of its furniture will also be making the move, which is great news because who doesn’t love the original tables, couches, banquettes and button-ed up red booths? ”The layout will be just like the old Chambar,” Karri explains, pointing out how the front will be the lounge and bar area that narrows at the waist to open up into a dining room. “The new place has brick and beams, too,” she adds, referring to the core aesthetic of the original. One big change is that the wall that divides the patio from the interior will be glass (said patio will also have its all-day sunshine filtered by young trees – sounds awesome). Also making the move will be the staff, though they’ll definitely be needing to hire a lot more people considering the breadth of their expansion.

30 more people, to be exact. They’ll need them, too, as the place is huge. I went on a tour with co-owner Karri Schuermans today and while it was clear that they still have a ways to go if they’re to meet their revised target opening date of the first week of August, most of what’s left to do is cosmetic. Most of the heavy lifting appeared to be done. As you can see from the shots below, it does resemble the layout of the original Chambar. The only obvious departures are the sprawling patio (which I expect will be pretty magical), the stairs that lead down to the massive kitchens and private room, the rooftop deck for further private functions (killer views from up there), the sound proofing at the entrance to the rear dining room, and the introduction of a new colour to the Chambar fold: a tealish green (evidenced on the wall section by the door and wave-like panel that spills across the ceiling above the bar).

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Owner/chef Nico Schuermans menus are also taking shape. He’ll be keeping plenty of the Cafe Medina (also moving) originals – which he developed in the first place – for breakfast service (fricassee, etc), while lunch and dinner will see classic mainstays like the lamb tagine and the moules frites joined by about 20 small plates, which are still in development. I don’t know how they could possibly improve on the drinks side of things, but they’re aiming to make life easier for the bar staff. The 22 seat bar is purpose-built for ease and efficiency (wells and rails galore), and the wines are going to be laid resplendent on racks inside a great big temperature-controlled walk-in box of glass just off the dining room. It all looks fantastic, and it’s incredibly comforting that they’re a known entity with a pretty kickass track record of doing good things. I mean, what’s not to love about this move? Chambar + patio? Yes, please! Chambar + breakfast? Absolutely! Chambar + roof? Let’s go!

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YOU SHOULD KNOW | What It’s Like Inside The Dome Of Vancouver’s Iconic Sun Tower

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by Stevie Wilson & Andrew Morrison | The Sun Tower at the corner of West Pender and Beatty Streets is one of Vancouver’s most recognizable landmarks, particularly due to its eye-catching, mint-coloured dome that’s visible from nearly everywhere in the city. However, despite the building’s iconic status (and its magnetic tourist’s photography), it’s not too often that hear from anyone who’s actually been inside the dome or, better still, atop the cupola, so we decided to take a look.

Keep in mind that it wasn’t easy. The dome is impossible to gain access to if you don’t have the building managers on your side. It took plenty of correspondence and explanation of benign intent on Scout’s part to convince the keymasters that we were there by virtue of sincere curiosity and true affection for the building’s architecture and history. In the end, our foot in the door came last month when Scout was invited to a Vancouver Heritage Foundation event. One thing (begging) led to another (pleading), and eventually a tour was arranged in good humour, for which we will remain eternally grateful. Take a look…

To gain access to the dome, one most first get to the 17th floor, up a winding staircase made of marble and through a locked door. The interior is a bit of a shock at first. There are no frescoes, sculptured metopes or decorative flourishes of any kind at all, which is a truth that came rudely, really, as one half expects the gorgeous thing to be filled to the knees with treasure. But it’s completely bare and unadorned save for spidery support beams in yellow painted steel that have been bolted above a noisy blue machine that operates the building’s elevators. It was all very industrial, which is to say a little deflating of the imagination.

And yet it clearly wasn’t without beauty. The dome is lit by a ring of oculi (the fancy name for circular windows). These look over the city from the cardinal points, and gazing out of them was a real trip. Though the buildings that surround it are mostly new (especially to the west and south), the windows – recessed and antique as they are – soften their glaring modernity like a Hipstamatic filter. But the real view is up even higher. A sketchy, steel-framed platform leads to a ladder that rises to a trap door in the ceiling. Once unbolted, this leads to the cupola, or the open-air nipple that stands erect at the dome’s apex. Here, the building’s big fib is revealed. The green-tinge on the dome’s exterior isn’t real. It’s a faux patina design that’s been painted to mimic oxidized copper. Alas, the view – so raw and exposed – more than makes up for it.

The history of the Beaux-Arts building is readily found and filled with fantastic details, but here’s a brief run-down: Noted Canadian architect William Tuff Whiteway (of Woodwards fame) was commissioned to design the structure in 1911-12 by the now-infamous Vancouver mayor L.D. Taylor. It began as the offices for Taylor’s newspaper company, The Vancouver World, before the publication folded and the building was passed to Bekin’s, the Seattle-based storage and moving company. At the time of its completion, the building was recognized as the tallest (commercial) structure in the British Empire – a distinction that previously belonged to the nearby Dominion Building. In 1937, the Vancouver Sun took over the building, renamed it, installed a massive red neon sign across the top, and continued operations until 1965 when it relocated to 2250 Granville Street.

Unlike the exterior of the tower – which still features Charles Marega’s controversial “nine maidens” perched at the 8th floor, bare breasts and all – the interior has changed much over the years. In 2011 it was redeveloped by Allied Properties as creative spaces, though several historic features are still on display on the top floors, including tile work, marble staircases, single-paned fenestration, radiators, and beautiful door handles. Inside and out, there’s no other building like it. Take a look…

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