Gastown, so named after one of its unofficial founders, “Gassy Jack” Deighton, occupies the western stretch of the Downtown Eastside. According to our read of the landscape, its the area between Columbia (east), Cambie/Homer (West), Hastings (North), and Water (South), save for the 300 block Carrall and the blocks of Hastings east of Abbott, which we classify as being part of the Downtown Eastside’s core. It has come a long way since its day as the Township of Granville and the great conflagration of 1886 (which burned most of it to the ground), ebbing and flowing over the decades as a hard-edged entertainment nexus where much of the rest of Vancouver feared to tread.
Over the last ten years, however, Gastown’s slice of the city’s zeitgeist was fattened by a large number of interesting, independent, and cocktail-forward eateries launched by a new generation of young restaurateurs. It also saw a new wave of higher end retail shops and fashionable boutiques open during this same time frame, not to mention the arrival of new lofts, condominiums, and the new Woodwards building. All of these new developments have transformed/gentrified the neighbourhood, some argue for the better and others for the worse. Doubtless it’s become something of an “it” destination, similar to Yaletown in the early 2000′s, which is to say it’s quite possibly cursed with a future full of stretched SUV limousines, shitty chain restaurants, and people who want to fight for no good reason at all.
History and angst aside, it’s no longer easy to get a table as a walk-in on a Friday night, so if you’re headed this way (and you really should), be sure to make at least the roughest of game plans.
Standard post-1886 fire brick red/brown; stained copper green barrel base of the Gassy Jack statue; soft, spherical yellow streetlights at night; Blood Alley beer piss; broken fake cobblestone grey; ubiquitous Corbel Commercial Real Estate “For Lease” sign blue; Juice Truck pink; Guinness brown; green summer leaves of Maple Tree Square; the new “W” sign atop the Woodwards development; Meat & Bread house mustard yellow; cigarette filter brown.
GOOD GRAFFITI AND WHEAT PASTE/STENCIL ART
FOOTBALL MIKE KEEPING THINGS IN ORDER
THE OLD FIREPLACES OF “THE NEW FRISCO HOTEL”
A RESTAURATEUR HAPPY HE NEVER JOINED THE FRENCH FOREIGN LEGION
ALEX “RHEK” USOW CREATING INTERESTING THINGS
AN ANCIENT, UNUSED BAR HIDDEN IN A HOTEL BASEMENT
OLD SCHOOL POWELL PERALTA SKATE SHIRTS
DESIGN MASTERPIECES AT INFORM INTERIORS
THE STENCH OF STALE URINE AT THE EASTERN ENTRANCE OF BLOOD ALLEY
A PARADISE FOR SHOE FETISHISTS
SOME VERY PRETTY AXES
THE FULL BRUNCH SPREAD AT WILDEBEEST
MAPLE BACON CHOCOLATE BAR AT MEAT & BREAD
BRUSSELS SPROUTS & PORK BELLY AT POURHOUSE
SUMMERTIME PATIO PINTS AT CHILL WINSTON
A MINT JULEP AT THE DIAMOND
THE FONDANT POTATOES AND AN AVIATION COCKTAIL AT L’ABATTOIR
A CUP OF COFFEE AT REVOLVER
PIZZA AT NICLI
BEEF & PORK ALBONDIGAS AT THE SARDINE CAN
FRESHLY MADE CHOCOLATE AT EAST VAN ROASTERS
GARLIC BUTTER & PARMESAN POPCORN AT SIX ACRES
WILD SOCKEYE NIGIRI AT SEA MONSTR SUSHI
AN H-MADE COCKTAIL AT NOTTURNO
A PINT OF THE DARK AT THE IRISH HEATHER
- The triangular Hotel Europe on Powell Street was Vancouver’s first reinforced concrete structure and the first fireproof hotel in Western Canada.
- In 1971, police arrested 79 people in Maple Tree Square after a protest against drug laws and raids escalated into a bloody brawl between protestors and armed police. This is known as the Gastown Riot.
- Blood Alley’s nomenclature is not so spooky: the alley is actually named Trounce Alley, and the connected “Blood Alley Square” was named by a city planner in the 1970s as part of a project to revitalize and draw attention to the area.
- In 1869, Vancouver’s first jail was built in the Township of Granville (informally known as Gastown). It consisted of two cells constructed of logs, and later was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1886.
- The Boulder Hotel at 1 West Cordova (the original Boneta location, RIP) was once the central point of the Granville Township in the 1890′s, and features stones mined from Queen Elizabeth Park.
- The massive 1972 street “renovation” of Gastown was noted as being the first time in North America that perfectly good roads were torn up to be rebuilt in the old style.
- The “historic” steam clock, an iconic Gastown landmark, was actually built in 1977 and features three electric motors.
- Chef/Restaurateur John Bishop got his start cooking in Gastown in the 1970′s.
- The NABOB Coffee Company was founded in Gastown in 1896, in what is now The Landing (home to the Steamworks Brewing Company).
by Andrew Morrison | As Michelle mentioned in yesterday’s Scout List, a new restaurant is opening very soon in the heart of Gastown. We first broke the news about Gringo last month when it was announced that Sean Heather had sold his Judas Goat eatery in Blood Alley to a former employee, Shoel Davidson, and industry lifer Christina Cottell. I recently met up with them for a tour of their tiny, 28 seat Mexi-Cali joint. The paint was still wet on the chairs so it was hard to navigate, but from any vantage point it was pretty unrecognizable from what it used to be. The upside is that what was formerly the kitchen pass is now a bar top. The downside is the loss of one of my favourite pieces of local restaurant art, the Judas Goat mural by Robert Chaplin, the story and pictures of which I’ve included below for posterity…
Anyway, more tacos and Micheladas are coming to Gastown, so that’s a net gain. I’ve seen Karl Gregg’s menu – done in garish hot pink (like the neon “Gringo” sign that will replace Chaplin’s work) – and it’s a tidy soliloquy on the absence of gas burners and deep fryers. The corn tortillas will see either chimichurri-tossed shrimp, blackened cajun chicken with Ranch, your mama’s “taco” seasoned ground chuck, chili and vinegar braised pork, and a veggie option – so not exactly the authentic al pastors and longanizas that some taco fetishists might have been hoping for. But that’s the point of a Mexi-Cali restaurant. It’s not supposed to be what you find street-side in Querétaro or Guanajuato, but rather the stuff that sells in the strip mall across the street from the Walmart in suburban Sacramento. Accordingly, one can expect single servings of “Stadium Nachos”, mexi-dogs, mexi-rice, bar rail Long Island Iced Teas, and so on. If you want to eyeball the complete menu, have at it here.
It’s pretty cheap, unthreatening stuff, so I don’t expect they’ll go wanting for customers at lunch or dinner, which might prove a bit tricky considering how hamstrung the kitchen might get at capacity with some turnover (open until 2am on Friday and Saturday). Like Judas Goat before it, the concept seems like a buy-in to the notion that most visitors to Gastown check out more than one place during the course of an evening, and it’s clear that Gringo isn’t aiming to be the number 1 draw. Rather, I suspect they’ll see lots of people popping in and out prior/post hockey games, before and after suppers elsewhere, or simply for a quickie bite and a margarita after a shift (I trust they’ll see a brisk late night industry trade). They seem to bask in their limitations, even listing their tequila options as “crap” and “ok”. Such a lack of pretension is refreshing (even in a taco shack), which is to say that it won’t be hard to exceed people’s low expectations. It sounds fun to me.
The soft opening is this Friday night [UPDATE: opening delayed until Tuesday]. Bonus: six seat patio in Blood Alley.
by Andrew Morrison | Sean Heather and Scott Hawthorn have sold their Judas Goat eatery in Gastown’s Blood Alley to a former Irish Heather & Shebeen employee named Shoel Davidson and his business partner, industry veteran Christina Cottell. The restaurant will close and open anew as a Mexi-Cali joint called “Gringo”, which will serve a menu designed by Karl Gregg of Two Chefs & Big Lou’s Butcher Shop fame. Gringo will be licensed, and service will be for both lunch and dinner, eat-in and take-out. The following press release will be sent out later today…
It’s the end of an era for Judas Goat, a Spanishinspired tapas bar located in Gastown’s gritty Blood Alley. The intimate room is one of Heather Hospitality Group’s several establishments, most of which are located in Vancouver’s most historic neighbourhood.
As they close the doors on Judas Goat, Heather Hospitality Group partners Sean Heather and Scott Hawthorn are passing the torch to former HHG employee, Shoel Davidson, who will open a new Mexi-Cali-inspired restaurant, Gringo. Heather is delighted to be handing over his Judas Goat space to Davidson—a restaurant-industry professional, formerly working under Heather at Shebeen Whiskey House—and is proud of him for opening his own establishment. Retaining ownership of the unit, Heather and Hawthorn may use the space again in the future. Joining Davidson in his new venture is business partner Christina Cottell, a hospitality-industry veteran who served as understudy to the owner of Ricky’s and Fatburger for 10 years and has overseen the marketing of over 30 new and existing operations across Western Canada.
Gringo will be serving an all new menu of Mexi-Cali dishes created by Karl Gregg and the Two Chefs team. It’s no secret that Two Chefs are big fans of Mexican Cuisine, whether authentic regional dishes, or comforting LA Street Food classics. So, it’s exciting news that Two Chefs will be providing the delicious fare served up at Gastown’s newest joint opening soon in Blood Alley. Gringo is set to be a small, high-volume restaurant offering affordable Mexi-Cali-style food and drinks in a vibrant and energetic space. Serving lunch and dinner, eat-in and take-out, Gringo will quickly establish itself as a neighbourhood destination for casual lunches, pre- and postgame bites and late-night snacks.
Blood Alley | Place | One of the most perpetuated myths in this city (and there are many) is that Blood Alley got its name from a nefarious history of murder, hangings and grisly turn-of-the-century violence. The Gastown alley, which is actually called Trounce Alley, was invented out of thin air in the 1970′s as a civic beautification project. Oh, and according to historian John Atkin, there weren’t any slaughterhouses nearby, either. Sorry L’Abattoir!
Usage | “Man, Blood Alley stinks like piss…”
Reader “B.M.” | Blood Alley, Gastown | Vancouver, BC | 10:45am| SHARE YOUR VIEW
We love posting the photographs that reveal the views from our reader’s windows. Whether it’s a back alley in the fall or a sandy beach in high summer, we’re always stoked to see what you see from home, work or while on the road. Some of our all-time favourite reader submissions below…
News from Scout supporter Salt Tasting Room
Vancouver, BC | Gastown’s Salt Cellar at Salt Tasting Room is excited to host B.C.’s own Howe Sound Brewing as part of the ongoing Salt Cellar Series on Monday, April 19th at 7:00pm.
Howe Sound Brewing provides premium quality, all natural, micro-brewed beers to BC’s Sea To Sky Corridor, from Vancouver to Whistler BC. All of their ales and lagers are handcrafted with no preservatives and they’ve garnered many awards and medals for their efforts.
Salt look forward to hosting the folks from the brewery to taste through an array of their lagers, ales, bitters, imperials, and stouts. The beers will be served in two flights, paired with delicious charcuterie from J, N & Z Deli, Oyama Sausage Company and Moccia’s Italian Meat Market. Artisan Cheeses from the UK, Spain, Italy, France & BC will be on offer along with artisan breads and more.
Judas Goat has finally opened in Gastown, and it looks great for a shoebox hideaway that doesn’t take itself too seriously. For an explanation of the art within from co-owner Sean Heather and shot shots of the pre-opening interior shots of the 21 seat, Spanish-inspired tapas micr0-restaurant and wine bar, click here. For shots from their first full day in action, check below for several… Read more
News from Scout supporter Salt Tasting Room
Vancouver, BC | The team at Gastown’s award-winning Salt Tasting Room, renowned for artisan cheeses, handcrafted charcuterie and constant Golds for their wine program, will be open and accessible throughout the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, both in the main Tasting Room and underground in the 50 seat Salt Cellar.
To accommodate thousands of locals and tourists, Salt has assembled it’s own Olympic team, beefing up their staff with an All-Star selection of Salt alumni and some of Vancouver’s favourite wine professionals.
Alumni-wise, Jake Skakun (former Manager) and Miguel Quezada (former Server) are flying in from San Francisco and New York respectively, plus making Salt cameos during the Games will be AltoVin’s Mark McNeil (former Chambar Sommelier), The Province’s wine writer James Nevison (author of the bestselling Had A Glass series) and many more surprise appearances. Read more
News from Scout supporter Salt Tasting Room
Vancouver, BC | Salt Tasting Room will be open for your wine, cheese and charcuterie pleasure throughout most of the holidays. We’ll be open both day and night on Christmas Eve! Take a break from dashing around during the day or to celebrate your last minute shopping finally being done at night! Read more
News from Scout supporter Salt Tasting Room
Join us for a fun, casual evening with the boys from Moccia’s and beers from Driftwood in the Salt Cellar on November 16th at 7:00 pm. Learn about the classic art of charcuterie, sample a variety of styles, and enjoy some phenomenal local craft beer. Read more
I took this video today of construction continuing apace at Judas Goat, the tiny tapas joint going in right beside Salt Tasting Room in Gastown’s soon-to-be-much spiffier Blood Alley. Look for it in January. Read more
Blood Alley | place | A Gastown alleyway that stretches from Abbott to Carrall, running parallel with Water and Cordova. Home to old apartments, back doors, rats and little restaurants Salt Tasting Room and Judas Goat. Used as a toilet by bridge and tunnel douchebags emerging drunk from The Blarney Stone.
Usage: “It smells like cheap beer piss in Blood Alley”
From the little known Department of Just When You Thought 2009 Was Going To Totally Suck comes phenomenal news from a Gastown alleyway.
Restaurateur Sean Heather is planning to open a new concept in the small space currently under development right next door to Salt Tasting Room in Blood Alley. It will be a 21 seat Spanish tapas joint, with food items selling for $2 to $3 and liquids focusing on sherry, wine, and beer. There is no name just yet.
Sean will be doing a guest travel blog for Scout when he travels to do research in Spain next month, so stay tuned for more updates as things progress. Arriving late summer ’09. If you have any suggestions for names, let loose in the comments below.
Here are some shots from last week’s unveiling of Iberico ham for local chefs in the Salt Cellar. Vegetarians and small children may want to skip it…
Andrew Morrison is a west coast boy who studied history and classics at the Universities of Cape Town and Toronto after an adolescence spent riding skateboards and working in restaurants. He is the editor of Scout Magazine, the weekly food and restaurant columnist for the Westender newspaper, a contributor to Vancouver and Western Living magazines, and a proud board member of the Chef’s Table Society of BC. He lives and works by the beach in Vancouver.