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!
The GOODS from Postmark Brewing
Vancouver, BC | Postmark Brewing’s newest beer – a traditional Belgium Wit conditioned with mango puree – is the perfect summer send off (4.8 ABV). The sweetness of the mango harmonizes the wheat bitterness to create a well balanced session fruit beer for the last warm days of summer. The limited release brew will only be available at the brewery’s Growler Window and in Belgard Kitchen. Learn more about us and our home at The Settlement after the jump… Read more
Addipak | Brand/Paraphernalia | Those little blue plastic vials that you see strewn about the DTES aren’t midget glow-sticks, reusable tampons, or any of the other items of myth and lore you may have gotten false wind of. Before they were discarded, the little plastic bullets contained saline solution. They are given to heroin users – some of whom are evidently serial litterers – so that they don’t inject Chinatown Gutter Puddle water into their arms. Known by the brand name, Addipak. The more you know…
Usage: “There’s a Strathcona crafter girl at work who uses all the Addipaks she finds to make raspberry quinoa freezies at home…”
ABOUT THE IRISH HEATHER
Located in the heart of historic Gastown, this GastroPub has garnered many accolades for its service, food, alcohol and ambiance. The Irish Heather is also home to the Shebeen Whisk(e)y house and the Salty Tongue Cafe, which serves as the dining room for the Irish Heather in the evening and home to the famous Long Table Series.
In a world filled with “Plastic Paddy” establishments, the Heather stands out as a beacon of authenticity. An Irish House that is owned by Irish people who actually work there.
210 Carrall Street, Vancouver BC
Telephone: 604-688-9779 | Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tuesday to Thursday 5pm-12am | Friday & Saturday 5pm-2am | Available for private events
Web: www.shebeen.ca | @TheIrishHeather
About Shebeen Whisk(e)y House
Home to one of BC’s largest selection of Single Malt, Bourbon, Rye, Scotch and Irish whisk(e)y, the Shebeen Whisk(e)y House houses just under 200 different labels and is a must see for whisk(e)y lovers. Located in a heritage building, across a private courtyard, situated behind the Irish Heather in the heart of historic Gastown. Shebeen has its own front door, bar, bartender and space for 60 guests.
This one-of-a-kind space is the perfect venue to sneak away to with friends for a quiet dram, reserve space for a party or book the whole space for a private event. Whether you are new to whiskey or count it as a dear old friend, the knowledgeable Shebeen staff are happy to guide you through the list.
2 West Cordova St. | Vancouver, BC
Telephone: 604-558-2473 | Email: email@example.com
Open Tuesday to Friday from 11:30am | Saturday from 10:30am
Web: www.rainierprovisions.com | @The_Rainier
About Rainier Provisions
Part carefully curated deli, part specialty coffee shop and airy eating establishment; the 102-seat Rainier Provisions gives the nostalgic concept of ‘provisions’ an edgy makeover for its historic Gastown location. Locally-made charcuterie, sausages, Italian extra-virgin olive oil and British cheeses can be bought at the deli or enjoyed as part of the classic dishes and carvery that are served up for lunch and dinner. At the bar guests can select from over 18 types of bourbon, six on-tap beers or cult coffee from Matchstick Coffee Roasters.
Pay a visit to Nelson The Seagull in Gastown today. They’ve just scored their patio license, as evidenced by the shot above, which we’ve reposted from their Instagram feed. (“Better late than never,” reads the caption. Indeed!) Below you’ll find a couple dozen shots from the days when they were just starting out back in May, 2011.
by Andrew Morrison | Following up on the success of their Chinatown pop-up, Lukes General Store is set to open a permanent location at 49 West Hastings on the Downtown Eastside. If the address doesn’t ring a bell, that’s because it’s the brand new glass, concrete, and steel mid-rise between the Acme Cafe and Save On Meats. It hasn’t fronted a tenant until now.
“Vancouver has been really great to us”, says owner Gareth Lukes, whose family has operated Calgary fixture Lukes Drug Mart since 1951.” We love being here. There is so much great energy in this city right now and great communities with a lot of interest in the products and experiences we offer.”
The move to the larger, fixed address will allow Lukes to broaden their retail offerings and table a cafe experience featuring donuts from nearby Cartem’s Donuterie and coffee from the Bay Area’s highly regarded Four Barrel. If you’re unfamiliar with the brand, it’s the outstanding stuff they brew at San Francisco’s Tartine Bakery. This will be the first time their beans will see retail action in Canada.
For the shop’s shelves, Dry Goods Manager Veronika Rezucha (formerly of Lark on Main) will be bringing in bars from Mast Brothers Chocolate and products from Malin + Goetz Apothecary, Baxter of California Shaving, Juniper Ridge, Pendleton Woolen Mills, and McClure’s Pickles (to name just a few). Music aficionado Shaun Cowan, formerly of Scratch Records, is on board to manage the store’s vinyl selection.
And speaking of music, it sounds like we’ll be hearing plenty of it at Lukes. From an imminent press release:
“We have a reputation in Calgary as a key part of the music and culture scene. Not only is it a cool spot to hang out and buy music, but we’ve thrown great events and free concerts there with artists such as Shad, Rural Alberta Advantage, and Ladyhawk,” says Aaron Schubert, who, in addition to setting up Lukes’ Vancouver location, has deep roots in the local music scene as manager of the the Pack AD as well as booking venues such as the Biltmore Cabaret and the Rickshaw Theatre. “We’re definitely looking forward to doing some similar music and art events at the new Hasting Street location. We’re really excited to become a permanent fixture of Vancouver’s exciting and diverse cultural scene.”
Construction is already underway. If all goes according to plan, the doors will open in September.
by Stevie Wilson | In 1931 the Shell Oil Company opened this auto garage at 231 East Pender St. – it’s 20th location in the province – as the Lion’s Gate Service Station. The tucked-away business was originally run by Thomas Chang, whose name will be recognized by Chinatown history buffs as the son of Chang Toy – more commonly known as Sam Kee. Chang passed away in 1953, and the business was transferred to H.H. Leong who renamed it Henry’s Service Station. In 1959, Max Goldberg Supply Ltd, a nearby business located at 424 Main St., bought the building and continued to operate it as Henry’s until it closed in the 1970s. The company continued to use it as a storage facility until 1989. The Goldberg family had significant ties to the Strathcona and Chinatown neighbourboods; in addition to their 50-year commercial tenure, Max’s son, Harry Goldberg, sat on the Chinatown Planning Committee for many years.
Today, the building is in extreme disrepair and is already slated for demolition to make way for a new condominium project, but under the filth and graffiti remains a long-forgotten piece of Downtown Eastside history. Look closely and you’ll notice the structure’s unique Chinese-inspired architectural elements, including a curved hip roof, carved brackets in the bay corners, and similarly rounded rafter details along the exterior. In 1933, an additional fifth bay was opened on the eastern side of the station; the slightly wider design and more intact construction is still discernible. The parking lot’s uneven plane indicates where a gas pump island once sat, which also explains why the structure is set so far back in the lot. Much of this area is quickly disappearing in the wake of the G-Word, so keep an eye out for this and other forgotten sites while you still can.
The GOODS from Pidgin
Vancouver, BC | Proving two is better than one, Gastown’s Pidgin announces Before and After Dark happy hour specials. Guests are invited to sip and savour during two nightly opportunities: from 5:00pm to 6:30pm, then resuming for evening tipples from 10:30pm until late.
On the list before and after dark are classic cocktails crafted in expert style by Pidgin’s top bartending team; watch for Old Fashioneds, Negronis, Daiquiris, Margaritas, Manhattans, and Moscow Mules, all priced at a refreshing $6.50 each. Glasses of red and white wine are $6, and Tiger tall can beers are $5. Pidgin’s daily food specials will be offered alongside beverages, for a perfect pairing that’s twice as nice. Read more
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.
THE PEOPLE WHO MAKE IT HAPPEN
Dan Olson – Executive Chef / Partner
Tyler Day – Chef / Partner
Marli Anderson – Director, Operations and Events
ABOUT RAILTOWN CAFE
The up and coming district of Railtown, home to entrepreneurs, designer businesses and chic professionals, has adopted a hot little lunch spot called Railtown Café. In the heart of this commercial neighbourhood, just east of Gastown, Chefs Dan Olson and Tyler Day are dishing up the best of their combined international experiences, sharing their passion for everything food and drink.
The 35 hour smoked beef brisket and pork shoulder, served in sandwiches and on salads, have become neighbourhood favourites, along with the build-your-own salad bar, and the newest addition – handmade ice cream served in cones or take home containers. Treat yourself to a well-crafted selection of house-baked breads, artisan pastries, local beers, and cold pressed juices, or pop in on BBQ Fridays for a heaping plate of varied meats off the 12-foot smoker grill.
The design of the café is rustic and modern with antique chairs, locally built tabletops and customized wallpaper filled with chicken scratched chef notes. Look closely and you may find a few secrets to help with your next culinary adventure.
Having a special event? Whether a corporate lunch, an intimate gathering or a massive gala, Railtown’s catering division promises a refined, first class event with customized menus and an elite service staff. Experienced event planners can assist you with every detail.
Railtown Café and Catering is built around an extraordinary team of industry professionals and fosters a sense of community for its customers and staff. Come visit us between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday to Friday. There’s no shortage of warm smiles and quality ingredients, so get to the café early before the noon hour rush.
PRESS & ACCOLADES
Vanfoodster – “Hidden in the heart of Railtown which is off the beaten track just East of Gastown. This is a go to spot for an amazing lunch.”
JelgerandTania.com – Feature interview
CTV News Vancouver – Oscar Party Dishes Feature
Vancouverscape.com – Railtown Cafe Chefs head up Canada’s Bocuse D’Or Team
BCLiving.ca – “Railtown is what happens when a bunch of world class chefs… play around in a test kitchen with sous-vide prep methods. The result is a sophisticated yet simple cafe menu.”
Raitown Cafe at Bocuse D’or: Dan Olson – Coach 2013, Apprentice 1999
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.
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.
Which restaurant serves up the best burger in all of Vancouver? Is it Hawksworth, Mamie Taylor’s, Cannibal Cafe, Pourhouse, Oakwood, or Campagnolo Upstairs?
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.
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.
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.
by Andrew Morrison | Dormant 441 Gore Street in Chinatown is about to get its first tenant in many years. The space, which used to house a Chinese grocery way back in the day, will become “Snack City” at the end of the month, a 1,000 sqft victualling station offering everything from smokes, candy, organic produce, coffee, and Cartem’s Donuts to locally made jewelry, ceramics, art books, and vintage porn zines. It’s coming to the neighbourhood courtesy of Celia Hamilton, who has a background in film industry catering, and Aisha Davidson, lately of Community Thrift & Vintage. Though the interior still has a ways to go before it’s ready, it’s clearly a neat little box of potential. Take a look at some photos after the jump… Read more