by Andrew Morrison | To celebrate its 75th anniversary this year, the Hotel Vancouver will be transforming its main floor lobby and lounge to the tune of $12 million. Construction begins this month and won’t be completed until the Autumn. With both the 900 West bar and Griffin’s eatery shuttered during this time, hotel guests will need to bend elbows somewhere, so they’re turning the long forgotten but once mighty 15th floor restaurant and bar known as The Roof into a pop-up.
You’ll be forgiven if you’ve never heard of the place. The 5,200 square foot space opened in 1939 and. It enjoyed a very long run as one of Vancouver’s most magnetic establishments. It was the “it” spot, the Chambar or Wildebeest of its day.
The CBC used it as a “happening” studio during service, and the one and only Dal Richards, aka “The King of Swing”, was the resident band leader from 1940 through to the mid-60′s. It was where the city’s swish set went to see and be seen as they got their Saturday night drunks on.
Its popularity fizzled out after its last renovation in the 1970′s (yes, those are straws coming out of the pineapple in the photo above), and it’s been pretty a ghost restaurant since the 1990′s, opened only for the occasional private function. That a gem commanding such incredible views of the city exists high in our skies but not in our modern cultural landscape always seemed a crime to me ever since I first toured it four years ago, almost to the day. Here are my notes from way back when…
“ The pillars are crassly mirrored, the ceiling is hung with strange yellow and dark grey blocks, and the carpet can best be described as “crab blood blue”. There’s an odd, sunken bar on one side that could probably fit thirty bums, but it sports a bar top that only comes up to the guests’ knees. The kitchen is massive, and though in dire need of some TLC, it’s where the old bones of the hotel shine the brightest (many of the fittings looked to predate the Second World War). But it was the view that impressed the most. The north and south vistas were breathtaking…
We stood there for a while [my friend Owen Lightly and I], wondering what it must have once been like. It had been a quiet tour, done mostly by flashlight as our guide couldn’t find the switches, but we could nevertheless imagine the space filled with the dapper in the halcyon days of my grandmother, well before rock ‘n roll. If those walls could talk I would have pulled up a banquet chair (the horror!) and opened a bottle. I would have paid to listen…
And so it sits there, almost totally dormant, maybe whispering quietly to itself little reminders of where our food and restaurant scene once was between evenings filled with insurance salesmen trying to get laid at their annual staff party and playing host to the Bobs and Graces of this town celebrating their 75th wedding anniversaries.
I know we’re staring an economic apocalypse in the nostrils at the moment, but that won’t stop me from hoping the times will one day warrant its renovation and reincarnation. With so many new hotels popping up downtown (Voya, Moda, etc) and long-established ones revamping their food and beverage programs (Yew, Hawksworth, etc), you’d think the Hotel Vancouver would be keen on doing something better than Griffin’s, its tired old tourist trap on the main floor. Even when dark, empty and severely hamstrung by its ugly 70′s prom dress, “The Roof” offers far more personality, history, and romance.
Just imagine what a few million dollars could do in there…”
Indeed. It’s undergoing a complete overhaul as we speak. When it opens – within a week or two (don’t let the pictures fool you, they’re nearly done) – it will be with a completely new kitchen serving 100 dining room seats – complete with wing-backed chairs and cozy banquettes – and another 50 at the exquisitely odd sunken bar (it’s low to the ground so as to maximize guest sight lines). There’s also a grand piano; guests can anticipate live entertainment on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. Chef Cameron Ballendine is at the helm, and he’ll be plating predominately old school classics like prime rib with Yorkshire puddings, porterhouse steaks, creamed spinach, French onion soup, and much more. “We have menus for The Roof that go back to 1939, so we have lots of ideas,” Ballendine says.
The selfishly sad news is that once the main floor is done with its construction this Fall, this gem will revert to its special occasion status. I imagine that it will be reborn as one of the best and most sought after private party space in the city, but it’s just not the same if you can’t just take the elevator up for a Manhattan and a tune or three. One day…
Reader V.R. | Hotel Vancouver as seen from an office across the street | 3:30pm | SHARE YOUR VIEW
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My friend Owen Lightly (who, incidentally, is leaving Voya to join former West compatriot Brad Miller at the soon to open Au Petit Chauvignol) and I were walking through the lobby of the Hotel Vancouver the other night after a few beers when I stopped and asked him if he’d ever been to the dormant restaurant at the top of the hotel. He’d heard about it, but never seen it before, so we stopped the nearest managerial type, pretended to be incredibly important people, and were promptly given the nickel tour of the place.