SEEN IN VANCOUVER #491 | 10 Essential Addresses That Typify Today’s Chinatown

by Ken Tsui | Vancouver’s Chinatown is a neighbourhood with over a century of cultural history crammed within a handful of blocks. There are countless Chinese stories embedded in the architecture and within the street front businesses. Though it’s on the cusp of being a certified UNESCO historical site, change is still very much afoot in Chinatown, making right now a very interesting time to explore it. The neighbourhood – it’s very plain to see – is flourishing with new businesses. Young entrepreneurs from across the city are opening up alongside traditional herbalists, restaurants, butchers, green grocers and kitchen equipment suppliers that have operated in Chinatown for several decades, making it a diverse mix of the treasured old guard and the welcomed new.  This is a (by no means complete) guide to some of these most treasured places. Take your empty belly and a couple of hours out of your day to explore…

Chinatown Supermarket | 239 Keefer Street | 604-685-5423
Navigating the myriad of neighbourhood grocers in Chinatown can be an intimidating experience, but this place is a friendly one­-stopper. With fresh produce, meats, and classic Chinese ingredients, it has practically everything you need to put together a delicious and authentic Cantonese meal.

New Town Bakery | 158 E Pender Street | 604-681­-1828
New Town is a regular haunt for Chinatown elders and a stopover for out-­of-­towners who flock to Pender Street for their steamed bun fix. It’s the definitive Chinese bakery, offering a wide range of sweet and savoury classics such as BBQ pork buns (some of the best in town), pineapple buns, and egg tarts. New Town has columns of steamers stacked full of pillowy steamed buns ranging from Sichuan pork and “Chicken Deluxe” to a vegetarian alternative.

Dollar Meat Store | 266 E Pender Street | 604-681­-1052
Don’t let the name fool you! The award-winning Dollar Meats is an old guard butcher shop that serves up some of Chinatown’s most delicious Chinese BBQ and cured meats. BBQ ducks and a crispy whole hog usually hang in the window while sausages and Chinese bacon cure to deliciousness in the shop. In operation for over 30 years, Dollar Meats takes pride in their artisan products and remains a Vancouver institution for traditional Chinese barbecue

Matchstick Coffee Roasters | 213 East Georgia St. | 604-336-­0213
Expanding from their original Fraserhood location to Georgia Street this year, Matchstick Coffee boasts the best coffee in Chinatown (it’s also one of the few places in the neighbourhood where you can get a cup of coffee before 8am). Along with the standard baked goods (excellent croissants), Matchstick Coffee offers a toast bar and dinner options like Mac and Cheese, plus a selection of local beer on tap.

Phnom Penh Restaurant | 244 East Georgia St. | 604-682­-5777
Butter beef, deep fried lemon pepper chicken wings, and hot and sour soup are the regular barn burners that keep people coming back to this Vietnamese/Cambodian treasure. When former New York chef-turned-celebrity food writer Anthony Bourdain was asked where he liked to eat in Vancouver, he simply replied “Phnom Penh.” He’s not alone, as evidenced by the fact that its large dining room is eternally bustling, even at unlikely hours.

Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie | 163 Keefer St. | 604-688­-0876
The award-­winning Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie strikes a fine balance in preserving culture through food. Chef Joel Watanabe’s menus are inspired by traditional Chinese flavours and ingredients but are prepared with modern culinary techniques. Bao Bei is a reflection of the modern Chinese experience, a delicious meeting place between the new and old.

Tinland Cookware | 260 East Pender St. | 604-608-­0787
Chinatown would not be complete without an unpretentious kitchen supply store. You won’t find brand name cookware here but they’re equipped with just about every single size of pot, pan, clear plastic storage container, ceramic bowl, and cooking utensil. Tinland has practically every tool you’ll ever need to outfit your kitchen at an affordable price.

Bestie | 105 East Pender | 604-620-­1175
Clinton McDougall and Dane Brown’s sausage and beer parlour specializing in currywurst is one of Chinatown’s most exciting new developments. It’s a perfect example of the new style of up and coming businesses that are taking a chance on the area. It just so happens that they’re also some of the friendliest, most charming folks on the block. Bestie may not be a typical Chinatown destination, but it gives Vancouverites of every stripe good reason to visit Pender Street.

Continental Herbal | 278 East Pender St. | 604-677-­3334
Continental Herbal is filled floor-­to-­ceiling with every herbal remedy and traditional Chinese dried good imaginable, including dried starfish. Even if you’re not entirely sure how to use any of it (including said dried starfish), Continental Herbal has you covered. They keep an in-­house herbalist in the back of the store who is always ready to fill a prescription. Beyond herbal remedies, Continental also has an impressive tea collection and a staff that gladly walks anyone who is interested through it.

Bamboo Village Trading Company | 135 E Pender Street | 604-662-­3300
Bamboo Village, located on Pender Street, is chock-a-block with cheap and cheerful antiques and homewares. The shop is a vibrant encapsulation of all things decorative, walking a very fine line between practicality and Chinatown kitsch. From an impressive array of paper lanterns and ornately painted ceramic bowls to Mao propaganda posters, exploring the visually striking, wall­-to-­wall collection at Bamboo Village is an adventure in discovering the things you never thought you were looking for.

SEEN IN VANCOUVER #490 | Behind The Closing Scenes @ Vancouver Fashion Week

March 27, 2014 

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by Luis Valdizon | On Tuesday, March 24th, Vancouver Fashion Week‘s Fall / Winter 2014 season came to a close. I had the pleasure of attending its two final evenings at the Chinese Cultural Centre where everything from VFW’s opening gala to shows took place. Both nights offered an atmosphere that was lively, friendly, and largely free by the elitism that can sometimes sour these type of affairs.

Generously, my invitation to document VFW went beyond the runway. It was a privilege to capture all the models, designers, make-up and hair artists right in the thick of their elements, right when everything is just coming together. It’s the side of fashion that excites me the most, and I feel fortunate to be able to share it with you.

One note of criticism: it’s too bad that more local menswear labels such as Reigning Champ and wings + horns weren’t on VFW’s radar. It would have been nice to see the two internationally coveted brands by West 5th’s own CYC Design Corporation on the runway. There’s definitely an appetite for more menswear at VFW, and it’s unfortunate that it’s not capitalized upon. Presentations by the aforementioned labels, together with the stunning Arc’teryx Veilance 2014 F/W collection and the latest season from the budding Raised by Wolves, would have all been welcome additions!

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SEEN IN VANCOUVER #489 | Inside “Post Projects”, The Design Firm At Ontario & 3rd

March 17, 2014 

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by Grady Mitchell | Alex Nelson and Beau House are Post Projects, a graphic design house with a sun-filled studio at Ontario and 3rd. They’ve crafted the look and feel of some of Vancouver’s most beloved companies, including Brassneck Brewery, Revolver Coffee, Bambudda, and the Western Front artist centre.

The two met in Emily Carr’s design program and graduated in 2008. After a few years of working for other design firms and taking on freelance projects, they hit a crossroads: either leave Vancouver to search for work, or start their own company. Rather than contribute to the city’s brain drain, which has seen many talented designers relocate to hubs like New York, London, and Berlin, they chose to stick around, launching Post Projects in 2010.

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Since then their sleek and contemporary aesthetic has attracted both local and international clients. Care, time and detail are the central tenets of their design philosophy. Post handles any visual aspect that a company needs: visual identity and branding, web and app design, print and publication, signage, interactive media, illustration, photography, packaging, and more. While they’re very much of Vancouver, they’re also mindful of the global design discourse, and incorporate those influences into their work. Take a look inside…

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SEEN IN VANCOUVER #488 | Fishing Net Art Installation Rises At The Convention Centre

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We spied Boston-based artist Janet Echelman’s new work, Skies Painted with Unnumbered Sparks, going up high yesterday in the air between the Vancouver Convention Centre and the Fairmont Hotel. The 745ft wide partially crowd-funded and interactive piece was inspired by fishing nets. “Using physical gestures, visitors will be able to choreograph the lighting in real time via their mobile devices.” It officially launches this Saturday and will be on display until March 23rd before travelling to other cities.

“The sculpture is an extension of the idea Echelman presented in her [TED] talk, “Taking imagination seriously.” In the talk, Echelman shares how she fell in love with a new material — fishing net — and began creating voluptuous forms that contrast with the hard edges generally found in cities. She revealed the challenge of making these sculptures both durable and permanent, but also able to react to the wind. She shared her dream of taking these sculptures to the next level by finding materials light enough to attach to existing buildings in a neighborhood rather than requiring a new supporting steel structure.”

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SEEN IN VANCOUVER #487 | A Look Inside Fiona Morrison’s ‘Wolf Circus’ In Chinatown

March 12, 2014 

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by Grady Mitchell | Local designer Fiona Morrison specializes in jewellery that’s elegantly edgy. After receiving compliments on a favourite – a ring shaped like a wolf’s head – and realizing the confidence a detail like that could invite, designer Fiona Morrison began creating her own pieces and named the Chinatown-based company after the ring that started it all.

Fiona says her ideal customer is “bold, beautiful, brainy and badass. They’re not the perfect little princess who’s going to wear a locket and heart. They’re edgy, and they want something that speaks to that.” True to those words, Wolf Circus pieces make innovative combos of metals and minerals and ride the line between grace and aggression. She recently launched Creatures of Desire, a higher-end collection, and has begun work on a men’s line, too. You can learn more and shop for pieces at Wolf Circus’ website.

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SEEN IN VANCOUVER #486 | With Designer Tom Dixon At Gastown’s “Inform Interiors”

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by Luis Valdizon | Tom Dixon inconspicuously entered the design world as an art school drop-out in the 1980′s while trying to repair his post-accident motorcycle with no technical training. His works have since been collected by some of the world’s most top museums, including the London’s V&A, New York’s MoMa and Paris’ Pompidou. Just two months ago he was the recipient of the prestigious Maison et Objet Designer of the Year award. I was fortunate enough to chat with Mr. Dixon on the last stop of his North American lecture tour. The evening, hosted by Gastown’s Inform Interiors on March 3rd, was lively and tightly packed by a handsome crowd of design enthusiasts. What follows is the transcript of my conversation with Dixon and a gallery of photos from the evening.

Can you share some details surrounding the night in Milan when you slept on a public park bench, which resulted in the inspiration for your first season with Adidas?

It was my first visit to the furniture fair. I thought that I would be able to find cheap accommodation quickly and that just wasn’t the case. I had no idea of the scale of the fair. Sleeping on the park bench is not something that I can recommend. It’s never comfortable and the temperatures drop substantially in Milan. It wasn’t a great experience. I’m just hoping not to do it again without my own sleeping bag.

I think it’s funny that these sort of things still happen in Milan. Only two years ago there was the Icelandic volcano eruption and everything stopped. There were about a couple hundred-thousand people stuck in Milan and very quickly they didn’t have hotel rooms or residences. For the benefit of my own interests, it could easily happen again, so it’s better to be prepared.

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Your release with Adidas has an unmistakable editorial presence in its packaging and presentation. What inspired this?

There’s no point in me trying to be a fashion designer. It’s not what these collaborations are about. What it is for me is sort of entering a new universe without any preconception. There’s a lot of fashion that’s very poorly explained compared to product design. It’s not very normal to give a lot of information on the packaging. I wanted to bring my experience in other trades to the fashion business rather than become a fashion designer. The graphic sensibility and the information on the pack is really about trying to communicate a bit more in a way that they don’t in the fashion business. I get very frustrated, for instance, when I go to a museum or an art gallery and I see this amazing stuff and I want to know more and they don’t tell you. I try my best to reinvent those trades in a way that best suits me. The collection addresses my inability to pack efficiently; so, it’s a personal problem. I think I design with myself as the customer in mind rather than try to be like a proper designer that should be solving problems for other people. I’m a-typical like that.

You shared an idea of being “a proper modernist” for the first time through your collaboration with Adidas. What did you mean by that?

Modernist? Did I say that? I think the advantage with massive companies that are experts in what they do is that they have access to many more resources, and everybody wants to work with them. It’s an opportunity to work with futuristic textiles and new manufacturing techniques. They are cutting edges in their respective trades in ways you’d never get the chance to if you were doing it in a conventional manner.

Can you speak on the role of mathematics in your design?

I went to a very bad school in the 70s where there was a lot of experiments in education going on. There wasn’t a great deal of discipline. There was very bad teaching, and I found the whole thing very frustrating. However, there was one short-lived period that I had a really great math teacher and it opened up this tiny little window in this other magical world which I’ve never been able to access since. There’s something about the beauty in everything matching up and everything being logical that I’m still inclined to seek. There’s something quite nice about geometry because it is perfect. It appeals to everybody. It doesn’t matter whether you’re Muslim and like Islamic art, or whether you’re a scientist interested in DNA, or if you’re a child building Lego; geometry is always there. It’s underpins everything that’s constantly around us. There’s something rather fascinating to a designer about that, and if you do use geometry in your work it you often find that it appeals to other people as well.

You blur the line between the artist and the entrepreneur with little very backlash in comparison to, say, Damien Hirst. Why do you think that is?

Because he’s much richer than I am (laughs). I’m sure the backlash will come when I get really, really rich. For me, what was kind of nice about commerce – and I think that too few designers are interested in the kind of trading aspect of it – is that it’s what has allowed me to become a designer. The fact that I could think of an idea and the people would spend their hard earned cash on buying it off me seems like such a perfect way to make a living, right? It’s like alchemy, where you can turn something into gold. It’s not like I’m a super successful business man. I really like the idea that I’ve created a platform to have an idea and if that idea is good enough people will just buy it. It’s a great way to live.

What is your first memory of an encounter with an object that influenced your design aesthetic today?

I went to an exhibition at the V&A museum in London and I saw a video of an Alvar Aalto stool being made. It was plywood…pressed plywood with the glue oozing out. And it was that that sort of sparked something. I’ve always been more interested in the manufacturing rather than the actual objects. I don’t think it was the design objects that appealed to me. What appealed to me was the manufacturing process, so when I found welding and I learned how to weld then suddenly this whole world where one could create structures very quickly and very easily became apparent to me.

Did you grow up in a design-minded home?

My parents were design aware but they weren’t designers. One was a teacher and one was a BBC newscaster so they weren’t really involved with anything to do with design. Now that I think about it – and even your last question – it was a pottery teacher at my old school. The school was not exactly academic. It was a big school, but it had the luck of having a proper ceramics department and also life drawing class, which is quite rare in secondary schools. The combination of enjoying drawing and actually getting my hands stuck into the wet clay and turning pots and such was really the moment the form-giving and the practical element of design really got me interested.

You’ve talked about having a “child-like enthusiasm” in your design philosophy. How has your relationship with your children or experience as a parent influenced you?

Funny enough, my kids are even more conservative than me. I spend a lot of time trying to get them to try to be more child-like and they constantly try to get me to be more conventional. They’d really like to have a trad [traditional] Dad. That’s what they want they want, a trad Dad, not a crazy Dad. I guess it’s kind of role reversal in a way.

Despite two accidents, one of which ended your music career, I hear that you still ride bikes?

Yes, it’s pretty much a daily occupation. We’ve had a rough winter so I put them away. I’m a bit more fair-weathered now. By the time I get back, the spring will have started and I’ll get moving again. Fact is that in London traffic is so bad and the city is so big that honestly it’s the only way of getting on in your day.

With your latest venture into scents and now again with music, your design seems to want to cover all the human senses…

The beauty of music is that it allows you to communicate with people without using language. Previously when I was doing it in the beginning; that was my job. You had to go around with eight sweaty boys in a transit band and tour the country, but now I can do it for fun. Music really is superior fun.

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SEEN IN VANCOUVER #485 | Inside “Luke’s General Store” Pop-Up (Opening Tomorrow)

February 19, 2014 

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by Andrew Morrison with photos by Luis Valdizon | The iconic Luke’s Drug Mart in Calgary is set to open its pop-up Lukes General Store within the always curious confines of Chinatown’s charming Space Lab (126 E Pender St) tomorrow. The pop-up comes complete with a Stumptown Coffee and products from Malin + Goetz, Baxter of California, Juniper Ridge, Mast Brothers, and more. It’s essentially a miniature version of what Luke’s does in Calgary, minus all the drugs.

And honestly, they couldn’t have chosen a better spot for it than Space Lab. Filled with character vintage items that are often as odd as they are rare and beautiful, it’s one of our favourite shops in town. Add the smell of coffee and the taste of chocolate to it and it starts to border on the irresistible.

For the grand opening, which opens to the public at 8pm and runs until 11pm tomorrow, Johnny De Courcy and The Death Rangers will be playing a live set and Trevor Risk (Ice Cream Social/Come Friday) will be on hand to spin vinyl indie pop until he’s told to stop. Attendees can also expect beer from 33 Acres to balance out the free flow of quality coffee pulled by expert baristas. Good times and weird finds!

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SEEN IN VANCOUVER #485 | What Coal Harbour Used To Look Like 119 Years Ago

February 13, 2014 

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Dig this restoration job of a photo taken of Coal Harbour in 1895 by r/vancouver user stumo, who writes:

“In the foreground, several residential streets can be seen. Note that the streets are dirt with ditches at the side, and the sidewalks are wooden. In the middle of the photo, several houses are under construction. The railway tracks that ran along Vancouver’s waterfront are just barely visible on the right (east).

Across the water on the left (west) is Deadman’s Island, still heavily timbered at this point. There is a single building on the left (west) side of the island. This may well be the smallpox hospital that opened in 1895.

Behind that is what is now Stanley Park. The rightmost (eastern) portion had been logged in 1886, and there’s a small golf course just on the other side of Deadman’s Island (not visible). The buildings along the shorefront on the right are various shanties and cabins, possibly the remnants of the lumber camp located on that spot earlier. These were removed over the next few years.

And beyond that is the sparsely-populated North Shore. I believe that smoke plume is from a sawmill, and that there are log booms visible as well.”

In a follow-up email, he explains how he did it:

“I restored and coloured the image using the open source program GIMP on Windows. All told, it probably took 20 to 30 hours or so, but that’s been spread over a year or two. The colour choices for the buildings were based partly on the darkness of the building in the B&W (IE dark is usually red or brown), but I also looked at a few restored Vancouver heritage buildings to get an idea how they were painted. But as I said, the colour choices are completely imaginative, as are the restored portions (like the bottom left corner of the plate, which had broken off). I’m not completely certain where this is. I’m sure that I’m on the right east-west coordinates, and I think that the intersection is what is now Hastings and Thurlow, but I’m not certain at all. The text accompanying the image at the Vancouver Archives said that it had been taken at Burrard and Dunsmuir, and that fits with my Google Earth recreation to see if the North Shore mountains lined up, but I’m still not 100% sure of it.”

Either way, it’s a superb job. Click the picture above to enlarge it, and click here for the B&W original.

UPDATE: stumo just sent over this update, and the sightline image below: “The photo was almost certainly taken from the first Hotel Vancouver on Granville Street, and the intersection visible is Burrard and Eveleigh. The closest modern intersection is Dunsmuir and Burrard, as Eveleigh no longer connects to Burrard due to the Bentall Centre.”

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SEEN IN VANCOUVER #484 | Toronto Mayor Rob Ford Gets Offer Of Help From Strip Club

February 1, 2014 

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Embattled Toronto Mayor Rob Ford was ticketed by the RCMP last night for jaywalking in Burquitlam. According to reports, he’s ”shocked” and “embarrassed” by the $109 ticket, which he instinctively (but incorrectly) called “a waste of taxpayer’s money”. Lucky for him our own No. 5 Orange strip club is offering jaywalking ticket validation this week (as evidenced by the sign pictured above), though he probably gets enough jaywalking ticket validation to eat at home…

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SEEN IN VANCOUVER #483 | Tiny Elephant Trunk Penis Gets Up For A Polar Bear Swim

January 2, 2014 

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Is there a better way to start the year than jumping into the icy cold waters of English Bay with hundreds of inappropriately dressed strangers? Probably, but it’s likely not as uproariously fun. This year, we saw the likes of Batman, Thor, a pair of gorgeous newlyweds, Wonder Woman, fundoshi-wearing Hapamen, scores of “It’s so cold and I’m still so hammered, bro” brrr-os, and even a naked dude with just a tiny elephant trunk covering his confused penis (but not his balls) goes for a refreshing, celebratory dip. Because hello 2014.

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SEEN IN VANCOUVER #482 | Protest Carols Sung By Canned Cleaners At Pacific Centre

December 27, 2013 

It seems that just before before Christmas, Cadillac Fairview, the owner of Pacific Centre Mall, saw fit to let go 150 cleaning workers who lost their jobs just before Christmas. They were earning around $12 an hour with paid medical benefits. Meanwhile, the new contractors pay as little as $10.50 an hour, with few benefits (a living wage in Vancouver is $19.92 an hour, according to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives). So on December 21st, Unifor and Santa Claus brought the out-o-work cleaners to the mall’s food court for a flash mob performance of Christmas carols to bring attention to what they’ve had to go through at Christmas.

“We’re providing a bit of entertainment for the shoppers the last weekend before Christmas — but in a way that lets them know that for these workers, Christmas this year will be very difficult,” said Gavin McGarrigle, British Columbia Area Director for Unifor. “Cadillac Fairview says it has nothing to do with setting wage rates, even though up to 90 per cent of the value of any cleaning contract is labour,” McGarrigle said. “It’s the company’s decision to change contractors that is driving down wages and cost these cleaners their jobs.”

If you’d like to send messages of suppert to the cleaners, email fairnessforcleaners [at] unifor.org.

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SEEN IN VANCOUVER #481 | Meat & Bread Queue For Turducken Wraps Around Block

December 23, 2013 

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Last week we gave notice that Gastown’s Meat & Bread would be serving turducken sandwiches today and tomorrow. Just to be clear, that’s chicken stuffed in duck and then stuffed in turkey. It’s a culinary rarity, a carnivorous gourmand’s delight that’s seldom seen beyond the cloistered realm of the home kitchen and, very occasionally, artisan butcher shops. We could measure the incredible response that the post received in dry web statistics, but the real proof is in the line-up today, as evidenced in the Instagram shot above. We’re bummed that we missed out. See you in line tomorrow?

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SEEN IN VANCOUVER #480 | A Look Inside Gastown’s Pidgin Eatery By Make Directory

December 20, 2013 

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Our friends at MKDIR have just released a new video that romances Gastown’s Pidgin restaurant. It was clearly shot in summer (that light doesn’t lie), so expect to feel a slight tingling of longing when you press play.

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