by Andrew Morrison | We first broke the news about the coming of Mamie Taylor’s back in November of last year. We didn’t know much about the Chinatown restaurant back then, except that it was a project by Gastown fixtures Simon Kaulback and Ron Oliver, and that it was to be located in the old Keefer Bakery space at 251 East Georgia. We didn’t even know the name at the time, or who the chef was. Still, knowing the principals was good enough for us. The pair, who manage Boneta and The Diamond restaurants respectively, are widely considered tops among their peers, and the address – just a couple of blocks from the Scout office – is on one of our favourite stretches in the city (between Gore and Main, right across from Phnom Penh). This 100 seater also marks their first trip into the wilderness of independence, so they’ll be pouring a lot of heart and soul into it.
The only other thing that we had some inkling of back then was the food concept…
…it sounds to me like they’re planning to do something akin to adventurous American comfort food, the kind of gastropubbish, rough and ready (but nevertheless refined) sort of thing one eats at Calgary’s Model Milk, Portland’s Woodsman Tavern, New York’s Spotted Pig, Charleston’s Husk, and San Francisco’s Park Tavern…
They have since hired a chef, and I’m glad to say that it’s the young and talented Tobias Grignon (below, between Kaulback on the left and Oliver on the right).
Grignon comes to the job via Kitsilano’s super steady Bistro Pastis, where he toiled as executive chef for two years. Previously, he was the sous chef at The Vancouver Club and chef at the now defunct Senova. I’ve seen the first draft of his menu, and it reads similarly to how I imagined it would, which is to say rather attractively, with the refined, old school American streak unmistakable. Think fried chicken with creamed nettles, buttermilk biscuit, and cumin raisin jam; grits with duck egg, prosciutto, white cheddar, and tomato relish; pork chops with squash corn bread, bacon-wrapped apples, tiger blue cheese, and cider reduction — among other flashes of Lower 48 familiarity (yea, verily, I even spied a burger).
It’s tempting to call such items “modern twists on American classics”, but that’s a lazy turn of phrase (usurped by the Guy Fieri set) and I’ll be damned if I’m going to use it. To me, given the name – Mamie Taylor’s – and what I’d already been told of the concept, Grignon’s dishes read like the sorts I would imagine Teddy Roosevelt would regularly dig in to. Why? Because Roosevelt was emblematic – in my opinion – of the United States before anything was “classic” about it. He was rotund but boundlessly energetic, always cajoling, ever hopeful, quick to smile, and projecting quiet power with dirt under his fingernails and sweat on his pocket square. And yet, even though he led the Rough Riders up San Juan Hill and was one of the most prodigious big game hunters to ever haunt the continent of Africa, he was still a bit of an asthmatic fancy boy who studied biology at Harvard. He had great taste, and he loved food. I mean, just look at him.
Roosevelt’s presidency – especially his first term – exemplified the pre-war, pre-Prohibition era; a crazy time when new inventions – telephones, radios, automobiles, airplanes – came fast and furious. It also welcomed the first hot dog, New York’s first pizzeria, the first hamburger, and a great many other American culinary cornerstones. The USA was a rambunctious teenager on his watch, keen to try just about anything but knowing full well what it liked.
Contemporary with these developments was the “Mamie Taylor”, a new cocktail invented in 1899 by a Rochester, NY bartender named Bill Sterritt. The combination of scotch whisky, lime juice and ginger ale was named after a young and popular actress/singer who starred in a traveling troupe (her real name was Mayme Taylor – the misspelling being immediate and universal). It was while visiting Ontario Beach, according to a 1902 article in The Post Standard, that… Read more
by Andrew Morrison | Two well liked and highly respected front of house veterans are teaming up to open a place of their own. Former Bartender of the Year Simon Kaulback of Boneta and Ron Oliver of The Diamond have picked up the recently closed Keefer Bakery location in the heart of Chinatown – 251 East Georgia opposite Phnom Penh – and they will soon take possession.
Though they aren’t 100% sure what the dinner-only 100 seater will be called yet (they’re down to just two names), they have the food concept figured out. From our conversations and my read of their first conceptual menu draft (penned by a chef friend of theirs), it sounds to me like they’re planning to do something akin to adventurous American comfort food, the kind of gastropubbish, rough and ready (but nevertheless refined) sort of thing one eats at Calgary’s Model Milk, Portland’s Woodsman Tavern, New York’s Spotted Pig, Charleston’s Husk, and San Francisco’s Park Tavern. They have yet to hire a chef to translate their vision, so if you’ve ever worn a white toque and you dig all of the above, give them a shout because they’re in need.
As far as the design and feel of the place are concerned, I think we’re going to see something like a cross between Chambar and The Narrow: a busy, somewhat dark, possibly leathery, woody, and taxidermish comfort zone with a guttural soundtrack and an expertly run 14 seat bar. I like to imagine that it’s being built with Norman Rockwell in mind, but only if he ditched the whole art thing to become a lumberjack who was particularly fond of bourbon and armed with an old lever-action Winchester. You know what I mean?
Clearly, it’s a tricky concept to pin down, and that elusiveness has everything to do with the fact that we haven’t really seen anything like it yet in Vancouver. And that’s never a bad thing. Expect opening night sometime in the Spring/Summer of 2013.
by Andrew Morrison | I’m no sad sack but the truth of it is that this summer has sucked for me personally. It began with my hockey team losing (and my city subsequently being attacked by hordes of degenerate assholes), my leg getting broken in an office accident and then, most recently, my father – who I loved very much – went ahead and died without me knowing that he was the least bit ill. There have been some silver linings, but on the whole it has been what the Queen once succinctly called an “annus horribilis” (which I can assure you has nothing to do with Freddie Mercury or butt sex).
Beyond friends and family, I’ve only been able to count on a few things in the last couple of weeks (even the Westfalia’s brakes failed while going down a mountain the other day). One of them has been Gastown’s Boneta, which – since the day it opened in 2007 – I’ve counted as my “local”. As I assume most of our readers are well aware, it closed this past weekend and will re-open in its new location around the corner in the Water Street Garage in a little over a week or so (crossed fingers).
If we lived in an age bereft of cell phones, Boneta would likely be my wife’s first phone call were I to ever go AWOL (granted, were she to ever disappear, I’d call their first as well). Though I often take meetings in one of its corners, I’ve done my best to maintain it as a work-free environment. It’s where I go out first when I don’t have to review restaurants and the point from which I jump off when I do. To my shame I almost never order anything to eat (save for their outstanding poutine). It’s not that I don’t like the food, it’s just that I’ve always preferred to bend elbows there instead. Beer has always just sort of tasted better at its wood than anywhere else.
After receiving the news about my Dad and coming home from the Okanagan to get sauced with my brother last week, Boneta was the one place I could trust to sequester us somewhere quiet and then leave us alone (though recharging our glasses when needed). We flirted with the limits of Serving It Right by way of whiskey and lager, and it may have gotten messy. The last time I cried in a restaurant I was a busboy some 20 years ago, busily slicing open my finger instead of a loaf of bread. I would have been horrified to find myself blubbering at any other table, but at one of Boneta’s it seemed OK.
Luongo, my office equipment and my Dad might let me down, but the original Boneta never did. I’ve loved it dearly through its nearly messy divorce, its chef change and the recent, tragic passing of one of its staff members whose company and character I and many, many others thoroughly enjoyed. It was a place of tremendous comfort, playing host to some of my highest highs and lowest lows, seeing me laugh Sapporo out of my nose on one night and then blow involuntary snot bubbles of profound sadness the next.
Why the gravitational, near emotional attachment? I don’t know, really. Perhaps it’s because a part of me thinks it stands for something. When it opened at 1 West Cordova in 2007, it was the fourth restaurant at that address in as many years. It was a different landscape back then. Gastown was nowhere near as popular as it is today. If it weren’t for Boneta, I doubt very much that Emad Yacoub would be angling to expand his Glowbal empire nearby or that his nephew, Yaletown impresario Peter Girges (he of the terrifying “100 Days” in the Opus Hotel), would have just secured the lease next door in the old Pig & Whistle space. Boneta, to me at least, was always the little restaurant that could, not only begetting such gems as The Diamond, Sea Monstr Sushi, and the restoration of Save On Meats, but also showing other first time restaurateurs that pretty much anything is possible if you kept your shit tight and your customers happy.
What could take its place? I’ve wondered that for quite a while. With the likes of Yacoub and Girges now testing the waters in these parts, it would be natural to fear that their assured successes would herald next the arrival of something truly hideous, a den of honest to goodness douchery selling sparkling as Champagne and American chuck as Kobe beef to corporate roid freaks high on expense accounts and speed-spiked Red Bull. I hope to hell not, but no matter. As a chef once told me when comparing the $8 million price tag of David Aisenstat’s Shore Club to the less than $100,000 spent to launch Boneta, “For eight million, I would have preferred 80 Bonetas.” True that. I suppose, among other things, I enjoyed the original because it had a surplus of soul and character, two things that take no notice of how deep anyone’s pockets are and can’t be sold or bought. Both – phew – can be transferred, as amply evidenced by the successful move of The Irish Heather across Carrall St. a few years ago.
I was back up in the Okanagan staying in Naramata with my friends Michael and Heidi this past weekend when the restaurant held its last service. I knew full well that I was going to miss it. Michael was going down for it so I give him a lift to Penticton’s little airport. After parking the car, he surprised me with a plane ticket. “It’s yours if you want to join me,” he said. I couldn’t do it and said so in what must have been the most pathetic mumble I’ve ever conjured, and being a good friend he totally understood (pretty much the most generous guy ever). It took me all of five minutes for me to regret turning down his kind offer. I later heard that it was a fantastic time.
But enough sturm und drang, I have some good news and then some gooder news.
Yesterday, Mark Brand informed me that he had just signed a two year extension of the lease at 1 West Cordova, meaning that instead of being turned into an Earl’s vodka bar offering breast implants for appetisers, it will become a private function space for all of Brand’s restaurants, including the new Boneta. That’s the good news. The gooder news is that I was just given a tour of the new space and it looks pretty fucking awesome. Before we get to the photos, here’s a refresher course on the move from back when Scout broke the news some thirteen months ago:
…next year, Boneta will close and reopen in a new location just a lob wedge away in a new Gastown development known as The Garage. You know that mysterious courtyard spot (prone to a dozen rumours since it was completed last year) behind L’Abattoir and the original Shebeen, the one that’s all glassed in and brand spanking new? That’s it: 2,222 sqft of prime virgin space with entrances through Gaoler’s Mews, Water St., and Blood Alley.
I checked it out as a temporary “pop-up” gallery in the Spring and hoped against hope that it would be turned into a restaurant once it was finished. It’s one of those unique, totally killer spots that is set back from the street, away from the drifting weekend yahoos and Old Spaghetti Factory tourists. If anyone could make it work, it’s these guys (kudos to Robert Fung of The Salient Group for getting that).
What does it give Boneta that it didn’t have before? An 800 sqft solarium equipped with five sliding doors; floor to ceiling glass and a roof that’s over 30% glass; a U-shaped bar with 12 seats; a year round heated and covered courtyard patio for 12 (think Brix); and brand new everything from electric to A/C.
They’re downsizing the seating capacity a little, from 100+ to 65-75, but I’ll be the last to complain about that as I think intimate is better for the concept than spread out. The artwork – something Boneta is known for – will be making the move, too, as will much of the original room’s motifs (they’re hoping to recycle/reclaim plenty).
From what I understand and saw with my own eyes, not much has changed as far as the vision or layout is concerned. Take a look at both the old and new below, and join me in the short but interminably long wait for the first drinks poured…
Simon Kaulback is a veteran barman in Vancouver’s cocktail scene and the manager of Gastown’s popular Boneta restaurant (due to move to new digs later this Spring). He was recently named 2011 Bartender of the Year by a jury of his peers. Say hello…
The thing that you eat that is bad for you that you will never stop eating: Kraft Dinner and ketchup.
Default drink/cocktail of choice? G n’ T.
Drink/cocktail you’ll never have again? Anything that needs an explanation from “the mixologist“ on how to drink it.
Fashion turn-off? Clothes that don’t fit.
Fashion turn-on? Women that can pull off the “I don’t give a F—K style”.
What is your favourite local patio? My roof top garden.
The dumbest thing that you’ve ever done to your hair? Started to lose it.
What are the three things you’d like to change about Vancouver? Happy Hour, Happy Hour and Happy Hour.
Is there a local bartender who could sell you anything? Yes. Read more
The GOODS from Boneta
Vancouver, BC | The playoffs are upon us and after lengthy debates about Canuck pride we have cracked to pressure. During the rest of our Stanley Cup run we’ll be showing the games in our lounge in glorious HD, but there’s a catch. We really dislike TV’s in restaurants, especially ours, so the night after we parade the cup through the city, the TV will be yours. One of yours that is, that’s right we can’t wait to take this 50 inch plasma, 1080 p, ultra thin down from atop our bar and give it away. Read more
One of my favourite joints in town, Boneta, turns 3 years old tomorrow, and you know they’re going to throw down with a party to celebrate. Three DJ sets will be spun, including one by co-owner Mark Brand and his Sharks+Hammers/Sea Monstr Sushi partner Alex Usow. They’re extending the invite to those Scout readers who are regulars. I wager it’ll be a rager. See you there.
Huzzah for video! The above was compiled from over 1000 photographs and over 40 minutes of raw footage from my little camera (some of it too raw). If you missed last week’s main Kentuckablog (live-ish reporting from the Kentucky Bourbon Trail with several Vancouver bartenders), click here for the daily damage assessments. Read more
Owners: Mark Brand, Neil Ingram
General Manager: Simon Kaulback
Bar Manager: Ben de Champlain
Boneta loves you.
Our seasonal menu, updated weekly, offers modern European comfort food paired with a beautifully chosen wine list and classic custom cocktails. The lounge and speak easy bar encourages impromptu socializing while the main dining room provides secret hideaways and insider views to the open kitchen. Service is relaxed and attentive with an atmosphere that is energetic and warm. Here you will find unapologetic feasting in a gorgeous Gastown setting. Welcome to Vancouver.
2012 Bartender of the Year – Ben de Champlain
Top 10 New Restaurants in Canada 2008
Vancouver Magazine 2008 Restaurant Awards
Best New Informal – Gold
Design of the Year – Gold
Best Service – Bronze
Best Bar/ Lounge – Bronze
Sommelier of the Year – Neil Ingram
Top 10 New Restaurants in Canada 2008
Georgia Straight 2008 Golden Plate Awards
Critic’s Choice Best New Casual – Gold
Reader’s Choice Best New Downtown – Bronze
The Courier Stars of Vancouver 2008 Reader’s Choice Awards
Best New Restaurant – Silver
Food & Wine Magazine
Go List 2008 – One of 332 outstanding restaurants in the world