Is there room for another interesting restaurant in Gastown? Absolutely. A lot of people fear a future of fewer original restaurants in the neighbourhood (increased Donnellization, chains moving in, etc), so I think it’s only natural to imagine interesting newcomers as sandbags against the slow trickle of ubiquity.
And I think “interesting” is a bit of an understatement when it comes to Gastown’s next new eatery. It starts with the name: The Blacktail Florist. It’s a masculine/feminine compound; “blacktail” being a reference to the indigenous west coast sub-species of mule deer, and “florist” because the restaurant will be loaded with floral installations “arranged” for our enjoyment. I like it because it almost refuses to make sense, like a big “fuck you” to every ill-imagined “kitchen restobar + public house” that has been cruelly unleashed upon our streets in recent years. Of course it’s not as good as the working name that Wildebeest had before it became Wildebeest (“J&J’s House of Bad Decisions”), but its seeming arbitrariness is still pretty awesome. Plus I dig the simple, stark branding by Glasfurd & Walker:
The Blacktail Florist is located in the same spot as the old HousexGuest at 322 Water Street (previously So.cial at Le Magasin, McLean’s). I expressed my doubts about HousexGuest before it even opened back in October 2011, and wasn’t surprised to hear about its closure.
I have no doubts about The Blacktail Florist. It’s chef/co-owner is Jimmy Stewart, a first-timer journeyman-lifer who dropped out of cooking school to spend nine years working his way up the ranks at Beachside, CinCin, Lumiere, Maze and The Ledbury in London, DB Bistro, and Bearfoot Bistro. His last (and first executive chef) job, ironically, was at HousexGuest. Though I heard excellent things about his food, it was already too late for the restaurant.
But it’s not Stewart’s pedigree that convinced me that I’m going to like The Blacktail Florist. Nor is it my fondness for the actor of the same name. It’s that he’s so quietly smart and so nerdishly dedicated to his craft. I don’t think the 26 year old is going to get much sleep between now and this weekend, when he will serve his Scandinavia-inflected West Coast micro-seasonal fare to friends and family for the first time (the restaurant opens to the public next Wednesday, April 2nd). He’s wound up and ready to go, and his menu, which you can enlarge by clicking below, reads something wicked…
But it’s the room, too. I love the room. The dining areas seat 80 people, including 16 chairs at a gorgeous communal one piece facing the 12 seat bar. There are big booths throughout, and warm, neutral wood – lots of the stuff. And the windows! The original geometric/deco 3-D windows used to be painted black in the HousexGuest days, but now they’re focal points, with each vitrine within showcasing colourful flower arrangements. The overall design is by Craig Stanghetta (interview), who has a proven ability to modernize old spaces without insulting their antiquity (eg. Revolver). To wit, the original mosaic floor – filled with concrete in its broken spots – snakes like an ancient waterway through the bright dining room, and the original pressed tin ceiling panels are still there, shining bright in white above some very attractive light installations by local firm Good Animal (see also Pidgin, Homer Street).
The bar program is very small and run by Connor Gotowiec, fresh from the Union Bar in Strathcona/Chinatown. There will only be four original cocktails (kitchen driven with local ingredients), but the bar is fully stocked so tipplers can order their Aviations and Old Fashioneds as they please. Wine is the province of GM/Sommelier Adam Mayhew, who has come down from Bearfoot Bistro to join his old co-worker Stewart. And if you see Chen-Wei Lee of Bao Bei, Wildebeest, and Winner Winner fame working the floor, that’s because he’s come on as the operations manager.
The team looks especially solid, which is another reason why I think The Blacktail Florist is going to kill it next week and for long beyond. Take a closer look below…