For the past several decades the southeast corner of Main Street and King Edward has been home to Helen’s Grill, the familiar diner best known for its all-day, greasy spoon breakfasts and table-side jukeboxes.
But it’s much more than that. Today, Helen’s Grill stands out in the community for having remained largely unchanged since its humble beginnings in 1961. It’s sphinx-like indifference to the world of change beyond its doorstep only adds to its appeal.
The jukeboxes aren’t the only vintage item that Helen’s has to offer, either. The bones of the building itself are relatively ancient. 4102 Main Street has been home to a number of other coffee-slingin’ businesses over the years. The current brick structure appears to feature elements of the Mission Revival style, including rounded clay tile roofing, which suggests it was built sometime between 1910 and 1930. However, the corner originally featured a smaller shop (likely built circa 1910 after the Walden Block next door) and according to city records, previous occupants include a millinery, a jeweller, an oil driller, Gary’s Dairy, and a Royal Bank in 1920.
At some point over the years, the original structure was either demolished or massively remodeled to accommodate a string of new businesses (share your insights if you have any idea about the date). It was a confectionery by the late 1920s, and in 1945 the address is listed twice, as Tom Gray’s Cafe and later as Morray’s Coffee Shop. The following year it became Salsbury House, which was noted for “Fine Food” and hamburgers. And in 1948, the address was renovated to become the 7th location of the locally famous Aristocratic Restaurant chain.
Though Helen’s might not be very fancy these days, that doesn’t make her any less charming.
I lived across the street when I arrived in Vancouver 20 years ago and Helen’s was my weekend go-to. The Tiffany swag chandeliers are awesome and exactly the same as they were then.
Me and my buddy used to go there late at night. They must own the building. I will try them again? Last time we were there our hot dogs were served on round buns. Burger buns. But that was 40 years ago.