What’s in a restaurant name? Plenty, or not much at all. No matter where in the world the restaurant is, it usually depends on whether or not it’s successful. This is certainly true in Vancouver, where several eateries with bizarre, bad, or just plain nonsensical names have been met with tremendous success, while others of equally weak or weird etymological measure have failed before their first birthdays. This would seem to prove the theory that what matters most is the food, service, and atmosphere. Perhaps names aren’t important at all. But what if it’s so terrible or strange that it ends up being a distraction?
Over the last month, we’ve asked several restaurateurs and industry veterans from across the city to supply us with the oddest names they’ve ever come across in their careers. We’ve added our own and narrowed down the lot to the list of 20 eateries below (with a poll).
White Lunch | A thankfully long gone chain of greasy spoon diners that served and employed only white Vancouverites when it began in the early 20th century. That it was able to expand to more than just one location is as astonishing as it is not very astonishing at all.
Liquids & Solids | We love this local chainlet of market cafes, but the name gave us pause at first. When we hear it we instinctively think of uncomfortably clinical conversations with doctors concerning urine and stool composition. And if the name doesn’t have us wincing at that imagery, it has us thinking of oobleck, the unappetizing non-Newtonian false fluid (famous for being both a liquid and a solid). Either way, we’re not thinking about sandwiches.
L’Abattoir | The name might unappetizingly translate from the French as “The Slaughterhouse”, but it’s been thriving since the day it opened in the summer of 2010 and there’s no knowing (for us at least) just how sexy it sounds to folks who don’t speak a lick of the language. In any event, it’s a classic case of quality across the board trumping questionable nomenclature. They could have called it Blood & Guts and it would have done well.
Bismarck | Whenever “Bismarck” is mentioned, we don’t think of the Abbott St. restaurant/bar, but rather the Nazi German warship of the same name that was sunk by the Royal Navy in 1941 after several running battles that resulted in the deaths of several thousand sailors. Either that or we remember its namesake, Otto von Bismarck, a 19th century German prince, statesman and politician who was – by most accounts – a complete and utter asshole. It would be super weird if they named it after the town of the same name in North Dakota, and weirder still if the name was inspired by the Bismarck donut (which, incidentally, got its name from the asshole prince).
Secret Location | Judging by the small number of people who actually dine at this glammed-up ghost of Gastown’s future, we think the name choice is super apt, even if there’s nothing secret about the location at all (it sticks out like a sore thumb wrapped in gold taffeta with a red siren on top).
Scent Of A Sandwich | Sandwiches are awesome, but as a general rule we’re not all that into the way they smell. When we think of the scent of a sandwich, we imagine the interior of a child’s lunchbox that has been completely insulated with bologna meat in summer. Of course, we got over this anxiety shortly after the place opened on Main St. a couple of years ago, not least of all because they make good sandwiches.
Invitro | This good-looking restaurant just arrived at 2211 Manitoba Street, and it has everything going for it, except for the name, which is about as odd a selection as we could ever imagine. We understand that “in vitro” is an experimental process done in a test tube or petri dish (most commonly “in vitro fertilisation”, the process by which an egg is fertilised by sperm outside of the body), but we’ve never had the desire to consume the results of those processes. Maybe that’s just us, but it makes no difference either way. The proof – as we’ve seen – is in the pudding, and we wish their pudding very well.
Fiasco | Arguably the most suitable restaurant name that ever was. Never heard of it? Don’t feel bad. This Yaletown fiasco at 1130 Mainland St. (currently El Azteca) closed down before it was three months old.
Flux | Before there was Pourhouse, 162 Water Street used to be home to Flux, a short-lived eatery that served such oddball items as peanut butter poached tuna (no lie). Flux, of course, is a synonym for instability, so the name – at the very least – was on point.
DB Bistro | In 2009, right around the time when the term “douchebag” became so commonplace that it was shortened to “DB”, global superstar chef Daniel Boulud opened this unfortunately eponymous joint in the old Feenie’s location on West Broadway. Needless to say, launching a fancy restaurant just as the world’s financial markets – evidently manipulated by total douchebags – were collapsing all around was a bad move. DB Bistro lasted only two years.
Plan B | This stillborn disaster (with admittedly decent food) was a shocker because Plan B was a brand of birth control pill. At best, the name suggests something that is less desirable. To wit, Plan B is not Plan A. Plan A is what you really want to be doing in the first place but for some reason it’s just not happening for you and your unfortunate friends. So you settle. On Plan B. The real tragedy for the address was that there was even worse to follow…
Shakin’ Not Stirred | Was there really a cheesy, James Bond-themed restaurant called Shakin’ Not Stirred in Yaletown? You bet your small dog there was! It was the follow up to Plan B at 1144 Homer Street. It had all the personality of a steroid suppository and was quickly put out of its misery (now it’s another McDonnelly travesty called The New Oxford).
Displace | We’ve never understood this one. Is it a play on “This Place” with the words spoken in a New York accent? If so, that’s pretty cringe-worthy. If not, then what is it? We ask because “displace” means to “force someone to leave their home, typically because of war or persecution…”, which is never a good thing. What is a good thing is that the restaurant’s not located on unceded Coast Salish territory, because that would be…oh, wait…nevermind.
Nevermind | In another stunning case of lightning striking the same place twice (3293 West Broadway), Nevermind was the poorly named predecessor to Displace. It was, however, an effective choice, as we think a lot of people took the restaurant’s name as a polite suggestion and gave its front door a wide berth.
Yak & Yeti | We find it hard to believe that the folks behind this West 4th eatery momentarily forgot that “yak” was a synonym for vomit, but the world is nothing if not loaded with mystery. Still, what a Himalayan oversight! Thankfully, the food’s pretty good.
Sweet Sorrow | This adorable little anomaly in Coal Harbour takes the cake for inexplicable name decisions. We get the reference to Shakespeare’s timeless tale of teen suicide (“parting is such sweet sorrow”), but in real life, sweetness has nothing to do with sorrow, which the dictionary defines plainly as a “feeling of deep distress caused by loss, disappointment, or other misfortune suffered by oneself or others.” Yay, cheesecake!
Deuce | A restaurant on the North Shore from the last decade that didn’t last very long. We assume that this has something to do with the name being a slang term for feces, as in #2, as in “Hey, your dog just dropped a deuce on my lawn!”
Deuce Bungalow | More poo! A not-so-gifted play on the title of Deuce Bigalow, a scatological comedy film with several scenes that sum up (in our minds, at least) why this Granville Shitshow establishment was mercifully shuttered.
Space Lounge | Another defunct Granville St. icon. This, however, was one of the most uniquely thorough “concept” spots that Vancouver has ever seen, as it came complete with space-themed cocktails, a black-lit astro-freaky interior, and food that was “out of this world”. It ended in a black hole, with bailiffs closing the place and issuing a distress warrant for over $80,000.
Pidgin | As a play on a simplified form of communication and the name of the park across the street that’s frequented by the city’s poorest of the poor, “Pidgin” caused quite a controversy when it splashed on the scene in the winter of 2013, attracting the ire of anti-gentrification picketers. Whether or not the choice of name was a poor or inadvertently insensitive one, the stir it caused never detracted from the high quality of food or service it provided, proving once again that names are – at best – of tertiary import in the restaurant business.
We’ll leave it at that for now, and invite you to have your say in the poll below. Choose wisely…