Over the almost 10 years of Scout’s existence we’ve previewed hundreds of Vancouver restaurants. Some have had great names. Some have had terrible names. Most have been value-neutral, which is to say the names haven’t had anything to do with their success or failure.
But what, really, is in a name? I ask this because a month or so ago I got wind of a new project coming down the pipe at the Westin Bayshore Hotel. It’s an Art Deco-dressed 155 seat lounge and restaurant called HJU:Z. The name is supposed to be a phonetic representation of the surname Hughes, as in Howard Hughes, the eccentric tycoon who stayed in the hotel for six months in 1972.
I don’t like the name. Really, I just can’t get past it.
In a saner world, just Hughes would have sufficed. At least then people could say it without being forced to try and interpret it. I mean, why complicate it? What is the point? It’s a surname, for pity’s sake. For a while I’ve held out hope that HJU:Z was just a branding aberration and it was actually called Hughes, but as opening day nears I fear that isn’t the case. The Instagram account is @hjuzlounge and the website is www.hjuzlounge.com. What’s more, all the PR and promotional materials I’ve seen to date have it as HJU:Z. It appears they’ve gone all in on it.
In my experience in the restaurant world, any name that people might have a problem pronouncing or requires some explanation is a bad idea. It’s not rocket science. But sometimes I guess people get carried away. You don’t see it all that often, but it happens. Usually it’s a small business that’s guilty of it and not a behemoth like the Marriott, which owns the Westin Bayshore. They have money to pay consultants and aesthetes who do this sort of thing for a living. They’re a $40 billion company employing 226,000 people around the world. Surely one among them could have come up with a much better name than this!
But then again, the hotel’s other restaurant – opened in Spring, 2016 – is called H2. So perhaps not. I’ve never understood that name either. H2 could be a reference to hydrogen; an area of Hebron controlled by Israel; a type of Hummer SUV built between 2002 and 2009; an open-source Java SQL database-management system; the shittier of the two History Channels; or a rotisserie restaurant in the Westin Bayshore. I just don’t know.
I didn’t say or write anything about H2 when I first heard about it. I balked at the name hard, but I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings then and that isn’t my intention now. But with the coming of HJU:Z, I wonder if it isn’t time someone told these people to stop and get help because the ones they are paying – the very individuals who should be saying “No!” – obviously aren’t saying it loud enough, if at all.
There is no such thing as Restaurant Name School, but let’s pretend for a paragraph that there was. The first lesson – you would think – is obvious: make sure the name is easy to read and easy to pronounce. The second lesson would be to establish a relatable relationship of sorts. Usually the name ties directly or indirectly to either the food concept, the founders, or an aspirational/associative figure of some real or imagined renown. It’s not hard. For instance, if an establishment is owned by a guy named Hawksworth and it’s called “Hawksworth”, we get it. We can also accept that there is no Luigi to ask for at “Ask For Luigi”, and that there is no one named Joe making the pizza at “Joe Pizza”. Furthermore, if the name hints at a language other than English, we tend to associate it with the culinary traditions of the nation or ethnicity we associate with that language. La Bionda, for example, means “The Blonde” in Italian, so it would be fair to assume a restaurant with that name would offer Italian food, and maybe someone with blonde hair was involved in the preparation or service of it. I’d likewise wager that Le Crocodile and Au Comptoir served French food. Because duh.
But what does HJU:Z tie to? Nothing. What does it hint at? Nothing. Is it a double-entendre? Nope. Is it easy to say? You try it. Can you read it? I refuse to. So what is it? Well, not to put too fine a point on it but…it’s just a bad idea that no one had the guts to stand up to.
Even if they changed the name, I wish the Westin Bayshore would stop flogging Howard Hughes’ carcass. Let him go already! He might be glamourized for his daring, his genius, his philanthropy and his libido (he dated over a dozen Hollywood starlets, among them Ava Gardner, Bette Davis, Ginger Rogers and Katherine Hepburn), but when Howard Hughes stayed at the hotel he was a very sick man suffering from severe obsessive-compulsive disorder and complex pain disorders. He was an opioid addict who peed in bottles, cut his hair and nails just once a year and was hiding from the tax man. He didn’t leave the hotel once over the entirety of his six month stay; didn’t once speak to hotel staff (who were forbidden from even looking at him); and gave zero shits about our city beyond it being a scenic refuge from the IRS. It’s sad that the hotel still pimps his presence there (the Howard Hughes Suite was $2500 a night 10 years ago; goodness knows what it costs now). But here they are again, looking back to their one 45 year old claim to fame and milking it. For shame. Let the poor man go.
Alas, they’re already (at least) ten months into the project and have staffed up with some great people who have bought into the Howard Hughes-inspired concept (including the luxury design specialists at LIV Interiors). Word is they’re looking at November 16th for a grand opening, so the proverbial ship has very likely sailed. And maybe – to quote Warren Beatty’s Howard Hughes biopic that totally bombed at the box office last year – the “rules don’t apply” in this case.
But let’s say they do apply. In that case I hope the quality of the food, drink, design and service is amazing, because that’s usually the only way a name as awful as HJU:Z becomes a moot talking point. Do we care what “Chambar” means? No, because it’s a wonderful restaurant. Do we really give a damn what Kissa Tanto translates to? No. enRoute named it the Best New Restaurant in Canada last year, so who cares? Hell, L’Abattoir means “Slaughterhouse” in French — why would anyone want to eat in a cold, blood-covered room filled with dead animal parts?
Again, if they do everything right, the name won’t matter.
And that’s what I’m hoping for HJU:Z. Even though I don’t dig the lazy Howard Hughes association it’s my sincere hope that it does well. I wish everyone involved a great deal of luck, because I worry they might need it.
Because what if it doesn’t do everything right? What if it’s just meh? Then I worry the only bums in seats will be those of the same unadventurous hotel guests who frequented the old lounge, the very one that HJU:Z is replacing. What a terrible waste of treasure that would be. And do you know who would lament it the most? Howard Hughes. He may have been a man of considerable faults, but he valued efficiency, appreciated simplicity and evidently had more imagination in his shortest fingernail than the Westin Bayshore has in square feet. He would have demanded better than this. Shouldn’t they?