Scout focuses on new restaurants so much that it’s easy to forget all the ones that aren’t around anymore; the short-lived flashes in the pan and decades-old icons long retired in success. It takes all kinds to propel our food scene forward. So with the assistance of diners and restaurant industry veterans we offer this growing token of delicious remembrance. They might be gone, but they aren’t forgotten!
Editor’s note: This is an ongoing project. Do you know of a deceased restaurant worthy of respectful internment here that we haven’t yet laid to rest? Let us know in the comments below.
IN MEMORIUM, ALPHABETICALLY
– PHOTOS INCLUDED ON MAP –
In June, 2014, chef Andrey Durbach, Chris Stewart, and Michel Durocher revealed their latest project, a short-lived gastro-tavern called The Abbey. Located in the old 2,500 sqft Wild Rice address at 117 West Pender Street, the 90 seat restaurant would be especially carnivorous, plating the meaty likes of potted oxtail, beef consomme, organic beef patty melts (with Tête de Moine cheese and Berkshire bacon!), lamb shanks, bangers, hanger steaks, and housemade sausage rolls. It also boasted an excellent bar program with good local beer, great cocktails, and a solid wine list. The Abbey would close in 2016, well before its second birthday.
Veteran hands-on restaurateurs Carol Gadsby and Luciano Loi (previously the owners of Papi’s in Steveston) first opened Adesso Bistro in Kitsilano in the winter of 2005. Five years later they moved the charming Italian operation into the old Parkside space under the West End’s Buchan Hotel, not only enjoy the fruits of what was then arguably the best patio in Vancouver but also to upgrade the overall dining experience and provide more seating. As before, the owner-operated restaurant and bar (now 110 seats) specialized in refined expressions of the regional cuisine of Liguria, with seafood dishes figuring highly (eg. Pacific Halibut all’ Acqua Pazza). The kitchen was originally run by Sean Sylvestre, formerly the executive chef at The Beach House (and for several years before that sous chef to Pino Posteraro at Yaletown’s esteemed Cioppino’s). Sadly, Adesso Bistro closed its handsome doors in 2018. The space is currently (2021) occupied by another Italian concept called Robba Da Matti.
Founded by Frank Hunter in 1932, the Aristocratic evolved from a drive-in at Kingsway and Fraser into what was once upon a time Vancouver’s most popular restaurant chain. Locally famous for its slogan of “courteous service, quality food, all over town”, it was well know for its cheap burgers, wonderful neon signage and the brand character of ‘Risty’ sporting a top hat and monocle. The company’s collection of casual, fast(ish) food diners – nine locations when Hunter sold the chain in 1947 – eventually grew to a dozen addresses, including 13th & Cambie, 10th & Alma, Main & King Edward (now Helen’s Grill), Granville & Smithe, Broadway & Granville, and Main & Broadway. It would also hatch sister eateries such as Risty’s and the Silk Hat on Granville St., Henri’s Grill & Smorgasbord on West Georgia, and the Flame Super Club out in Burnaby. Having suffered standards degradation for decades, the chain was eventually reduced to a single location – Broadway & Granville – until it was finally (tragically) shuttered in 1997.
An excellent wine, cheese and charcuterie bar owned by (and next door to) Les Amis du Fromage in Strathcona. They served up delicious raclette and fondues, not to mention one of the best cheeseburgers Vancouver has even seen. It opened in 2009 and closed in 2013.
One of Vancouver’s first “locavore” restaurants. Chef Jeff Van Geest’s neighbourhood trailblazer included an all-BC wine list designed by wine scribe Kurtis Kolt. Famed for its superb brunches and excellent soundtrack. It closed in 2008. The address later became Wallflower Modern Diner, now closed.
Bambudda was a 55-seat nouveau dim sum restaurant located at 99 Powell Street in Gastown. It was launched by front-of-house lifer Ray Loy in 2013 and lasted almost four years. Born in Hong Kong and raised in Strathcona/Chinatown, Loy had worked his way up through the ranks at restaurants such as “C”, Joe Fortes, Bacchus at the Wedgewood and Market in the Shangri-La before striking out on his own with this project. Bambudda was by most accounts a very attractive restaurant (designed by Vanessa Rienau), especially in the bar area with its stools lining up to the lip of the room’s convertible frontage (great in summer). The kitchen was a bit of a revolving door, with chefs Keev Mah (later Pidgin, Sai Woo), Scott Korzack (later Beach Bay Cafe, Crowbar) and Curtis Luk (later Mission) all taking turns on the line. The bar program also saw several hands on the tiller, including the talented likes of Max Borrowman (later Torafuku, Juniper). The 3,000 sqft restaurant was forced to close in early 2017, soon after the landlord informed Loy of the building’s need for extensive renovations that would require his exit (not to mention the actual erasure of the 99 Powell St. address itself). Sadly, Loy decided not to search for a new location to continue the promising concept.
Possibly hamstrung out of the gate in 2015 by its German owner, notorious B-movie director Uwe Boll (Alone in the Dark, Rampage, Postal etc.), and his pre-opening predilection for bluntly insulting other Vancouver restaurants in his own video series, the arrival of the ambitious Bauhaus restaurant was met with deafening quiet from the community it sought to join. This was despite a beautiful interior design transformation of 1 West Cordova St. (previously Boneta restaurant), the unquestionable talents of Michelin-starred chef Stefan Hartmann, and without a doubt the very best schnitzel in town. The modern German restaurant did receive the occasional award and love letter in the press, but such accolades never moved the needle in terms of its overall reception in Gastown, which remained consistently lukewarm over the course of its five-year run. Staff turnover and some rough luck with the old building could not have helped, but it was a complete falling out with the restaurant’s landlord (coupled with Covid) that led to its unceremonious closure in March, 2020.
A massively game-changing, trailblazing, award-winning restaurant conceived and originally cheffed by Gord Martin, who helped to pioneer the small plates craze. An entertaining, often wild gathering place for afterwork oenophiles and industry types. Though its heyday was in the years on either side of the turn of the millennium (former staff members tell crazy stories!), “Bin” held on to last a full 20 years (1998-2018).
Opened in 2007, Bistrot Bistro was one of several restaurants (see also Gastropod, Fuel) responsible for elevating the food reputation of a block of West 4th Avenue that needed a lift. Owned and operated by Laurent and Valerie Devin, a charming couple from France, the welcoming eatery focused on classic vernacular comforts like restorative Boeuf Bourguignon, aromatic Bouillabaisse and smoky Duck Tart. The restaurant was celebrated for nailing the details, from the quality of the baguettes to the consistency of the chocolate mousse. It closed in 2012 (replaced by La Cigale, another bistro).
Opened in the autumn of 2013, chef Brad Miller’s Bistro Wagon Rouge was the beloved follow-up to his wildly successful Red Wagon diner on East Hastings and a breath of fresh air to the 1800 block of Powell Street. Styled as a “blue-collar French bistro”, the transportive, beautifully designed space served up consistently excellent but unfussy bistro classics (pâtés, tartines, cassoulet, steak frites, beef bourguignon, etc.) and affordable wines right up until the day it closed in the late Autumn of 2019. It will be well-remembered for its wonderful service, gorgeous bar and accessible prices.
The beer-focused Bitter Tasting Room was launched on Gastown’s edge in 2011 by the Heather Hospitality Group (see Salt Tasting Room, Irish Heather, etc.). The 100+ seater was located at 16 West Hastings St. — a beautiful heritage space that had been lovingly renovated opposite Pigeon Park.
Dozens of craft brews from home and abroad were served at its unique, semi-circular bar alongside pretzels, sausages, scotch eggs, pork pies and more. Its opening predated the rush of Vancouver’s craft beer renaissance by a year or two, its vision harkening back to the city’s original love affair with beer.
“At Bitter, we want you to join us on a journey to a time when Vancouver had a bustling beer culture. Before Prohibition shut down the taps, the local breweries were countless. Delicious ales, lagers and bitters poured free. A golden era in history, before the rise of the beer monopoly, when brewers made the beer they wanted to make, not the beer they had to make.”
Bitter was purchased by Lightheart Hospitality in 2015 and became Darby’s Gastown later that year.
Blacktail Florist was an interesting (if short-lived) 80-seat restaurant concept located in Gastown’s storied 1912 Le Magasin building (200-332 Water Street). Opened by chef/co-owner Jimmy Stewart in the Spring of 2014, it took a Scandinavian approach to West Coast micro-seasonal ingredients. From the publicity materials of the time: “Wild edibles are the inspiration behind daily dishes, while a range of thoughtfully selected wines by the glass and bottle showcase the best varietals from our region. Outdoor meets indoor in the welcoming, clean and bright woodland-inspired interior.” Despite some positive reviews, an awesome look by Craig Stanghetta and the crew from St. Marie Designs, and the inevitable dropping of “Florist” from the name, the restaurant didn’t last long, closing less than two years later in March, 2016.
The original Boneta brought together a group of young first time restaurateurs (Mark Brand, Neil Ingram, Andre McGillivray) to a long suffering address in Gastown in the hot summer of 2007. Famed for its excellent cocktails, industry-friendly atmosphere and the hearty but refined French-inspired fare of its first chef, Jeremie Bastien, the restaurant (named after Brand’s mother) moved to a new location in 2011 (see Boneta 2.0).
The short-lived (2011-2013) second coming of a Gastown favourite. A concrete and glass box that was exuberantly home to excellent poutine, decadent Daube de Boeuf, an always interesting by-the-glass list, a brass stripper’s aid and a back bar filled with thousands of spent corks.
A place for cheap steaks ($10 sirloins at the time of closing) and no bullshit on the edge of Strathcona; a magnet to posties, longshoremen and neighbourhood families from 1985 to 2012. The decrepit space that housed it later became the first brick and mortar iteration of the Yolks chainlet. Now long vacant and presumed to be awaiting demolition.
Harry Kambolis’ ambitious local seafood restaurant on the False Creek seawall. The game-changing fine dining icon helped define Vancouver’s food scene from 1997 to 2014. Over the years it employed the talented likes of Robert Belcham, Rob Clark, Ted Anderson, Quang Dang, Sean Cousins, JC Poirier, Cate Simpson, Annette Rawlinson, Tom Doughty, Michael Dinn and Leonard Nakonechny. As the founding restaurant partner of the Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Wise program, its memory echoes in the nightly services of countless Vancouver establishments. Now home to a Peruvian-inspired fine dining restaurant (of comparable deliciousness) called Ancora.
Cafeteria was a short-lived, 30 seat restaurant from serial restaurateurs Chris Stewart and Andrey Durbach (see also “Parkside” and “Etoile” in the Restaurant Graveyard). It lasted two years in the heart of Mt. Pleasant at 2702 Main Street, opening in the summer of 2010 and closing in 2012. Previously, the address was home to a cult-hit looker called Ping’s Cafe. Though definitely expressed with a European accent, Cafeteria’s concept cleaved close to no particular cuisine style. Stewart and Durbach wanted a no-frills, “super casual” eatery with a short and sweet wine list to compliment an ever-changing menu featuring dishes that never exceeded $20. The design, simple but slick, kept customer focus on what was on the plate and in the glass. The opening day menu included the delicious likes of “Nobu-style” tuna and prawn sashimi, chicken schnitzel with spaetzle, Dungeness crab tortelloni, and butterscotch pudding. (I still vividly remember the schnitzel, which was superb.) Stewart and Durbach sold the space to chef Andrea Carlson and her partner, Kevin Bismanis, who would soon thereafter open the award-winning and critically acclaimed Burdock & Co. in its place.
One of the first stories Scout ever published was about the coming of Campagnolo restaurant in the late Autumn of 2008. Barack Obama had just been elected; the world was on the precipice of an era-defining Financial Crisis; and Vancouver had just voted in a handsome, juice-making DJ as its Mayor. I remember thinking that three fine dining veterans opening a casual pasta/pizza joint on the same block as the Ivanhoe Pub was a little crazy, but Robert Belcham, Tim Pittman and Tom Doughty evidently knew what they were doing. They had seen the rapid change that was happening on the stretch of Main Street between Chinatown and what would soon become Olympic Village. They were playing the long game. The move gave them commissary space for expansion (see Campagnolo Roma‘s arrival in 2011) and offices upstairs, not to mention room to create their speakeasy-like Campagnolo Upstairs hideaway, home of the Dirty Burger, in 2014. But at launch success was no sure thing. They worked hard for it, breaking their own backs with construction, hiring extremely well (eg. Giovanni Giardino, Peter Van de Reep), getting great press and winning big awards like Best New Restaurant and Chef of the Year. Campagnolo was even included in the 2009 “hottest new restaurants in the world” issue of Condé Nast Traveler.
Carlos ‘n Bud’s was a popular, casual, loosely American roadhouse-styled restaurant located in what used to be a mechanic’s shop and garage at the southern end of Seymour Street. Launched in 1988 by a pair of former Keg employees, Brad Hereuf and Marco Hubbard, the restaurant was beloved for its affordable Tex-Mex menu (think burgers, enchiladas, nachos, blended margaritas, etc.) and locally famous for its house-smoked ribs, which were best enjoyed with ice cold bottles of Corona beer on the patio. It was also notorious for its varied exterior signage, which included lines like “Patronized by Royalty & Nobility” and “We Cheat Tourists & Drunks”. The restaurant was closed in 2005 and demolished in 2006 to make room for a high rise condominium called The Mark. Side note: Hereuf and Hubbard purchased the Carlos ‘n Bud’s restaurant space (previously “Bud’s Good Eats”) from Bud Kanke, the same legend who would later go on to open Joe Fortes and The Cannery.
Open from 1937 to 1981, this cavernous night club (complete with fake stalactites) was the first in the city to score a liquor license. This was back in 1954, when Vancouver’s “culture of no” frowned upon the sinful combination of drinking and entertainment.
A short-lived “Modern Latin Cowboy” themed restaurant in the old Lola’s/Ballantyne’s address. It’s certainly not very often that a restaurant with a Che Guevara mural opens in an old Edwardian bank building! Especially one that came pre-loaded with a ridiculous amount of original character (wine-stained marble floors, Italian Skyros marble walls, gorgeous door frames, mirrors, chandeliers, wainscotting, bank vault, etc.), not to mention its very own ghosts (among them a murdered teller, if I recall correctly). It’s still very much there, of course, lying either dormant or beyond my field of vision as a nightclub or private function space. Too bad.
Launched in the Spring of 2013, this woman-owned, Peruvian-inspired tapas and cocktail joint in Mt. Pleasant was big on flavour, personality and unpretentious good times. Helmed by chef Shelome Bouvette, chef Allison Flook and front of house charmer Kumiko Umeno, the restaurant dished delicious things like ceviche, chicken stew-stuffed empanadas, and always perfect Pisco Sours. It played host to several memorable summer BBQs (utilizing an open-air space out back for grilling, dancing and drinking), not to mention many a drag brunch and beer dinner. It closed in 2020 at the start of the Covid pandemic and the building that housed it at 136 East Broadway has since been demolished.
Closed in September of 2017, this Gastown icon enjoyed an 11 year run overlooking the busy confluence of Alexander, Powell, Water and Carrall Streets. Though the food and drink were by no means slouches, the casual eatery’s main draw was always its large, sun-soaked patio – inarguably one of Vancouver’s best. That it so attractively sprawled out into Maple Tree Square not only helped to bring tourists back to the neighbourhood but also signalled Gastown’s viability to young, first-time restaurateurs looking to make their mark at a time when rents hereabouts weren’t so obscene. It is now the home of the second location of Local, a homegrown chainlet allied to the behemoth Joey Restaurant Group, which has 27 locations across North America.
Chow was the short-lived first restaurant from chef JC Poirier (now co-owner of Di Beppe, Pizzeria Farina, Ask For Luigi, St. Lawrence). Though it was celebrated as one of 2007’s Best New Restaurants in Canada by enRoute Magazine (and lauded by most local critics, myself included), it opened just before the global financial crisis hit and suffered its jittery aftermath. Chow ended up closing its doors on May 10th, 2009, not yet two years old.
Located in Yaletown in the voluminous space that now houses Minami, this was a stylish, high-end Italian eatery from legendary restaurateur Umberto Menghi (see Il Giardino). Opened in 2000 and sold to Bud Kanke (The Cannery, Joe Fortes) in 2006, who opened the short-lived Goldfish Pacific Kitchen in its place.
Cobre was a dark and sexy two-level “Nuevo Latino” small plates restaurant and bar located at 52 Powell St. in the heart of Gastown. It was the first swing at ownership from chef Stuart Irving, who was partnered with industry veterans Tyson Reimer and Jason Kelly. Previously, Irving had long been the executive chef at the groundbreaking Wild Rice restaurant, so his talents were the original draw. The restaurant described the cuisine as “a style of cooking that blends the passion of Argentina with the exuberance of Cuba, the sultriness of Brazil and the joy of Mexico.” This was expressed in a variety of fresh ceviches, half a dozen tacos, a deep selection of tapas dishes and some Latin-themed cocktails. Cobre enjoyed a five-year run before shutting down in 2012, with Irving moving on to open the Cuchillo restaurant a few blocks east on Powell Street. The old Cobre space is currently occupied by Rodney’s Oyster House.
Cork & Fin was a charming, unpretentious, seafood-focused wine bar located in the heart of Gastown at 221 Carrall Street. It was much loved for its seafood boils, freshly-shucked oysters and accessible price points. Launched in 2010 by industry veterans Francis Regio and Chef Elliot Hashimoto (both formerly of Tapastree), the two-level eatery concluded its six year run in 2016, changing gears and rebranding as the short-lived, Hawaiian-Japanese hybrid ONO restaurant.
The name was a bit of a mouthful and their chef (Anthony Sedlak) quit four days before the 2010 opening (which was delayed 8 months), but Corner Suite Bistro De Luxe was refreshingly different with its encyclopedia of cocktails, blue chairs and unrelenting gumption. Too bad it didn’t last a year.
In 2006, after 15 years working in Four Seasons hotels around the world, Chef Wayne Martin decided he wanted to make a change for the casual, striking out on his own to launch an unpretentious 34 seater called Crave on Main at 3941 Main Street (now home to The Arbor). The 1,000 sqft comfort food-focused restaurant featured a hidden backyard patio and a menu of consistently executed American classics like burgers, Cobb Salads and popcorn shrimp sharing pride of place alongside Martin’s more signature items, like tuna tempura rolls and short rib poutine (the latter being ridiculously delicious, as my contemporary notes recall). It was the first of three restaurants that Martin would open in the Lower Mainland; followed by the award-winning Fraiche in West Van and Crave Beachside (both opening in 2008 and closing in 2010). Crave on Main would last until 2013.
It is a cruel facet of the human experience that sometimes young, well-loved restaurants close. It just doesn’t seem fair. But such is life, and such was the fate of Crowbar. Launched at 646 Kingsway by ex-L’Abattoir staffers Jeremy Pigeon and William Johnson on the first day of summer in 2016, the woody 30 seater was for three years a reliable, unfussy place to get an interesting bite (like burgers aged so long they tasted of strong cheese) and a well-made cocktail. Though it endured some ownership and employment standards drama, outwardly it was the very model of a neighbourhood restaurant with reliable deliciousness, confident service and a vibrant atmosphere. Alas, it quietly closed/sold in the Spring of 2019 under the
Sword of Damocles yoke of a landlord wielding a signed lease with a ‘demolition clause’, which is to say Crowbar had only ever existed at the whim and fancy of an outside force that could doom it at any moment. At the time of writing (Winter, 2020), the space is home to Zocalo Modern Cantina, an off-shoot of nearby popular Mexican eatery, Sal y Limon.
The duck confit, “cellar door” Caesar salads, and Syrah-braised beef short ribs at this wine bar are as impossible to forget as its bizarre, blue-lit threshold. It was home to such talents as wine/service guru Mark Taylor and chefs Dana Reinhardt, Alana Peckham and Tim Evans. Cru lasted 9 years, opening in 2003 and closing in 2012.
The West Side’s DB Bistro Moderne was the surprisingly short-lived casual fine dining cousin of the New York original. It saw international superstar chef Daniel Boulud pair up with David and Manjy Sidoo after their falling out with chef Rob Feenie. Some background from designer Janson Goldstein’s website:
“The bar area features herringbone travertine flooring, a zinc bar top and, behind the bar, woven, polished stainless-steel surfaces framed in red eel skin. Custom handcrafted glass pendants, based on a 1960s Italian design, illuminate the space. Beyond a screen of saw-tooth-textured bronze glass, rolled-steel channeled fixtures illuminate the dining room, where custom-designed distressed oak-and-ox blood leather chairs complement banquets in chocolate-brown- and copper-colored woven leather. A private dining-and-wine room presents oil-quenched-steel wine racks and a wall covered in rich red- and brown-leather tiles.”
Located in the old Feenie’s address at 2563 West Broadway, the slick 106 seater launched in the midst of the 2008 global financial crisis; its unfortunate timing was complicated further by the advent of a new tax (HST) and the rollout of stricter drunk driving laws that scared diners. Though it met with some critical success it never really found its footing with Vancouver diners, some of whom loudly sided with Feenie in the and swore to avoid it.
It closed in 2011 to the frustration of many, including Globe & Mail food writer Alexandra Gill, who memorably (and accurately) lamented its demise thusly:
“This is excellent, innovative, labour intensive and lusciously layered food that is in a different – world-class – league from the standard fare at any other French bistro in town. If Vancouver couldn’t recognize that, we don’t deserve it.”
John “Gassy Jack” Deighton’s hotel and saloon on the southwest corner of Carrall St. and Water St. — the hospitality foundation of Gastown. Launched in 1867 and burned down in the Great Fire of 1886. The smoking wreck was immediately removed to make way for the Byrnes Block, which stands to this day (now home to Peckinpah BBQ).
Opened in 1999, Dix BBQ and Brewhouse was more than just a great place for BBQ and big screen hockey games. It was, as our Craft Beer Atlas attests, “the epicentre of good beer in Vancouver ” during the early 2000s, one of the rockets of our craft beer scene’s ascension. The list of brewers who experimented and developed their craft at the Beatty St. brewpub speaks to the evolution of the Lower Mainland’s current relationship with beer — Strange Fellow’s Iain Hill, 33 Acres’ Dave Varga, and Trading Post’s Tony Dewalt (among others) all took turns brewing at Dix. Though very much a hop nerd’s hangout (it basically mid-wifed the Vancouver chapter of CAMRA), the somewhat smelly and wholly unpretentious joint (with peanut shells scattered everywhere) also attracted its fair share of restaurant industry workers who received much of their early beer education from its many taps, thus turning them into zealous evangelists (and salespeople) for locally brewed craft beer. Dix closed without ceremony on Victoria Day in 2010. The voluminous space lay dormant and unoccupied for five years until it became Central City’s Red Racer Taphouse, which closed in late 2020.
In 2006, long before Vancouver was overrun with taco joints, it welcomed Dona Cata. The small, unassuming, family-run Mexican joint deep in East Van served up $2 tacos alongside free tortilla chips (bonus: extensive salsa bar). Sadly, it closed in 2012.
Opened in 2002 as the main floor dining room of the brand new boutique Opus Hotel, Elixir Bistro was celebrated as a chic, forward-thinking French bistro for the first half of its eight-year run. It was conscientiously cheffed by Don Letendre, who, to his credit (and despite a largely food-indifferent clientele), ensured the restaurant was a founding member of both the Green Table network and the Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Wise program. Beyond the steak frites, beautiful horseshoe-shaped bar and reliably good service under pressure, Elixir was also known for its bizarre washrooms. These featured TV screens above the urinals, providing those with penis-in-hand a live feed of what was happening back at their tables. (After sixteen years and a long overdue privacy complaint, the hotel smartly/finally swapped the feed to CNN in 2018.) Elixir closed in 2010 and was replaced by a series of regrettable pop-up establishments, the first of which was called One Hundred Days (described at the time as “remarkably accurate exhibition of everything currently wrong with Yaletown”). Since 2012, the address has been home to an Italian-themed restaurant called La Pentola, which was originally opened by chefs Adam Pegg (La Quercia) and Lucais Syme (Austostrada).
Dale Mackay opened his first ever restaurant, Ensemble, in the middle of May, 2011. Unfortunately, the talented chef chose 850 Thurlow St. as the location. Though just a block away from the crowds of Robson St. on one side and Burrard St. on another, this address was infamous in the local trade for eating up and spitting out restaurants. Despite positive pre-opening press, a good review from the Globe & Mail, great staff (eg. Bradley Hendrickson, Christopher Cho), the comfy red leather chairs from Daniel Boulud’s DB Bistro and Mackay’s own sterling pedigree (having helmed the kitchen at Lumiere after years working for Gordon Ramsay in Tokyo, New York, and London), Ensemble was not successful, and even endured a freak flood thanks to a broken water tank. Mackay shut it down in August, 2012, soon thereafter moving home to Saskatoon to open the multiple award-winning Ayden Kitchen and Bar. Previous to Ensemble, the space was home to Piccolo Mondo, Saveur and the Corner Suite Bistro De Luxe. After Ensemble, it swallowed the Purple Olive Grill and The Harrow before the landlords retooled it for office/retail.
To the surprise of no one, the controversial Escobar restaurant closed on June 10th, 2019 after a 14-month run at 4245 Fraser Street. The otherwise ambitious and smartly designed Latin-themed restaurant was named in exceptionally poor taste after the murderous Colombian drug lord, Pablo Escobar. The name choice was hated so much that owners Ari Demosten and Alex Kyriazis were faced with sign-carrying protestors picketing their front door, tons of negative media attention and no small amount of online fury. The owners refused to change the name, essentially mooting the quality of a dining experience that was never able to step beyond the shadow of the restaurant’s original (and entirely avoidable) sin. It is therefore interred here as a cautionary tale rather an institution of conspicuous consequence.
The first restaurant by Andrey Durbach. The little thing didn’t last long (1996-1999) but it was popular with the early foodie set and a foreshadow of delicious things to come (Parkside, Pied-a-Terre, La Buca, Sardine Can, Cafeteria). It was followed by the even more short-lived Bis Moreno, and later by chef Brian Fowke’s Rare.
It’s always especially unfortunate whenever a space that used to be a food-service spot is converted to another use that has nothing at all to do with food and drink. Such was the eventual fate of serial restaurateur Sean Heather’s Everything Cafe, a small coffee and sandwich shop that offered a limited menu designed by chef Lee Humphries, who would later go on to run the kitchen at “C” before taking his talent and hard work ethic to the Okanagan. Heather operated the cafe – with its long, buttoned down banquette and rear gangster table – at 75 East Pender St. in Chinatown from 2010 to 2013, not far from his Gastown empire that included The Irish Heather and Salt Tasting Room (among others). Soon after it shuttered, the space became home to the second iteration of Musette Cafe, and later the short-lived Message Cafe. All trace of its former stock-in-trade have since been removed with the address now (tragically) functioning as an office meeting room.
Owned by Ed Perrow, Georgia Goritsas and chef Neil Taylor, this modern British pub in Coal Harbour/West End was launched in the old Le Gavroche house at 1616 Alberni Street in the summer of 2014. It was well known for its friendly pints, scotch eggs, fish and chips, rarebits and miniature Yorkshire puddings topped with roast beef, gravy and horseradish creme fraiche. It shuttered after a 2.5 year year run.
Robert Belcham, Ted Anderson and Tom Doughty – all veterans of the award-winning (but now shuttered) Campagnolo restaurants – launched The Fat Dragon in 2011. Located on a comparatively rough and out-of-the-way block of the Downtown Eastside (566 Powell Street), the brick-walled Asian-meets-American BBQ restaurant served up fat-slicked noodles, chicken-fried oysters, meaty bao buns, crab fried rice, Jalan Alor-inspired chicken wings, Korean BBQ pork, soft serve ice cream and many other delicious things, including bartender Matt Martin’s unforgettable Junmai Sour cocktail. (Think fruit tea-steeped sake and gin frothed with egg white and given licks of lemon, sugar, orange blossom and mint on ice.) Designed by Marc Bricault (see also Vij’s, Thierry, Thomas Haas), the long, stripped down room was low on ornament but high on atmosphere. Of memorable note was its silk-draped entranceway, neon signage (which would later appear at Campagnolo Upstairs) and ceiling hung with a curvaceous dragon motif that snaked past the bar, scales and all. Despite its unique concept, always interesting food and positive reviews, The Fat Dragon was tragically short-lived, lasting a mere nine months. The address is currently home to Dosanko, a beloved Japanese homestyle restaurant.
Owned and operated by Sean Sherwood (see also Lucy Mae Brown and Century), this was a fun, boisterous, casual fine dining restaurant on the West Side that launched in 1999 and closed in 2007. The location has seen several restaurants come and go since, most notably The New Bohemian.
This two-storey amalgam of Foo’s and Ho Ho (1998-2015) has been closed for a few years now but there’s talk of the old Cantonese restaurant making a glorious comeback before the end of the decade. Cross your fingers!
Named one of Canada’s Top Ten Best New Restaurants of 2008 by enRoute magazine, West Vancouver’s fine dining Fraiche was a breath of fresh, mountain air for the North Shore, hosting a series of sunset dinners, winemaker feasts, benefit lunches, firework viewing parties and more. Owned by nearby residents and serial diners Barbara Inglis and Paul Chalmers, the modern room was cheffed over its five-year run by the talented likes of Carol Chow, Jefferson Alvarez, Dino Renaerts, Wayne Martin and Nicholas Lim. It shuttered for good at the close of its New Year’s Eve dinner service in December, 2013.
Launched as “Fuel” in 2006 by first-timers Robert Belcham and Tom Doughty, the fine dining restaurant would morph into the more accessible (but no less refined) comfort food spot “Refuel” in 2009 (great fried chicken). It closed in 2012. Now Trevor Bird’s “Fable”.
The short-lived, multiple award-winning first restaurant effort from chef Angus An, who would later open the wildly successful Maenam in its place (also Sen Pad Thai, Freebird, Longtail Kitchen, Fat Mao and Popina). The concept was modern French meets West Coast. Sadly, Gastropod – designed and financially supported by local artist Ken Lum – was a victim of the recession, lasting just two years (2007-2009).
A fabled underground restaurant in Chinatown that served cheap and cheerful Chinese food for over 60 years (1930s-1990s). It was accessible via – ahem – a green door in the alleyway behind 111 East Pender Street. The building – now home to Fuling Gifts & Housewares – used to house a gambling establishment and a trading store. During the counter-culture era of the 60s and 70s it proved magnetic to non-Chinese, particularly students and bohemian types (who would largely abandon it when the alleyway, once commonly known as Market Alley, started to draw hard drug users in the 80s and 90s). The door itself has long since been painted other colours; for a while it was blue and now (at the time of writing) it is red. Note: There were a few other “Door” restaurants in Chinatown (eg. Red Door, Orange Door), but the Green Door lasted the longest and served the best food.
Once upon a time (in the 2000s), this was the go-to place for restaurant industry workers looking for a delicious, cheap and cheerful food experience with beer after work. The boisterous, late night eatery closed in the autumn of 2017 after 24 years in operation.
Habit Lounge at 2610 Main St. was the second restaurant from the group that has since given us the likes of The Cascade Room, The Union, El Camino’s and Main Street Brewing Company (their first was a much-loved breakfast joined in Kits called Tangerine). The restaurant had two lives. The first – born in 2005 – was a very bright, modern, minimalist 70 seater that was well-known in the neighbourhood for its delicious brunches. Sadly, it was snuffed out in a kitchen fire in the wee hours of December 8th, 2008. Nine months later, the second iteration of Habit Lounge came into being. I remember it as a dark and sexy space intentionally modelled after a 1970s Canadian home recreation room (complete with shag carpet walls and funk soundtrack). Nick Devine, one of Vancouver’s top bartenders, was in charge of the cocktail program, so the drinks – all reimagined kitschy classics – were well-executed, beautifully presented and in conceptual lock-step with the transportive look and feel of the space. Habit Lounge was closed in 2013 to make way for Charlie’s Little Italian (same owners). The address is now home to the Cuban-themed Tocador.
To be clear, Hapa Izakaya still exists in Vancouver with a single location in Yaletown. But once upon a time, before expanding to Hamilton Street, a third space in Kits and a fourth in Coal Harbour (not to mention Calgary and Toronto), the irreverent, booze-forward and enthusiastically modern Japanese concept first thrived in a dark space that made guests feel like they were being let in on a little secret. This was 1479 Robson Street, and this entry eulogizes this address only. Opened by Leah and Justin Ault in 2003, the original Hapa was an award-winning and exciting breath of fresh air for Vancouver. Like the original Guu on Thurlow St. (opened in 2000), Hapa Izakaya helped set a tone and blaze a trail for countless other restaurants to follow with its loud but sexy atmosphere, eclectic menu of small and sharable salty Japanese pub foods (to be soaked up with alcohol), and contagious damn-the-torpedoes attitude. It changed over the years, its edge softening as the company expanded (it even retooled as an oyster bar in 2010), but its golden era – say 2003 to 2007 – was something very special. The location closed for good in 2016 after an apparently impossible increase in rent.
The Hollywood Café (previously the Blue Goose Cafe), with its long lunch counter (with 25 bolted-down swivel seats), seven booths, separate formal dining room and gleaming art deco interior, was the food and beverage institution on the main floor of the Norfolk Hotel during and after the Great Depression of the 1930s. Located at 872 Granville Street between the Commodore Ballroom and the Orpheum Theatre in the heart of Vancouver’s theatre district, the Hollywood offered 30 cent lunches, dine and dance specials, and an on-site fortune-telling palmist. I have no idea as to the quality of the food, but since it lasted for a decade it couldn’t have been that terrible. Either way, it sure was pretty. The Hollywood became the Good Eats Cafe in 1949, its lunch counter demolished and converted to retail at some point in the second half of the 20th century. The whole of the space has seen a retail/restaurant split ever since (the same that saw the highly trafficked American Apparel (now Brandy Melville) and Cafe Crepe pairing of the 2000s.
Opened in Blood Alley in the Spring of 2010, this tiny, Spanish-inspired restaurant/wine bar came to us from Sean Heather and Scott Hawthorn, co-owners of Salt Tasting Room (also in Blood Alley). It was cheffed for a time by Lee Humphries. The 21 seat hole-in-the-wall featured a striking mural by local artist Robert Chaplin that spelled out the unlikely tale of a goat that led countless unwitting animals to the slaughter until one day it suffered a nervous breakdown and decided to open and operate a wine bar instead. The name wasn’t a Chaplin fantasy, however. “Judas” goats are real, as Heather explained to me long before the artist got to work on the embellishment:
“When animals are trucked to a slaughterhouse they are often reluctant to get off the truck…..go figure! Most abattoirs have a resident older goat living on the property. The goat is trained to make nice with the animals, and then lead them off the truck to the obvious conclusion. Because of the goat’s treachery, and abuse of his position of trust, he is nicknamed the ‘Judas Goat’. The tragedy of it all is that the goat is ignorant of what is happening around him and his role in it. He is just being friendly. […] The Judas Goat in Blood Alley — for numerous reasons, we couldn’t resist.”
Judas Goat closed in September of 2013. The space would become the irreverent Gringo shortly thereafter.
The 80-seat Juniper launched with high hopes after lengthy construction delays in late 2015. Beyond its modern, sleek design by Simcic + Uhrich Architects (with artwork by Ricky Alvarez and Ola Volo) and central Chinatown address (located in the new Keefer Block building facing Juke Fried Chicken and across the alleyway from Bao Bei), it boasted a great pre-opening team. From my contemporary notes, I can see that the crew included the mentionable likes of chef Lee Parsons (who left the project before construction finished), manager/somm Sarah McCauley (who lasted just a couple of months), superstar server/somm Shiva Reddy (who was also gone in a flash), and barman Shaun Layton (who was only there on a short-term contract to develop the bar program and train staff). Two of the restaurant’s four co-owners, Miranda Hudson and Reggie Tanzola, also left the project before opening day, which is to say it didn’t appear to be an easy birth for Juniper. Of course, none of this instability was public-facing intel, but it can’t have done much for the restaurant’s reputation within the trade (and if you don’t think that matters, good luck to you). A lacklustre review in the Globe and Mail that hinted at the internal chaos didn’t do the restaurant any favours, either. The food concept was on trend for the times (local, farm-to-table Cascadian) but it never really caught fire with spoiled-for-choice Vancouver diners, who may have been suffering from ‘new restaurant fatigue’ after several boom years. Despite the inarguable capabilities of Juniper’s successive chefs (Sarah Stewart, Josh Gale, Warren Chow) and its always popular cocktail program (helmed to the bitter end by the talented Max Borrowman), the restaurant quietly shuttered at the close of 2019.
Kozmas was a leafy, sunny, multi-level Greek restaurant located at 801 Pacific St. from 1974 to 1982. It had a beautiful courtyard, a long bar, a fireplace, white-washed walls and lots of terracotta tile — squint at it after a drink or two and you could have been in the Aegean. It was owned by Kosta Syskakis, Larry Syskakis, Sophie Dikeakos (of Sophie’s Cosmic Cafe fame), and the artist Christos Dikeakos, who assisted Jim McGregor with the décor and interior design. The restaurant was a game-changer in Vancouver, setting a standard for Mediterranean fine dining that would be emulated by many. “At the time,” Christos remembers, “Greek restaurants were the most exotic form of dining experience in frontier fine dining of Vancouver.”
I remember it well. Kozmas was the first restaurant that ever genuinely charmed me. I was still just a baby in 1974 when it opened, but my mother was good friends with the owners and we would go in often. It was there – at four or five years old – that I witnessed a bellydancer – Christos’ sister, Alexandra – in action for the first time, and I was enthralled in the way that only very young and impressionable children can be. I will never forget it (and still blush a little whenever I see her).
A photo of Kozmas (click on “MAP” to see) was featured in the Dream On, Vancouver feature story found in the April, 1978 issue of National Geographic magazine (Vol. 154, No. 4).
This long-running Spanish tapas restaurant from Francisco “Paco” Rivas and José Rivas (no relation) provided lively, affordable nights out from 1971 to 2014. La Bodega was among the first restaurants that I ever truly enjoyed going in my childhoods, and I vividly recall the boisterous, almost raucous late-night atmosphere around its bar, where my father always preferred to be seated. Spread out on two-levels, the place was old school until the very end; all darkly stained wood beams and brick walls, red and white chequered table cloths and a kitschy bullfighting motif repeated throughout. The food and drink stayed close to classic familiarities like garlicky gambas (my first prawns), gently spiced albongidas and cold pitchers of refreshing (albeit unbalancing) sangria. It is the spiritual godfather of the Spanish-themed “Bodega” restaurant that now operates on Main Street.
Located just around the corner from its critically acclaimed parent eatery, La Quercia, this daytime-only Italian deli plated freshly made pastas (oh, that Orrechiette Bolognese!) and fantastic sandwiches but was fated to close in 2013. Address now occupied by Yuji’s.
Open from September, 2015 to February, 2017, the 800 sqft Latab restaurant was a short-lived gift to local foodies from chef Kris Barnholden and wine pro Eryn Dorman. Located at 983 Helmcken Street (tucked behind the Wall Centre), it never got the attention it deserved despite plenty of praise from critics and industry types for its adherence to locavore principles and purposeful focus on natural, biodynamic and limited production wines. The bright, few-frills 25 seater was a real focal point of West Coast creativity and a source of inspiration to up-and-coming Vancouver cooks who appreciated the ingredient-driven, farm-to-table approach of the tiny kitchen. Latab (Chinook jargon for “The Table”) was also crazy affordable with tasting menus – aka “the whole shebang” – going for just $49. That it didn’t live to see its second birthday is a real shame.
A long-running (35 years) French restaurant in the West End that was famous for the depth and breadth of its Old World wine list (at 35,000 bottles, it was possibly Vancouver’s most extensive for a time). Owner Manny Ferreira opened Miradoro in the Okanagan in 2011.
Kids were encouraged to run guiltlessly, joyously amok at Little Nest, a memorable (if often outrageously loud) counter-service cafe off The Drive. Opened in 2007, the sprawling gift to parents run ragged was owned and operated by Mary MacIntyre, a former Lumiere pastry chef who actually gave a damn about the food Vancouver restaurants were feeding little ones. Unfortunately, Mary’s landlord was of the especially greedy sort, reportedly increasing her rent by 100% over the course of the restaurant’s six year run and ultimately forcing its closure in 2013 by demanding a further 50% increase. Though other kid-friendly establishments have opened in Vancouver since, none have captured Little Nest’s one-of-a-kind neighbourhood den mother vibe.
Opened in 2005, this immediately popular Mexican-inspired eatery featured a great cocktail list, plenty of tequila and lots of delicious share plates. Before it closed in the Spring of 2017, Lolita’s nurtured several influential talents, including chef Shelome Bouvette of Mt. Pleasant’s Chicha.
Cheffed by ex-Aurora Bistro sous Dan Tigchelaar with a front of house crew that included (if memory serves) Mark Brand and Jay Jones, this Sean Heather-owned bit of weirdness in Yaletown dished up bacon-wrapped meatloaf and mixed bourbon milkshakes but somehow never made it to see its first birthday. Tragic.
This restaurant (complete with downstairs “Opium Den”) exploded on the scene in 2001 not only as a den of total debauchery but also as a springboard of sorts for the careers of several of the city’s young serial restaurateurs. Its heyday gnaws indulgently on our memories. The building that once housed it was demolished in 2016.
The wildly creative and successful Rob Feenie era at Lumiere (1995-2011) had a unique magic to it that just couldn’t be fully reconciled with the Iron Chef out of the picture (he left after a very public spat with his partners in 2007). Home to some of the best dining experiences we’ve ever had and the breeding ground for great staff who would go on to become some of Vancouver’s most respected chefs and restaurateurs.
Opened in the winter of 2016, Mak N Ming was a sophisticated 28-seat restaurant located just up from the beach on Kitsilano’s Yew Street slope. The name was a play on the names of the operating owners, chefs Makoto Ono and Amanda Cheng. Their cuisine – a refined amalgam of Japanese and Modern European (mostly French) culinary techniques and seasonal West Coast ingredients – was confidently expressed in multi-course, wine-paired tasting menus. Designed by Scott & Scott (see also Torafuku, Kin Kao), the dining room was small, sleek and wood-panelled — an intimate space that subtly elevated guest expectations. (With no bar and the two-person kitchen tucked away out of sight, it was perfectly suited for the restaurant’s heartfelt ‘omotenashi’ approach to service.) Mak N Ming received glowing reviews in both the Vancouver Sun and the Globe & Mail, and was deemed Canada’s 4th best new restaurant by enRoute magazine in 2017. It closed in the summer of 2021, its owners stating a desire to move on to something new and on a larger scale.
The 2009 arrival of Market by Jean-Georges in the new Shangri-La Hotel was exciting. The coming of an international celebrity chef like the French-American Jean-Georges Vongerichten was trumpeted as a turning point for Vancouver, a signal that our little town had all the elements required to join the ranks of food cities like New York, Paris and Tokyo (see also the arrival of Daniel Boulud’s DB Bistro Moderne). Unfortunately, its impact was lessened by circumstances beyond its control, as its opening coincided with the Great Recession. The downturn broadly hamstrung Vancouver’s dining scene and flattened the trajectory of the same rise that drew the attention of Vongerichten in the first place. Market will nevertheless be remembered for its plush dining room; its excellent service; its tight menus of Jean-Georges’ greatest hits (mmm, black truffle and fontina pizza!); and, most importantly, its employment of many local talents over the course of its 11-year run, several of whom went on to do great things, among them Lee Cooper (owner/chef, L’Abattoir), Justin Tisdall (owner, Juke), Kristian Eligh (chef, Toptable) and Paul Grunberg (owner Savio Volpe). The restaurant closed on January 1st, 2020 to make way for an as yet unnamed new concept.
A classic Chinese-Canadian diner run by an adorable couple in their 80s. Tony Fung (server) and his wife May (cook) took over the small Hastings-Sunrise restaurant in 1993 and ran it until 2014. Well known in the neighbourhood for its crotchety regulars and its dirt cheap food. The address is currently occupied by What’s Up Hot Dog.
Merchant’s Workshop (aka Merchant’s Oyster Bar) was a chef-driven industry favourite fixture on The Drive that was celebrated for its many collaborations, sun-soaked patio, off-menu items (the burgers!), memorable special events and primary focus on making things extra delicious. While it did attract many off-duty cooks, bartenders and servers, to the neighbourhood at large is was like a living room of sorts, a place to slip in, chat up the staff and other patrons at the long bar while downing a few oysters with a glass of something well chosen. It closed in 2018 after chefs-owners Doug Stephen and Lindsey Mann launched a second project, the wildly successful Downlow Chicken Shack, which served up the Nashville hot chicken they’d perfected at Merchant’s. Thankfully, the space was sold to a likeminded group of restaurant industry veterans, who gave us Ugly Dumpling.
Brian Fowke and Tim Keller’s sprawling, 150-seat Metro restaurant boasted a great design by EVOKE ID (see also Fable Diner, The Union, El Camino’s), a solid concept (Modern Canadian) and a tourist-magnet location in Coal Harbour, but it barely lasted a year after its 2007 launch. The address would later be home to a slick Hapa Izakaya off-shoot called Hapa Umi, then a Hapa Izakaya proper, then a reincarnated version of Don Francesco’s.
A good looking, wine-savvy pan-Asian fusion restaurant in the heart of Mt. Pleasant that opened in 1998 to critical acclaim. Maker of dreamy hoisin duck pancakes with scallions that still haunts our dreams. It was closed in 2007 to make way for Caffe Barney.
A beautiful dessert and champagne-focused stunner short-lived at 32 Water St. in the heart of Gastown. Designed by Craig Stanghetta and Kate Snyder of local firm Ste Marie (see also Kissa Tanto, Savio Volpe, Di Beppe, etc.), the romantic 40 seater was opened by first time owner/operators Alice Wu and Johan Friedrich on Valentine’s Day in 2015. Its staff ranks saw the talented likes of chefs Jefferson Alvarez and Dominic Fortin, not to mention the cocktail stylings of Olivia Povarchook. It quietly closed in August, 2018.
An institution on The Drive for over 62 years, the unpretentious Italian-Canadian restaurant was long famous for its meatballs and classic red sauce joint decor. It closed just before Christmas in 2017. Taking its place in the summer of 2018 was the similarly themed Pepino’s Spaghetti House.
Located at 62 East Cordova St. on the eastern edge of Gastown and launched in the winter of 2011 by first-timer Bill McCaig, Nicli was BC’s first ever pizzeria to be certified by the ‘Associazione Vera Pizza Napoletana’, meaning it followed the rules governing the preparation of authentic Neapolitan pizza to the letter (ie. using a wood-burning oven, “00” Caputo flour, San Marzano tomatoes, proper mozzarella and parmesan cheeses, etc.). The results were game-changing, the basic pies being celebrated as pimply-crusted revelations of bright and true flavours. Even if Vancouver diners were unused to cutting their own pizzas with special scissors, the undeniable deliciousness of the product accelerated a trend toward pizza authenticity that would be followed by several other restaurants and appreciated by a dining public more accustomed to the American fast food style. The brick-walled space was arguably too cavernous for a simple, 40-seat pizzeria concept, but it was popular enough to last for nearly a decade. McCaig even opened a second location on the North Shore (which he has since sold). The pandemic ultimately proved too much for the original operation, with the shutdowns and general deterioration of the neighbourhood making reopening a non-starter.
Opened in 2005, Nu Restaurant was a bold waterfront concept from Harry Kambolis (see also “C”, Raincity Grill) that was a little ahead of its time, focusing as it did on small share plates that were often as delicious as they were fun to eat. With its sweeping views of False Creek, Granville Island and English Bay, the semi-circular location – perched fantastically over the water – was truly one of a kind. Unforgettable were the spinning wine rack (pictured above) and butt-hugging bucket chairs that some loved and others hated.
Nu (French for ‘naked’) attracted talented staff at the start, including the front of house likes of Andy Crimp, Jay Jones and Leonard Nachonechny. Much of the menu – including the memorable crispy fried oysters skewered with a squeezable syringe of beer – was designed by chef Robert Belcham, with kitchen operations being overseen by chef Robert Clark, who was supported over the years by chefs de cuisine like Joseph Sartor and Dan Creyke.
Though Nu launched to much critical acclaim – including the #1 spot in enRoute magazine’s 2006 Best New Restaurants in Canada issue – it’s light faded with the Great Recession of 2009. The menu was tweaked Greek with a 2010 rebrand (to Nu Aegean Cuisine), but the bloom was long off the rose. The once promising restaurant closed with hardly a peep in 2012.
Opened by Mike Shea in 2011, The Oakwood was a casual eatery in Kitsilano that slowly earned a solid reputation by reimagining Canadian comfort food favourites. It took a year or two for word of its deliciousness to extend beyond the neighbourhood, but the woody, warm and genuinely welcoming restaurant would eventually become a destination spot for diners across the city. It reached the top of its game under the talented kitchen stewardship of opening chef Mike Robbins, who not only plated one of the best burgers in Vancouver but also one of its best poutines. In 2014 Robbins would leave to open his own celebrated projects in the neighbourhood (AnnaLena, Their There, Hundy), leaving a creative hole in the operation that was never adequately filled despite the best efforts of his successors. The Oakwood, which also attracted front of house talents such as GM Jeff Parr (who left with Robbins as his business partner) and bartender Rob Clough, would close in confusion in the spring of 2019.
Old Country Fish & Chips was a popular fixture at 6 East Pender Street (aka the Desrosiers Block) from 1916 to 1933, back when the Downtown Eastside was still the beating heart of Vancouver and cheap, seafood-focused restaurants were concentrated in the area. Opened by Bert Love and John Dobson, the restaurant’s slogan was “Direct from the sea to the pan,” even though the posted menu included the meatier likes of pork chops, steak and onions, hamburgers, cold ox tongue, and bangers and mash. In 1923, an order of fish and chips at Old Country cost just 25 cents.
A once-upon-a-time diner of legend. Opened in 1917, the eatery – with its beautiful neon seahorse signage and horseshoe lunch counter making it especially iconic – had its heyday in the middle part of the 20th century. The facade remained a draw even after the Downtown Eastside institution was closed for good in 2009 (following a police raid that turned up a lot of cocaine and heroin on the premises), but since the sign was removed in 2015 the exterior no longer hints at the location’s storied past.
The Parker was a small, 500 sqft., 20 seat vegetarian restaurant opened by Steve Da Cruz and Martin Warren in late September, 2012 on the well-travelled Chinatown/Strathcona block of Union Street. A third partner, Tiffany Easton, came on later. Despite its tight quarters, The Parkside felt a little bigger than it actually was. This was no doubt the result of the wall of mirrors that rose above the wooden banquette seating, but it also had plenty to do with the restaurant’s lofty ambitions. It tried to play as many angles as it could, hosting wine- and sake-pairing dinners, serving up lengthy dégustation menus and happy hour prix fixes, even weekend brunch. Over the course of its three-year run, The Parkside featured the inventive, always interesting cooking of three different executive chefs: Jason Leizert, Curtis Luk and Felix Zhou (in order of appearance). The menus changed often and were complimented by a short wine list and an extensive cocktail card.
Despite its best efforts, the little spot never really took off. The Parker closed in the summer of 2015, the owners rebranding the place into a new concept called Big Trouble (a particularly apt name considering it took just four months for it to shutter as well). Though the kitchen space was extremely limited, chef Felix Zhou’s menu for the place read beautifully (eg. “Peking quail over golden beet purée with puffed wild rice”), which is to say it’s a shame it didn’t get time to settle and shine. The address is now home to The Tuck Shoppe, a casual sandwich spot.
Launched by frontman Chris Stewart and chef Andrey Durbach in 2003, this West End oasis of rich food, bold flavours, great wine, excellent service and arguably the finest patio in Vancouver fell victim to the recession, closing its doors in 2009 to become the more casual L’Altro Buca, followed by Adesso Bistro.
An unassuming, entirely average little Vietnamese pho restaurant on Kingsway at Victoria that gained notoriety on account of a phonetic (English) misrepresentation of its name. The gawking ceased when the eatery closed in 2005, but the memory endures.
Opened at the height of the 2008 financial crisis by Josh Olson and his aunt, Hiroko Yamamoto, the strikingly stylish Ping’s Cafe served up Japanese yoshoku-style comfort foods like tonkatsu and “hambagoo” steaks in the heart of Mt. Pleasant. Named after one of the building’s previous tenants from the 1980s (the faded signage of which still hung above the awning frame), the restaurant was not a little misunderstood and lasted less than a year. The address – 2702 Main Street (currently Burdock & Co.) – would later become home to chef Andrey Durbach and Chris Stewart’s short-lived Cafeteria.
Another Harry Kambolis restaurant (1992-2014), and thus an impactful facet of Vancouver’s restaurant evolution. It following the mantra of local, seasonal, organic and sustainable, fostering lots of talent in both the front and back of house. Outstanding patio on English Bay. Now the Beach Bay Cafe.
An odd, strikingly idiosyncratic fine dining restaurant (with Versace plates) that was likely just a little ahead of its time and in a not-so-great location at the south end of the Granville St. Bridge. It opened in 2006 and lasted a little over two years.
The beautifully designed farm-to-table restaurant Royal Dinette launched in Vancouver’s financial district in the summer of 2015. From the start it had a lot going for it (despite the incongruent ownership duo of chef David Gunawan – now of Ubuntu – and Jeff Donnelly of the much-maligned Donnelly Group). The opening crew was a dream team that included the likes of head chef Jack Chen (ex-L’Abattoir), bar manager Wendy McGuinness (ex-Chambar), and front of house managers Chen-Wei Lee (ex-Bao Bei) and Jonathan Therrien (ex-Cafe Medina). Other talents like chefs Alden Ong and Eva Chin would also make their marks in the open kitchen, and one of the world’s top bartenders, Kaitlyn Stewart, would see her career take off behind the wood. Sadly, despite consistently good reviews and a shelf full of awards (including Best New Restaurant in 2016), the restaurant announced its permanent closure on March 17th, 2020, just three days before Mayor Kennedy Stewart announced the immediate suspension of table service due to Covid-19.
This tiny but beloved Spanish-themed restaurant and bar quietly shuttered at the start of the 2020/2021 coronavirus pandemic after an eight year run in Gastown at 26 Powell Street. Launched by long-time collaborators Chris Stewart and chef Andrey Durbach in the spring of 2012, the high-ceilinged room was subtly stylish with a simply design — a cozy, bullshit-free respite in an increasingly scene-struck neighbourhood. A change of ownership in 2016 didn’t diminish its allure, and it kept turning out classic shareables like saucy meatballs, spicy garlic prawns and addictive <em>patatas bravas</em> – alongside Spanish beers, wines and plenty of sherry – through to a quiet end no one could have predicted.
Sea Monstr Sushi came ashore at 55 Powell St. in the winter of 2010 with the charming slogan: It’s delicious for you. The simple Gastown sushi counter from artist Alex Usow and restaurateur Mark Brand was like a cherry on top for the neighbourhood after a whirlwind of new restaurant openings brought a dozen or so exciting options to the area. Cheffed by Keith Allison (now co-owner with Usow at Pizza Coming Soon), the tiny restaurant was umbilically connected to Usow and Brand’s Sharks + Hammers retail clothing and lifestyle shop on Alexander Street. Sadly, Sea Monstr Sushi served its last wild salmon nigiri and poured its last Sapporo in 2014. The space is now home to The Birds & The Beets.
Opened in the old Coco Pazzo location (1864 West 57th Ave.) to critical acclaim in 2005 by celebrated restaurateur Manuel Ferreira (see also Le Gavroche), Kerrisdale’s Senova focused on the food and drink of the Iberian peninsula (or as the restaurant called it, the “cuisine of the sun”). Ferreira would sell the eatery four years later in 2009 and move to the Okanagan Valley, where he would launch the award-winning Miradoro restaurant at Tinhorn Creek. The new owners would keep the Senova name (Ferreira’s hometown in Portugal) but switch the concept to Italian with a focus on pastas. Though the food and service continued to be of mentionable calibre, there were always whispers of turmoil behind the scenes. Several complaints to the Employment Standards Branch were filed by staff over the next decade, with disputes over missing paycheques and ownership infighting even making the news. The restaurant – which regulars will remember for its transportive dining room, its crescent bar and its aromatic open kitchen – would unceremoniously shutter in early September, 2019.
A glorious (and hidden) whiskey lover’s dream that was once located in the No. 1 Gaoler’s Mews space behind what would later become L’Abattoir in Gastown. It’s important to note that The Shebeen is still going strong in the back of the Irish Heather today, which moved across the street to its current address at 210 Carrall St. in 2010. There was just something especially charming about the original, and we can’t help but miss it a little!
For a few decades before the advent of ruinous Prohibition, the bar at Vancouver’s long gone Strand Hotel was – since its launch in 1889 – a magnet to the emerging city’s well-heeled ship owners and brokers. It was the place to see and be seen, to be well-served and thus transported back to the posh clubs and cafes of London. According to Michael Kluckner’s Vancouver, The Way it Was (1984, Whitecap), The Strand’s head barman, Doc, “had the suave manners of a diplomat” and the lunch counter was tended by a Maori import named John Bluntish, who treated his guests like children. The establishment went out in a “blaze of glory” on the night before Prohibition began. Kluckner writes:
In the dying wet hours, there was no way to get close to the bar. The supply of beer ran out, and the bartenders served only straight drinks “and had no time for the usual persiflage.” The Strand set an all-time record for bar receipts, even though some patrons, as closing time approached, wasted precious moments singing ‘Sweet Adeline’.
The hotel and the remnants of its famous bar would be remodelled in 1939 and ultimately demolished in 1951 for the Canadian Bank of Commerce’s regional office building expansion.
Supermarine didn’t last as nearly as long as many wished it would, shuttering in the summer of 2016 just one year (almost to the day) after it opened at 1685 Yew St. just up from Kits Beach. Owned by James Iranzad and Josh Pape, the casual 36-seater was the conceptual, seafood-focused cousin of their meaty, award-winning Wildebeest restaurant (which remains a popular draw in Gastown to this day). From my notes at the time:
“Exemplar dishes include bone-roasted skate wing with white polenta and field mushroom marmalade; tempura-battered snow crab with pomme puree, bok choy, and fresh crab salad; lobster bao buns with pickled cucumber and spiced black garlic bisque; and house spaghetti vongole with spicy bread crumbs. It’s a deep menu, and a salivating delight to read.”
Pape and Iranzad closed it to test-fly another concept – Lucky Taco – in the same address. They did so under the auspices of their umbrella company, Gooseneck Hospitality, which also operates Bells & Whistles and Bufala (in addition to Wildebeest). Prior to Supermarine, the location was for many years home to a much-loved late-night hangout called Abigail’s Party.
The Spanish-themed Tempranillo wine and food bar (named after the Spanish noble grape varietal) was located in a tiny Gastown address that had room for just 26 diners. It was owned and cheffed by Bill Robitaille, who had previously opened and closed two other eateries – first the Italian ‘Notturno’ and then the Japanese ‘Kozakura’ – in the same location (280 Carrall St.). The front of house and Spanish sherry/cider-heavy drinks program were overseen by award-winning barman Ben de Champlain (formerly of Boneta and Cinara). Though small, unpretentious wine bars are a rarity in Vancouver, Tempranillo was not as successful as it could/should have been. It closed in the Spring of 2018, hardly a year after opening.
Opened on the Coal Harbour waterfront at the foot of Denman Street in late 2018, the sunny, French and Mediterranean-inspired fine dining restaurant Verre was cheffed by the talented Liam Breen. Though somewhat capable (especially in the kitchen) and undoubtedly attractive, Verre suffered the same problems as previous restaurant tenants of the same address (eg. The Change, Sol Sun Belt Cookery, Bravo Bistro, Crime Lab), the most predictable being a general lack of accessibility and visibility at the tucked away terminal of a seldom travelled cul-de-sac. This, combined with a fatal deficit of moneyed comers who prefer to be seen (and who could tell the difference between pretend and proper fine dining service), left the operation rather lost. Globe & Mail restaurant critic Alexandra Gill likely accelerated its demise when she called it “a high priced jewel run by amateurs,” but the coup de grace came with the pandemic, which mercifully claimed the restaurant at the end of its second summer.
A legendary restaurant in Hogan’s Alley (the black community that was essentially erased by the City to make way for the viaducts in 1970). Vie’s was in operation for 26 years starting in 1950, with hours that rolled from 5pm to 5am. Very popular with visiting entertainers. The staff were all women, and it’s well known that Jimi Hendrix’s grandmother used to work there as a cook.
For much of West Restaurant’s nearly 20 year run, it stood astride Vancouver’s hospitality scene like a colossus, winning innumerable accolades for excellence and attracting many of the city’s top culinary and front of house talents to its iconic South Granville door. (David Hawksworth, Mark Perrier, Thierry Busset, Rhonda Viani, Brian Hopkins, Giovanni Giardino, David Wolowidnyk and Owen Knowlton – to name just a handful of rockstar mentionables – all clocked in here at one time or another.)
Together with restaurants like the still thriving Bishop’s and long gone Lumiere, West (originally ‘Ouest’) was hugely instrumental in establishing Vancouver’s culinary identity on the high end, wowing local and visiting diners with a hybrid of classically French and new-fangled techniques applied to seasonal ingredients sourced right from our own waters, farms and forests. Though the Werner Forster-designed room’s influence would wane in the wake of the 2008/2009 Financial Crisis (and the general dumbing down of the city’s gastronomic aspirations that resulted), it remained a reliable bastion of fine dining through its second decade. Rather than eat a new and likely ridiculous lease, parent company Toptable Group made the decision to close West with much ado at the end of 2019.
Many hoped the woody, award-winning Wildebeest restaurant would reopen for limited sit-down service or takeout after Covid-19’s first wave hit in the Spring of 2020, but owners James Iranzad and Josh Pape kept it shuttered, using the voluminous space as a commissary instead. Sadly, they will be exiting the space entirely this summer, which is to say Wildebeest is officially no more. It was certainly an interesting eight and a half-year run for the casual fine dining establishment that got us hooked on smoked Castelvetrano olives and inspired the occasional, highly indulgent bone luge. The critically acclaimed restaurant will be remembered as one of the more elevated and enjoyably unpredictable dining experiences in Vancouver, a testament to an always deft team of well-trained front-of-house hands and a succession of young, highly creative and inspired chefs (eg. David Gunawan, Wesley Young, Ian McHale). Wildebeest will be missed most of all as a gourmand hangout and hospitality industry hideout, its cool quotient calculated by dim lighting, skilled bartenders, thoughtful collaborations, smooth soundtrack, and always interesting line-up of gastronomical special events. The city – and most immediately the 100 block of West Hastings – is so much the lesser for the loss.
Wild Rice was a trailblazing restaurant that took on the food concept of socially and environmentally conscious “Modern Chinese” cuisine at 117 West Pender Street, just outside the gates of Chinatown. It launched in 2001, with chef Stuart Irving (now owner of Cuchillo) plating ethically sourced food informed by co-owner Andrew Wong’s heritage and pairing it with local wines and original cocktails. The beautifully designed (by Terri Storey), multi-level, 88 seat eatery was, for a time, one of Vancouver’s most interesting and exciting establishments, winning several accolades and drawing a diverse crowd to its strikingly underlit ice blue resin bar. After its closure in early 2014, the spirit of the Wild Rice (a founding member of Ocean Wise and Green Table) lived on at its second location in New Westminster’s River Market. Sadly, its closure has been announced for the last day of 2018.
Yew Seafood + Bar was a sprawling, casual fine dining restaurant located in the Four Seasons Hotel lobby at 791 West Georgia Street. Opened in 2007, it quickly earned a reputation for being one of the better hotel restaurants in Vancouver. Its focus on sustainably harvested seafood set it apart and made it instrumental in introducing international visitors to the delicious bounty of British Columbia’s coast. Remarkable chefs came and went in Yew’s first few years, but the restaurant really came into its own after chef Ned Bell took the helm in 2011. His artful tenure here informed the publication of Bell’s excellent cookbook, Lure, in 2017. Yew was always well known for its bar program, which consistently produced cocktail cards worthy of repeat visits. It closed, along with the Four Seasons Hotel, in early 2020.