10 Years Ago Today, Inside the Construction Site of One of Vancouver’s Best Restaurants

For this edition of #ThrowbackThursday we return to the very beginnings of Gastown’s celebrated L’Abattoir restaurant, back to when it was completely gutted on its second day of construction.

Deep breaths of demolition dust aside, I knew I was stepping foot into a special place. I knew the dimensions well, having been an irregular patron of what L’Abattoir was replacing, namely the original Irish Heather gastropub. It had moved into new digs across the street (where it remains) in 2009, so I remember this as being an especially discombobulating and sentimental walk-through. (I even tried the door to the original Shebeen out back, but it was locked.) Beyond some profane graffiti on a washroom wall that had yet to be drywalled over (visible in one of the photos below), there was neither a trace of what came before nor a hint of what would come next. Take a look…

  • L'Abattoir Restaurant in Gastown | The first day of demolition
  • L'Abattoir Restaurant in Gastown | Looking down at the entrance from the mezzanine
  • Paul Grunberg and Lee Cooper in the original Irish Heather space (before it was L'Abattoir)
  • L'Abattoir Restaurant in Gastown | The mezzanine
  • L'Abattoir Restaurant in Gastown | The mezzanine
  • L'Abattoir Restaurant in Gastown | Big windows
  • L'Abattoir Restaurant in Gastown | Looking upstairs from the entrance
  • L'Abattoir Restaurant in Gastown | The bar area
  • L'Abattoir Restaurant in Gastown
  • L'Abattoir Restaurant in Gastown | The 22 seat solarium
  • L'Abattoir Restaurant in Gastown | Paul inspects the ancient and sordid works of vandals
  • L'Abattoir Restaurant in Gastown | From the back hall looking toward the bar area
  • Demo day at L'Abattoir Restaurant in Gastown | owners Lee Cooper, Paul Grunberg, and Nin Rai
  • L'Abattoir Restaurant in Gastown | From the solarium looking back toward the entrance

L’Abattoir’s original ownership group has long since split up, with co-founder Paul Grunberg having moved on to create Savio Volpe, Pepino’s and Caffe La Tana. At the time of writing, L’Abattoir is closed for service on account of the Covid-19 shutdown, but it remains very much in operation offering take-away and delivery meals (as is the case with Caffe La Tana, and many dozens of other local, independent restaurants, for that matter). Support them if you can! When this pandemic nightmare comes to an end, I hope to see the restaurant back to form, which is to say leading the way.

Here’s the key bit from my story that day…

A new Gastown restaurant is under construction in the original Irish Heather location at 217 Carrall. Demolition began yesterday. It’s called L’Abattoir, a name chosen to speak to the space’s proximity to Blood Alley (‘slaughterhouse’ in French is so much sexier).

Such a moniker might weird some people out, but if Judas Goat can pull off a name that sounds like a Norwegian death metal band’s sophomore album, L’Abattoir’s a total go. I’ve been assured that there will be no carcasses hanging from the ceiling, and blood splattering is not a motif currently being entertained by the designer.

The front of house will be the realm of co-owner Paul Grunberg, former GM at Chambar and Market (most recently he’s been moonlighting at Bao Bei), and the back of house is in the hands of co-owner/chef Lee Cooper. Applying his business acumen to the project is Nin Rai. He went to Malaspina with Cooper, and owns Truffles Fine Foods with chef David Lee.

They’re a young, hungry group.

Grunberg is a known entity to me (and you, if you get out much). I’ve seen what he’s done, loved where he’s done it at, and recognise him as one of the city’s top drawer managers. Though this may be his first swing of the independence bat, I don’t doubt his abilities one bit, especially since he’s personally invested.

Cooper is a total mystery to me, and that’s what excites me the most. The 31 year old seems like a really nice guy – the nephew of none other than Okanagan pioneer Bernard Casavant (was Burrowing Owl, now Manteo). He’s made the right moves staging; training at some big guns (London’s Tom Aitkens, Maze, and most recently at Napa’s Ubuntu); and was once upon a time a chef de partie at the storied Fat Duck. Closer to home, he did a stint under Michael Allemeier at Mission Hill, moving on to sous chef positions at Scott Jaeger’s award-winning Pear Tree and Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Market in the Shangri-La Hotel. Though I’ve never eaten a morsel from the man, having now read that back I sure as hell want to.

The approach he’s taking to the food seems straightforward. Though they don’t want to be pigeon-holed, from what I gather it’ll be affordable, modern French with bouts of rustic classicism and plenty of attention being paid to details. They won’t be afraid to take chances, Grunberg told me, but they’ll do so with confidence. Sounds plenty like Boneta up the street, which is a very good thing as there are plenty of beery, jolly joints in Gastown, and only the one swipe at excellence. An extra dash of the stuff wouldn’t hurt, and Lord knows Boneta could use the company.

Old Heather hands will remember how the address is split into three sections. There’s the entrance with its 10 seat bar (and now partially open kitchen and pass); a 48 seat mezzanine level, which sounds like it’s going to be pretty stunning (herringbone-patterned wood floors, butcher block tables, and elegant stemware set against the ancient brick walls); and a mosaic-floored rebuild of the original 22 seat solarium in the back (where I’m sure some of you used to down pints and hack butts back in the day). Craig Stanghetta – who did the design with Tannis Ling and Ryan Murfitt at Bao Bei – is doing a 27 foot long, foraged branch chandelier for this back space, and it’ll be open for both lunch and dinner from Monday to Saturday (until midnight), with a brunch service on Sunday. David Hepworth of Situ Design is responsible for the overall look at L’Abattoir. He designed Feenie’s, the old Lumiere, The Pear Tree, and the Vancouver Club redux, so an amateur he is not.

L’Abattoir is probably the most exciting, promising restaurant currently in Vancouver’s pipe for a number of reasons, not least because it has the potential to change (and possibly even elevate) the game in Gastown, which is currently (arguably) the most exciting postal code in which to enjoy a night on the town. I also can’t help but love that it’s going in the original Irish Heather location, the one that played such a large role in sparking the neighbourhood’s current renaissance. The only thing I don’t like about it is that can’t I eat there right now.

For reference, this is what the restaurant looked like when it was finally finished…

  • L'Abattoir | Glasfurd and Walker
  • L'Abattoir | Glasfurd and Walker
  • Private Dining Room
  • Beef | photo credit: Laura Leyshon
  • L'Abattoir | Glasfurd and Walker
  • PDR3
  • Steelhead | photo credit: Laura Leyshon
  • L'Abattoir | Photo: Laura Leyshon
  • L’Abattoir
  • L'Abattoir | Glasfurd and Walker
  • L'Abattoir | Glasfurd and Walker
  • L'Abattoir | Glasfurd and Walker
  • PDR2
  • L'Abattoir | Glasfurd and Walker
  • L’Abattoir | 217 Carrall St. | Gastown | 604-568-1701 | www.labattoir.ca
  • L'Abattoir Cocktail - Avocado Gimlet
  • L'Abattoir | Glasfurd and Walker
  • L'Abattoir | Glasfurd and Walker
  • First guests arrive at Shaun and David's bar...
  • Atrium
  • Jake walking toward the atrium

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