The ever-evolving Restaurant Graveyard series looks back at the countless, long-shuttered establishments that helped to propel Vancouver’s food and drink forward. Full A-Z with maps and photos here. May they never be forgotten!
One of the images in the Vancouver Archives that always stops me in my tracks is that of the long gone Central Cafe at 608 West Pender Street. Beyond my love of the tile work, the neon signage and the unique window shapes on the facade is a bottomless curiosity about the three words on the entablature that read NEW SERVICE IDEA. I have no clue what that refers to. Was there some newly developed notion of servitude in the 1930s? Was obsequiousness taken to new depths here, or was there a general reluctance to fawn? One can’t help but appreciate the boldness of the declaration even though we remain ignorant of its meaning. It was a fleeting statement in any event, for what is clearly evident is the image above (dated 1931) is missing from the image below (dated 1944) following a makeover of the frontage. Why? C’est un mystère!
I can’t find much about the restaurant beyond these archival photos. I know the property was swallowed up by Malone’s in the 1990s, but I’m in the dark as to what exactly preceded its now lengthy run as a seedy sports bar. I don’t think Central Cafe was around for long after the Second World War, but that’s just a hunch. If anyone can fill in the blanks, please do!
Thankfully, the University of Washington has a copy of the Central Cafe menu in its collection. Its cover reveals that the establishment had something called an “Oriental Room” (whatever that was) which offered dancing after 8pm with no cover charge. It was also “open all night.” The menu itself details a shockingly long list of dishes, everything from oysters from the east and west coasts to hot and cold sandwiches, breaded veal steaks, salmon filets and Boston cream pie. As to how the kitchen kept up with the diversity is anyone’s guess!