Exactly Ten Years Ago Today, the Iconic Waldorf Hotel Was About to Be Born Again

For this week’s edition of #ThrowbackThursday we go back a full decade to the day we wandered around inside the final stage of renovation/restoration of East Hastings’ now 73 year-old Waldorf Hotel

Ten years ago to the day I toured the mayhem that was the then imminent second coming of the Waldorf. The iconic building, together with its legendary Tiki Bar, would reopen as a ‘cultural incubator’ in just a few days under the management of Nuba restaurateur Ernesto Gomez, musician Thomas Anselmi and – for a brief period – chef Ned Bell and sommelier Kurtis Kolt. “There’s so much going on at this address that it’s hard to fathom fully in its as-yet-unfinished state,” read my notes from the day. “But all the pieces seem to be fitting together nicely, down to the analog speakers, rooms, cafe, salon, bar, gift shop and refreshingly left-field tiki vibe.”

  • Waldorf Hotel | Staff training
  • Waldorf Hotel | executive chef Ned Bell
  • Waldorf Hotel | Exterior, looking east
  • Waldorf Hotel | Main floor restaurant
  • Waldorf Hotel | Lobby
  • Waldorf Hotel | Lobby
  • Waldorf Hotel | Lobby stairs
  • Waldorf Hotel | Coming down to the lobby
  • Waldorf Hotel | lower bar
  • Waldorf Hotel | Leeteg room detail
  • Waldorf Hotel | Installing speakers in the Leeteg room
  • Waldorf Hotel | Leeteg room detail
  • Waldorf Hotel | Leeteg room detail
  • Waldorf Hotel | detail
  • Waldorf Hotel | detail
  • Waldorf Hotel | detail
  • Waldorf Hotel | Lower bar
  • Waldorf Hotel | Staff training
  • Waldorf Hotel
  • Waldorf Hotel | The stage
  • Waldorf Hotel | Stage-side mural and banquette
  • Waldorf Hotel | Staff training
  • Waldorf Hotel | Staff training on the day before opening
  • Waldorf Hotel | Wicker chairs
  • Waldorf Hotel | Back patio
  • Waldorf Hotel | Back patio wall for film screenings
  • Waldorf Hotel | Staircase
  • Waldorf Hotel | Poster detail
  • Waldorf Hotel | Main floor restaurant
  • Waldorf Hotel | Poynesian Room
  • Waldorf Hotel | Poynesian Room
  • Waldorf Hotel | Poynesian Room
  • Waldorf Hotel | Poynesian Room
  • Waldorf Hotel | Poynesian Room
  • Waldorf Hotel | Ernesto reveals one of the old analog speakers
  • Waldorf Hotel | Poynesian Room
  • Waldorf Hotel | Poynesian Room
  • Waldorf Hotel | Poynesian Room
  • Waldorf Hotel | Main floor restaurant
  • Waldorf Hotel | Main floor restaurant
  • Waldorf Hotel | Main floor restaurant
  • Waldorf Hotel | Main floor restaurant
  • Waldorf Hotel | Main floor restaurant
  • Waldorf Hotel | Main floor restaurant
  • Waldorf Hotel | Main floor restaurant
  • Waldorf Hotel | Main floor restaurant
  • Waldorf Hotel | Main floor restaurant
  • Waldorf Hotel | Main floor restaurant
  • Waldorf Hotel | Ernesto going up the service stairs
  • Waldorf Hotel | Hotel hallway
  • Waldorf Hotel | Painting room numbers...
  • Waldorf Hotel | Room detail
  • Waldorf Hotel | Single room
  • Waldorf Hotel | Room view
  • Waldorf Hotel | Room view
  • Waldorf Hotel | Many of the in-room bathrooms have been restored. But why would you want to with this gem?
  • Waldorf Hotel | Room detail
  • Waldorf Hotel | From the lobby looking out onto East hastings
  • Waldorf Hotel | The hotel hallway
  • Waldorf Hotel | Coming down to the lobby
  • Waldorf Hotel | Coming down to the lobby
  • Waldorf Hotel |  In the kitchen with executive chef Ned Bell and sous chef Mike Wrinch
  • Waldorf Hotel | Gabriella, who is prepping authentic Mexican street food
  • Waldorf Hotel | sous chef Mike Wrinch
  • Waldorf Hotel | Co-owners Ernesto Gomez and Thomas Anselmi with sous chef Mike Wrinch
  • Waldorf Hotel | executive chef Ned Bell and sous chef Mike Wrinch
  • Waldorf Hotel | Ancient, original equipment in the production kitchen
  • Waldorf Hotel | Main entrance, LobbyExterior
  • Waldorf Hotel | Staff meal in the rear parking lot
  • Waldorf Hotel | Exterior, looking west

Digging around Scout’s archive I found a copy of the new group’s creative brief, which I’ve excerpted below:

In 1955, capitalizing on an emerging interest in Tiki Culture, the complex was transformed into a “tiki” themed hotel. Original architects Mercer and Mercer restyled the existing decor, replacing the minimalist features of their original design with an exotic motif influenced by tribal cultures of the Polynesian islands. The newly renovated Waldorf quickly became known for providing a unique dining and entertaining experience that included authentic Polynesian cuisine, art, music and dancing. Catering to an affluent clientele of executives, citizens, visitors and guests, the hotel was an immediate success. This prosperity continued up until the 70s when, as the neighbourhood found itself in decline and its clientele began to shift down market. Several attempts to revive the hotel in the subsequent years have not been successful at restoring its iconic status […] The group see potential to re-enter the market as a boutique hotel, targeting a different clientele. A dominant trend in the hospitality industry over the past ten years, boutique hotels have emerged as a popular option for smaller sized properties looking to appeal to customers who wish to have a unique experience when visiting a hotel. In the local economy there are high-end hotels that have a “boutique” strategy but none that cater to a mid-range customer. In many other markets this positioning has proved very successful, examples include: The Drake in Toronto, The Ace in Seattle, The Jupiter in Portland. The Waldorf aims to offer the same type of cultural experience for a midrange price creating a totally unique positioning for itself in the local economy.

A falling out with the landlord would cause the new management group to exit after just two years, resulting in a lot of public anxiety about the possibility of the hotel being demolished to make way for condos — a dark day that has thankfully not yet come to pass.


There is 1 comment

  1. Pulls at the heartstrings to see it at this early stage where there was so much energy and potential in those walls. We ate there, drank there, had birthdays there and overnighted there. Saw Doug Coupland get wildly drunk on stage for no reason and the Japandroids absolutely murder. Feels like the magic went away when that original group left. Then again, The Drake sucks now, too. Or maybe I just got old.

Five Years Ago This Week, Inside the Mess That Would Eventually Become ‘The Arbor’

It's been five years since they first broke ground on The Acorn's casual cousin. Take a look inside its messy beginnings.

Exactly Five Years Ago, One of Vancouver’s Best Restaurants Softly Opened in Chinatown

These photos were taken the night of the Japanese-Italian inspired restaurant's first friends and family service in late April, 2016.

Five Years Ago in East Van, Patiently Awaiting the Arrival of Really Good Pie

The new Pie Shoppe address allowed for more room and natural light, not to mention the ability to actually seat guests.

Five Years Ago Today, Inside the Beginnings of Nightingale Restaurant

I remember being floored by the sheer size of the project, which loomed more like a cathedral ruin than a restaurant.