The new location of the Irish Heather Gastropub and the Shebeen Whiskey House (now the Irish Heather Shebeen) is nearing completion at 246 East Georgia Street.
I poked my head inside the new “Heather” earlier this week and found owner Sean Heather and others hard at work in advance of one of their final inspections. The long, narrow room had come a long way in the six weeks since my first visit when Scout first reported the news about the veteran Gastown operation’s move to Chinatown. Tables, chairs and barstools had arrived and been positioned; walls had been adorned with framed posters, photographs and original paintings, and the kitchen looked to be about 75% finished.
It could change once there are bodies in the room and an atmosphere emerges, but right now I’m already loving the nooks, the four semi-enclosed spaces that seat up to six people. Each of these nooks has a distinct theme with associated framed imagery. There’s the military nook, which sees lots of Irish and UK regimental and propaganda posters and wartime photographs from the first half of the 20th century. Then there’s the restaurant nook, the walls of which are adorned with over a dozen framed menus that Sean kept as mementoes after memorable meals in Vancouver and elsewhere (eg. vintage Lumiere, Chez Panisse). Next is the movie nook, which is chock-a-block with framed headshots of Sean’s favourite film stars, some of whom were known to visit the original Irish Heather and Shebeen on occasion. Finally, there’s the charming and very personal family room, which is hung with old photos of Sean’s own family, friends and ancestors. I have a fair feeling these four nooks will likely be the most coveted seats in the house.
It’s all a big change, for sure, but I don’t think it will prove much of a challenge for original Irish Heather institutionalists to feel very much at home here. This relatively quiet block of East Georgia is very different than the old spot on Carrall Street, which was fed traffic from Cordova, Alexander, Powell and Water Streets. Accordingly it might be seen by some as tranquil in comparison, a hideaway within a hideaway, which is to say more amenable to the old school pub vibe the Heather has always aimed to exude. If all goes well, it should open softly within the next two weeks.
Here’s some further background on the project from my notes of April 13th (if this is the first you’re hearing of it), plus a bunch of photos of what I saw on my latest walk-through…
After 24 years in Gastown, The Irish Heather and its adjacent Shebeen Whisky Bar are set to reopen next month in Chinatown at 246 East Georgia Street. The address, next to Phnom Penh and across the street from what used to be Mamie Taylor’s, is all of 2,200 sqft, giving owner Sean Heather more than enough room to include a lengthy bar up front, four semi-enclosed ‘snug’ booths that can seat up to 8 people each, an open kitchen, a long table of 36 seats and even a small private room.
Rather than physically separating the whisky bar from the pub (oh, how I miss the original Shebeen!), this third incarnation of the much-loved combo – now blessed with several skylights – will see them intertwined, with the spirit of the Shebeen at the front and the business of the pub more to the middle and rear.
Underneath it all is a basement space of raw and polished concrete, enough for some 55 seats accessed by a narrow set of stairs. With the end of Heather’s lease on Gastown’s Salt Tasting Room and its underground Salt Cellar event space on the not so distant horizon (September, 2021), this new and strikingly similar subterranean project is intended to fill that void in his ledger. Naturally, it will be called Salt Cellar.
On my recent walk-through of the woody space, now officially The Irish Heather Shebeen, I spied several relics of the original Heather, a couple of miniature Catholic grottos (including one dedicated to ‘the patron saint of head injuries’), matching wooden cabinetry from old drugstores, and countless rescued bits and bobs from long forgotten pubs with sympathetic aesthetics. Though there’s evidently much work still to be done, it already looks and feels like a Sean Heather joint, which is enough for me to anticipate bending an elbow there when it opens in mid-May.