FROM THE COLLECTION aims to introduce readers to the inventories of local art galleries, museums and other cultural institutions, not via official exhibition notes but by way of the people that help manage and maintain the collections themselves.
In this edition of From the Collection, and in honour of Hy’s Canada’s 60th anniversary, President and CEO Neil Aisenstat (son of founder Hy Aisenstat) reflects on the restaurant’s legacy, and what has made Hy’s Steakhouse an institution for generations of locals and visitors alike for over half of a century…
As well as providing the quintessential ‘steakhouse experience’ of dry martinis and charcoal-grilled steaks, Hy’s dark and dramatic room is impressive to behold. This is in large part owing to its collection of art, which Neil fondly remembers accumulating over the years via various family trips, as the restaurant chain expanded beyond its 1955 original Calgary location.
“I distinctly remember trips to the Portobello Market in London, England and to Sotheby’s Auction House. My Dad was very particular about the décor, and he favoured a variety of traditional portraiture. They were unsigned pieces, likely a departure from the artist’s usual style, but that’s how the artists made extra money in those days. Dad amassed quite a collection over the years.”
Due to these art-seeking excursions, the Aisenstat family eventually ran out of restaurant wall space, and were forced to house the collection in three different storage units.
Hy’s on Hornby St. – aka ‘The Encore’, named thusly because it was the second location to open in Vancouver – still proudly displays pieces that have been around since Neil was a youngster being chased out of the kitchen by the Chef. Many of them are fixtures, including the vignette to the right of the showpiece grill which has steadfastly remained in its original placement. “Woody”, the small wooden figure standing guard in the entry, has had a few so-called field trips over the years, but has always returned to this place of pride. Even the UBC Engineers, famous for their creative pranks, were sure to return him to his forever home.
Whether there are any masterpieces included in the grand Hy’s collection is unknown, but the historical (and mysterious) elements and value that the art brings to the Hy’s experience is undeniable.
I saw some amazing pieces over the years and in restaurants from Toronto to Victoria and to Guam. Hy had incredible good taste and his sons inherited it. Also a little bit of his “wild” side!