At some point last year, I read an article (since deleted) suggesting that Vancouverites with friends moving from the city centre to its edges in search of more affordable housing options might as well say “goodbye” to those friendships forever.
As I remember it, the author asserted that friends and loved ones would attempt to justify their new postal codes with deluded claims that their lives would remain just as fun, fulfilling and connected after their move; however, none of their city friends should believe them. It was posited that relationships with these defectors would die out due to a lack of interest (from the city folk) in visiting their friends on the fringes. Specifically, the article referenced the River District development, located at Vancouver’s Southeast corner, where Marine Drive meets Boundary.
I think it’s short-sighted to presume these communities will remain as separate from the city ‘proper’ as they appear to be right now. Think about how many New Yorkers, twenty years ago, must have told their friends that moving to Brooklyn was one bridge too far – but now wish they had followed suit. Or in a local context, how many Vancouverites complained, ten years ago, that Olympic Village was a soulless place with no potential, who now admit that it’s a pretty nice place to live today? The point being: in the ‘life’ of a city, a decade amounts to nothing.
To be clear, I’m not calling River District the “Brooklyn of Vancouver”. I’m only suggesting that transformation and community-building take time. I bet that ten years from now (probably less), River District’s waterfront walkways, parks, school and community centre will turn this Vancouver neighbourhood into an even more sought-after place to live (and visit) than it is today.
Gooseneck Hospitality (Bells & Whistles, Bufala, Lucky Taco) have signed two 20-year leases indicating they are also willing to make that bet. This summer, the Vancouver-based restaurant group is slated to open a new River District location of their Italian-inspired pizzeria, Bufala, and their taqueria-style spot, Lucky Taco.
Just last month, I slipped in to peek at both spaces (located side-by-side on the same block). Although still under construction, between design renderings and a tour with the team, it’s easy to imagine what is to come…
At 3,300 square feet, Bufala River District will feature an 80-seat Ste. Marie Studio designed room and an open kitchen with a Woodstone pizza oven. The nearly 20-foot high ceilings and massive windows create an ‘airy’ ambience that will be balanced by grounding elements of warm lighting, intimate table and booth seating, and a marble-topped horseshoe-shaped bar with large custom-built lighting centrepiece. An expansive 45-seat outdoor patio is also in the works.
Bufala’s menu will include the made-from-scratch Neapolitan-style pizzas, pasta, and Italian-inspired small plates that have built such a loyal following at their other two locations (Edgemont and Kerrisdale). To drink, expect cocktails, wine and craft beer (plus proper espresso). Overall, the space and the menu are on brand: sophisticated yet approachable.
Next door to Bufala, clocking in at a more modest 1,050 square feet, Lucky Taco River District (also designed by St. Marie) will have 30 seats inside and 25 more outside on the patio. The indoor and outdoor spaces (merging together in good weather via a retractable wall) will play up Lucky’s kitschy, Mexican-cantina vibes via palapas, lush plants, a not-so-subtle tropical colour palate featuring lots of neon, and a hand-painted mural (details of that still to come). Lucky Taco’s menu will also be similar to its Kitsilano counterpart, meaning we can expect to see tacos (made using fresh and local ingredients), nachos, grilled street corn, cold beer, margaritas and a variety of tequila and mezcal.
Truth be told, I don’t know anything about the development company behind River District. I even intentionally avoided looking them up before I sat down to write this story because I was wary of coming off sounding like I was writing for them – which would obviously detract from the point I wanted to make: that spanning out from the city centre seeking affordable housing is a trend that will continue, and it doesn’t have to mean cutting ties. Developers who prioritize good design, and who partner with strong local businesses that both treat their staff well and understand how to connect with/build community, will create desirable neighbourhoods to live and work in – and therefore, to visit. The developers behind River District made a smart move when they reached out to Gooseneck.
No one aspires to live on top of a Subway. But to live somewhere with gathering spaces and greenways designed for pedestrian flow and community connection AND to be a stone’s throw away from a good margarita and tacos, or good wine and legit pizza, to boot? Sounds pretty sweet to me. Although I have no immediate plans to leave the city myself, nor do I look down at those who do have them (and will). In fact, I look forward to visiting them. And knowing I can get a nice glass of wine and some delicious food while I’m there will only ensure it happens more often.
Bufala River District and Lucky Taco River District aim to open this summer (2023). Keep an eye on the Gooseneck website for updates.
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