Our coverage for Vancouver Gay Pride 2006, now two weeks away, continues with suggestions on where to cocktail, eat and be merry in our sister city up north.
Anyone with even a mild sense of adventure has traveled up to Vancouver, either for Gay Pride or for a quick escape. It’s convenient, easy and familiar. But as anyone who has been a few times will tell you, it changes fast. New places spring up, and old places fall away, change completely or reopen as something else. To bring you a sense of what’s going on this year, the SGN scouting crew and our best friends jumped in cars and trains and raced up north, in time to get back with this preview. This is what we found. Next week, we’ll take a look at the Pride parade and festival.
Beau’s tips for drinking in Canada
If you’re drinking in Vancouver, there are differences to note from drinking at home that you may be interested in knowing. First, law requires bars measure out exactly the liquor in each drink, eliminating the usual search for the most “potent” bartender in the joint. Second, Vancouver doesn’t have “Happy Hour” anywhere, thus prohibiting the reduced sale of liquor to entice customers at any establishment. Third, if you are stupid enough to drive after you’ve been drinking, watch out for the random roadblocks set up by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Everything is plenty close to walk to, so park and have a safe, happy trip.
Beau’s bar-lounge picks (and a couple of places to avoid) with assistance from best buddy Izzy Burns
Odyssey (1025 Howe St) Drinks: low priced - Cover: low to moderately priced – Crowd: younger locals, visiting Americans, some of your exes
For as long as this Queer reporter has been old enough to escape across the border, we’ve visited Odyssey, the Gayest Gay club in Gayville. In the eight years I can remember, the crowd hasn’t seemed to change much, with mostly younger Gays mixing with some daring straight folks who don’t mind (or seem to notice) the naked pole dancers. Izzy and I would have preferred the place to be without naked pole dancers or the standalone drum set on the dance floor (?), but Odyssey is a staple that still provides the best dance music we heard. If you want memorable music, predictable crowds, friendly folks, and a surprise or two, go to Odyssey. It’s dependable and if the crowd isn’t your thing, you can sure dance. With a cover that is almost always reasonable and drinks that are just cheap, it’s not going to break you to visit.
Opus bar (and surrounding area) (322 Davie St.) Food: moderately to high priced - Drinks: highly priced – Crowd: upscale hetero-locals
This year, you might want to try to spice up your whole Vancouver experience by stopping to have a quick drink in one of the colorful places just further down Davie Street past Granville a few blocks, right about Hamilton Street. The Opus bar is the kind of place you go with a sleek black button up shirt and right-fitting pants and it sits right near competing places of the sort. It’s the perfect place to go to right after having dinner at Bin 941 just four blocks away. By midnight, the Opus bar and all the other lounges and bars in the area are flooded with an elegant crowd of upscale locals: a few hookah shops, one or two tea houses, a brightly lit beer bar or two, a Cactus Club, a jazz club, and a whole host of hole-in-the-wall type place expensive cars are lined up outside in the watchful eye of serious valets. Offering specialized martinis (we recommend the “Japanese Pear,” “Dragon Boat” or “Mother’s Make”) you’ll be amazed at the genius of the drink and people mixes. Unlike any of my bad experiences with straight bars along Sixth Street in Austin or Duval Street in Key West, or along any “straacht” in Amsterdam, the straight nightlife around this area is classy without being aggressive or uncomfortable. At risk of sounding a tad un-American, the straight people we met in these places in Vancouver are incredibly pleasant to total strangers. If you want to add a little spice to your trip, wander Davie Street a tad further than usual. It’ll be our secret. Oh, but first put on a sleek collared shirt and fitting pants. You’ll be glad you did.
1811 (1811 Davie St.) Drinks: highly priced - Crowd: small, mixed age crowd of Gay folk in cliques of friends
Izzy and I christened 1811 with a martini and the name “the Hallway” on account of its extraordinarily long narrow shape and the fact that it’s too trendy to have a name, a sign, or an allowable capacity beyond 60 people. It’s as if someone crowded Manray into the upstairs floor of the Eagle and threw on a coat of paint. If you search for it, you won’t have trouble finding it because of the huge line of people waiting to get in the door. We waited for forty-five minutes expecting the best cozy bar experience ever. We were wrong. The long bar makes ordering anything chaotic and when we did get our drinks, the tiny, overpriced martini didn’t do much to warm the crowd of the too-few isolated cliques standing around us. Small, boutique, compact - can all be great and trendy, but this place is just too small. Izzy liked the place more than I did, but not enough to stay for a second drink. We’d skip it next time.
Celebrities (1022 Davie St.) Drinks: moderately priced - Cover: highly priced - Crowd: pretty locals and tons of out-of-towners
Many Gay folks will swear to the last breath that Celebrities is the best Gay dance club in Vancouver. Once upon a time, I would have agreed with you, but times have a-changed. While Izzy and I both agreed it has a good crowd (hot men of all ages and types, minimal straight people and crackies), we were both disappointed by the poisonously mediocre music, which ranked between “boring” and “that annoying repetitive shriek coming from the iPod of the guy next to you on the bus.” This music was less than lukewarm by even the drunkest Seattle standard, with some songs being so difficult to dance to that you’re left with a crowd of people bobbing hopefully but tiredly to obscure semi-beats, wishing just to hear any familiar song. On our visit, the only saving grace was the “perch,” the whole upper ringing layer of the club that allows you to lean over and watch all the hot Canadian men attempt to work the super-average music for all they can squeeze from its lifeless beat. If you go, have a backup plan because the awful music will have you heading for the door.
Albert’s tips for drinking in Canada
Familiarize yourself with Canadian currency while you’re sober. Once tipsy, it’s easy to forget that one dollar and two dollar coins are sufficient for gratuity. Here’s a quick rundown of Vancouver’s Gay bar scene, which is significantly smaller than Seattle’s: Oasis Pub and 1811 are for trendy Gay-types, Sugar Daddy’s and The Fountainhead Pub are for jocks and average joes, while Celebrities and Odyssey are for circuit boys and twinks. And if you must flee the Gay district for a night, try the South Granville or Commercial Drive neighborhoods with many cool, mixed bars. The central Granville area becomes a huge hetero meat market on weekends with loud, obnoxious partiers.
Albert’s bar-lounge picks
The Oasis (1240 Thurlow Street)
Residing above a Denny’s restaurant on the corner of Davie and Thurlow is The Oasis, a popular Gay hangout where martinis are well shaken to the sound of someone playing pop-jazz standards on a baby grand piano. The clientele is cute and age-varied, with those who come to chow down on scrumptious appetizers and entrees and those who come to enjoy the partnering of familiar tunes and good drinks. On Pride weekend, the newly renovated Oasis will feature actor-entertainer Alec Mapa for a Friday night performance that costs $8 and benefits the city’s Gay and Lesbian Center. A beer garden will be set up just outside The Oasis on Saturday and Sunday during Pride weekend, with donations again benefiting the center. An outdoor patio is available.
The Fountainhead Pub (1025 Davie Street)
The best way to describe The Fountainhead Pub on Davie Street is to imagine regulars from R Place, Madison Pub, Changes in Wallingford and The Cuff coming together under one roof. It’s a lively, incredibly popular place to be on any given night, but especially on weekends. Gay boys and their friends hang out at this joint to drink, socialize, boy-gaze, play pool and shoot darts. The food is worth noting, but the draft beer and somewhat stiff cocktails are what keep locals happy. Pop, rock and dance music provides the bar with an upbeat environment, though there is no dance floor to get your groove on. Outdoor seating is available.
George (1137 Hamilton Street)
Not quite Gay, but not straight either is George, a sophisticated lounge on Hamilton Street about a five minute walk from the condensed Gay bar area. A unique, interesting touch is a kitchen island directly behind the U-shaped counter, where bartenders one-up other Vancouver mixologists by slicing fresh melons and berries that go directly into your cocktails. George is swanky, so brand name jeans and shirts is what to wear if you make the journey. I definitely recommend telling the bartender what you’re in the mood for and allowing him or her to surprise you with something original and tasty, like the Havana Bubble that I put away in two winks of an eye.
Albert’s restaurant picks
The Elbow Room (560 Davie Street)
Gay owned and fabulously located is The Elbow Room, a diner serving breakfast and lunch to folks with a hearty appetite and a good sense of humor. The restaurant dishes up 25 different omelets and more than a dozen types of eggs benedict. If you don’t finish all your food or don’t read the menu correctly, you’re subjected to friendly abuse from the serving staff and ordered to pay a small donation to A Lovin’ Spoonful, a local non-profit AIDS charity. I got slapped on the shoulder for asking for a cup of coffee, which apparently is self-serve. Burgers, salads and sandwiches appear on the lunch menu. The Elbow Room is placated with autographed publicity photos of famous, and not so famous, celebrities who once ate there. It’s busy on weekends, so don’t arrive starving because it may take fifteen to twenty minutes for a table. But from me to you, the wait is well worth it. Great food, affordable prices and fun ambiance. You’ll love it.
Sugar Daddy’s (1262 Davie Street)
Gay jocks, masculine types and average joes wanting cold beer and big meal portions should make note of Sugar Daddy’s. This is where hockey and baseball diehards congregate to watch sports on several giant TV screens. Food-wise, the restaurant features everything from cheesy nachos to grilled quesadillas, juicy burgers to chorizo pizza, and grilled salmon to all-day breakfast. Sugar Daddy’s will offer breakfast starting at 9:00am on Pride Sunday for anyone wanting to fuel up before finding a spot along the parade route. Reasonably priced and a fun place to eat, drink and mingle, Sugar Daddy’s is worth checking out. By the way, the Bleu Cheese and Bacon Burger is a perfect take-out item, if you’re too exhausted to dine-in.
Sequoia Grill (Ferguson Point, inside Stanley Park)
For a magnificent view of the English Bay, treat yourself and your partner or friend to brunch at the Sequoia Grill, tucked inside the city’s scenic Stanley Park. Pierce Brosnan, the hunky movie star who played James Bond in Die Another Day, stopped by the Sequoia Grill recently for a bite to eat after riding a bike around the park. The restaurant’s menu includes classic breakfast and lunch favorites, such as eggs benedict, French toast, fish n’ chips, Cobb salad and a catch of the day special. If you reserve ahead of time or happen to have good karma, you can score a window seat or a table on the patio. Brunch entrees run anywhere from $8 to $20. Reservations are highly recommended, though walk-ins are accepted if space permits.
Beau’s restaurant picks with assistance from best buddy Izzy Burns
Bin 941 (941 Davie St.) Food: moderately priced, Wine List: unusually low priced, Crowd: pleasant, casual locals
Longtime SGN readers will recognize that Bin941 is not new to our favorites list in Vancouver, but with a menu that changes quarterly and a staff devoted to creating a full-bodied menu of perfect, spicy tapas choices to get your taste buds celebrating life, this outstanding restaurant has outdone itself once again. With a regularly changing menu, there isn’t anything you’ll want to miss.
The principle behind Bin941 is simple: order many dishes to share with your friends. The dishes here are meant to be sampled, fought over, and ordered again; but it would be sacrilege to end the experience with the food. With the most affordable and most fantastic wine list this Queer foodie has seen in all his days, and with Ed the bar guy (and partial owner) ready with a recommendation for any meal, you absolutely MUST try one of the wines to go along with your menu. I recommend the incredibly affordable and wine-heavenly Cremaschi Furlotti Chilean Pinot Noir. If you go, expect a loud, bustling crowd of locals. It’s a hopping place.
Delilah’s (1789 Comox St.) Food: moderately to high priced - Drinks: moderately priced – Crowd: well-dressed locals
Though not a secret, not everyone has had a chance to visit Delilah’s. It was highly recommended to us and, aside from their world-famous martinis (the Martini list is as long as the menu), Delilah’s offers an excellent menu. I was introduced to my new second-favorite dish ever, right behind Bin941’s duck: Dusted Bison Carpaccio. Izzy cooed over the Blue Marlin. Of course, Delilah’s is well known for their martini list featuring every type and flavor of martini you can want served perfectly every time. If you’re on a budget, come for light eats but don’t miss the martini list.
Fish House (8901 Stanley Park Drive) Food: moderately to high priced – Drinks: moderately priced – Crowd: quiet, mostly older locals
If you’ve ever been to Vancouver’s West End, you are no stranger to the 1,000-plus acre Stanley Park. You might even be familiar with the HUGE pool you can go swimming at (which, for Pride, will be full of men in swimsuits). You probably are not aware, however, of another one of the park’s features, situated just inside the park near the Nelson Street entrance near the putting greens and before the pool: the Fish House. This classy getaway is a nice change from the busy shopping hustle of Robson Street at daytime and offers you a table in a beautiful and quiet place not far away, green all around, with a menu full of fish. My favorite was the salmon Carpaccio, which Izzy was less impressed by, but those crab legs didn’t stand a chance with him. If you’re saving your money for new clothes, there are some reasonably priced items on the menu that won’t leave you lightheaded. Everyone loved it (though in hindsight, we would advise you to bring sunscreen if you’re going to sit on a patio for three hours. Ow.)