by Albert Rodriguez -
SGN A&E Writer
Headed to Vancouver, B.C., next weekend for Outgames, Pride, or both? Remember that Davie Village is home to the city's Gay district, where things are still the same - Celebrities and Numbers are great for dancing, Pumpjack and Fountainhead Pub are popular watering holes, and 1181 remains very tough to squeeze into. Here are five places to escape the heat and big crowds - a couple of them are new, one is legendary and a Gay non-profit donor, another has an artsy setting, and the fifth is simply terrific. Enjoy the hotter-than-hot weekend in Vancouver!
A block away from the always-busy Davie Street is this newly renovated motel, somewhat of a landmark for its years of mere existence and multiple renovations. This time, they got it right. A $3 million makeover is just what The Burrard needed, and it is now a hotel with freshly painted rooms, a central courtyard, and minimal yet hip decor. The property has 72 rooms on four levels with comfy beds wrapped in basic white sheets, wall-mounted flatscreen TVs, small work desks, mini-fridges, and full closets with various shelves to store shoes, folded T-shirts, or loose Canadian change. Bathrooms are small, as are the rooms themselves, but they're ideal for solo travelers or couples on the unpicky side. Arrive with the fewest pieces of luggage because the lone elevator is the size of a phone booth, though be sure to pack the all-natural lotions, shampoos, and conditioners in your bags when you do leave. Aside from its prime location, The Burrard has the best rates in town - between $129 and $169 for the current season. A cross between Seattle's Ace Hotel and Portland's Jupiter Hotel, this is a cool resting pad for those wanting trendy and charming, but not overdone or expensive.
JUDAS GOAT TABERNA
Once upon a time, Vancouver had a ghetto strip called Blood Alley. It was a seedy, much-avoided part of the city and nowhere near a place to sip a three-year-old Malbec. Say hello to 2011, as the alley now boasts two reputable dining attractions: Salt Tasting Room and the recently established Judas Goat Taberna. With capacity for 28 (a few more during the warm months), this spot is cozy all-around and perfect for mingling with fellow foodies, or eavesdropping - take your pick. The Spanish tapas-themed restaurant and bar has a clean, sleek look to it. With its ash-colored raised booths lining the sidewall, two community counterspaces, and bright yellow chairs, it's as if IKEA hooked up with a food truck. When seated, you're handed a paper menu and pencil and then asked to check whichever tapas you want, plus your beverages. Recommended are Judas Goat's signature beef brisket meatballs in a zesty sauce with shaved cheese on top, pork and chard empanada, and braised beef tongue with salsa verde. Other options are foie gras on toast with green apples, mussels with mint and scallion, and maple sugar sablefish. Everything is $10 or less, except for the $20 trio of Iberico salami. The wine and beer selection is impressive, as was the night's special, white sangria, when I visited. Reservations suggested on weekends.
THE ELBOW ROOM
A breakfast institution is exactly what The Elbow Room has come to be. Known for its "abusive" service and longtime donations to local AIDS organizations, this hole-in-the-wall Davie Street diner is a must-visit for any Vancouver tourist. Its walls are decorated with framed photos of Hollywood's present and past elite, a testament to The Elbow Room's staying power in a city that loves its shiny and new. The food, in good-sized portions, is familiar territory - eggs, pancakes, omelets, waffles, benedicts. There are also sandwiches, burgers, quesadillas, burritos, and lunch platters for the sleepyheads who arrive at lunchtime. Named after major film and TV stars, the dishes at this well-known cafe are served by waiters who crow the latest gossip or slap your arm for not finishing your meal. If your server isn't flamboyant or playful, or both, you're in the wrong place. Warning: your first cup of coffee is poured, then it's up to you for the refills.
The GALLERY CAFE, at VANCOUVER ART GALLERY
In the heart of downtown is the Vancouver Art Gallery, now showing an intriguing, world-class exhibit called "The Colour of My Dreams: The Surrealist Revolution in Art" with 350 works by Andre Breton, Salvador Dali, Rene Magritte, Edith Rimmington, and Diego Rivera, among others. It runs through September 25 and is exclusive to Vancouver. But if you're feeling more hungry than artsy, dash into the museum's café on the second level for lunch or a quick meal on its spacious outdoor patio. Salads, paninis, quiches, soups, and daily specials like Thai chicken breast with rice and vegetables are offered at this sophisticated cafeteria-style locale. Espresso drinks, wines, sparkling water, and apertifs are also available. Local biz types flock here at midday, so arrive before or after the rush for patio seating. Museum admission is not required for dining at The Gallery Cafe.
HAMILTON STREET GRILL
I doubt the Hamiton Street Grill is known for its risotto, although this was most memorable when I stopped by recently. Nestled in Vancouver's upscale Yaletown district, this spiffy bar and grill is usually packed on weekends and hockey nights. The menu is heavy on meat and starch selections, such as pork rack chop with parmesan gnocci, organic hangar steak with Kennebec frites, and Vancouver Island scallops with vegetable risotto, which I found to be flavorful and an easy winner over my pan-fried halibut. The dark wooden bar counter is long and enticing for sports fans, while the clientele leans young and sexy but festive and unpretentious. Service was friendly, though a tad slow and robotic with a full house - avoid supper hour and go early or later. Reservations suggested on weekends.