by Albert Rodriguez -
SGN A&E Writer
It's not much fun zipping up to Vancouver, B.C., just to watch the Pride parade on Sunday afternoon and then heading right back to Seattle. So plan an entire weekend around the festivities, happening August 2-4. The event, which celebrates its 35th anniversary this year, includes street parties, outdoor movie screenings, a Queer arts festival, a Gay bike tour, youth dances and, of course, the big parade on Sunday. If you can't go for Pride, the Vancouver Queer Film Festival runs August 15 through 25 at multiple downtown venues.
The 2013 Vancouver Pride Parade steps off from Robson and Thurlow streets at noon on Sunday, August 4. From there it heads west on Denman Street and winds along Pacific Street to Beach Avenue, ending at the Sunset Beach Festival site overlooking English Bay. At the festival, you can enjoy free live entertainment and a mixed gathering of LGBT organizations, services, and food vendors, not to mention a colorful assortment of people from all over.
Here's more information on the parade route, plus hotel, restaurant, and activity recommendations to put on your Pride weekend itinerary. For further trip planning, go to www.tourismvancouver.com.
Vancouver is a great place to reward yourself with a bit of indulgence. Two hotels I strongly recommend staying at for Pride weekend - or any weekend, for that matter - are the Opus and the Loden. The Opus Hotel (www.vancouver.opushotel.com), located in trendy Yaletown, is not only very Gay-friendly but also a close ally of the local LGBT community, donating proceeds of its Pride packages directly to the Vancouver Pride Society. The five-story boutique property recently renovated all of its rooms, brightening or darkening the walls and furnishings to match the lifestyles of their mock profile guests, faux personalities that the hotel customizes their decor around. Modern room amenities include flat-panel TVs, nightly turndown service with retro boxed candy (instead of traditional chocolates), L'Occitane bath soaps and lotions, and complimentary WiFi. Unique to the Opus are Samsung phones and iPads available for in-room use and outside the hotel as well, handy for directions or quick information when out and about. They include a 'Street Food Vancouver' app that shows guests where to find local food trucks. Upon check-in, you'll also be greeted with a welcome beverage. The walk to Davie Village from the Opus takes less than five minutes, and in the opposite direction is Granville Island, which can be accessed by Aquabus (water taxi). To keep fit, rent mountain or cruiser bikes at the front desk, or utilize the hotel's fitness center. The Opus staff, always polite and helpful, are some of the finest I've encountered anywhere, and the added bonus of courtesy vehicle service within the downtown area is convenient, but also note that the Yaletown SkyTrain station is directly across the street.
The Loden Hotel (www.theloden.com) is also centrally located, but closer to Vancouver's waterfront. It's a stylish hotel with contemporary furnishings and an award-winning French-inspired restaurant, Tableau Bar Bistro. The 77-room property offers all guests 42-inch flat-screen TVs, iPod/mp3 docking stations, in-suite yoga equipment (and dedicated yoga channel), marble bathrooms with separate showers and commodes, complimentary cruiser bike rentals, and Molton Brown bath products. Similar to the Opus, the Loden offers guests the hassle-free use of private car service in the form of vintage taxi cabs. The hotel will make its debut at this year's Pride parade, and it routinely sponsors LGBT community events year-round. The Loden has a Pride package, as well, and the parade's starting point is within a few minutes' walking distance of its front entrance.
RESTAURANTS AND BARS
New restaurants and bars seem to pop in Vancouver weekly, and I visited a few during my last trip two months ago. But my first recommendation is one that's been around for a while: Raincity Grill (www.raincitygrill.com). This West End restaurant has premier views of English Bay and an outstanding menu of dishes prepared with regionally sourced seafood, meats, and produce. Executive Chef Nicolas Hipperson, who moved to Vancouver with his partner from Saskatchewan, doesn't resort to anything nouveau - it's just familiar fare executed very well, such as Salt Spring Island Honey Mussels, Lois Lake Steelhead Trout, Fraser Canyon White Rabbit, or his Fish 'n' Chips, available for takeout during the summer months (think post Pride parade). Do also try the Grilled Ceasar Salad with fried capers, a terrific light lunch or dinner appetizer.
Edible Canada (www.ediblecanada.com), on Granville Island, is relatively new (just two years old) and serves meals with ingredients sourced exclusively in Canada, like Yarrow Meadows Duck Poutine, Okanagan Parfait, and Newfoundland Fish & Brewis. Afterwards, take time to explore the Granville Island Public Market, where you'll find everything from freshly made doughnuts to handmade pies to fine chocolates and a locally operated tea shop. Wildebeest (wildebeest.ca), winner of Vancouver Magazine's Gold Award for 'Best New Restaurant,' has tremendous buzz at the moment, mainly for its nose-to-tail approach to upscale dining, creating attractive dishes from unconventional parts of the animal or distinct preparation methods, such as Shaved Pig Face served with crispy ear, charred octopus, arugula, and sherry vinegar. One of its signature offerings, Roasted Bone Marrow, can later be enjoyed as a slimy treat called 'Bone Luge,' in which sherry is poured down the bone marrow and then consumed like a shot of liquor. Other plates include Elk Tartare, Veal Neck, and Seaweed-Roasted Halibut. For something more budget-friendly and less exotic, I suggest oldies but goodies like the Elbow Room Cafe, Hamburger Mary's, Fountainhead Pub, or any of the Cactus Club locations.
For drinking, the lineup of Gay bars remains the same with no new additions. The Pumpjack, Numbers, and Celebrities, which underwent a multimillion dollar interior makeover, are the places to be seen on Pride weekend, although the lines to get in will be super-long. A pair of Gay friendly bars on opposite ends of town are worth checking out, at least before the late-night straight crowds arrive. The Clough Club (donnellygroup.ca), in the hopping Gastown district, named after the first lamplighter (John Clough) of this once-shady neighborhood, has the look and feel of a bar that's been around for decades - brick walls, exposed beams, antique decor - yet it barely opened a year ago. With room for 40 people in the front area and 40 more in the back parlor (weekends and special events only), it can fill up quickly. Aiming to reinvent the tiki cocktail scene, Clough Club has an impressive list of original concoctions, including the Vellocet, a refreshing drink that blends green chartreuse, pineapple, and lime juices, falernum, Angostura bitters, Peychaud's bitters, and burnt mint sprig. Killjoy Barbers (donnellygroup.ca), in Yaletown, a daytime barbershop and lively club in the dark hours, is also reinventing tiki cocktails with a variety of thoughtfully conceived beverages, such as their signature Rosemary's Baby (Victoria gin, Galliano, fresh lemon juice, green chartreuse-toasted rosemary). Killjoy, with a downstairs dance floor, gets really busy on the weekends, so plan ahead and grab a table in the sleek, dim-lit lounge sometime before 9 p.m. to avoid the rush.
Shopping and bar crawling are essential things to do in any city, but in Vancouver I also suggest an outdoor excursion to take in the breathtaking scenery. Cycle City Tours (cyclevancouver.com) offers group rides with various themes (art, food, central city, Stanley Park) by knowledgeable guides at affordable prices, anywhere from $25 to $100 (includes bike rental). If you prefer to set your own course, go to Spokes Bicycle Rentals (www.spokesbicyclerentals.com), where all Cycle City Tours begin. After a long or short (depending on your stamina) bike ride, you can recover with a soothing massage at Willow Stream Spa, inside the Fairmont Pacific Rim (www.fairmont.com/pacific-rim-vancouver). An array of reinvigorating treatments, like the 60-minute 'Destination Rejuvenation,' help melt away soreness and accumulated stress. Stick around after your massage and dip into the Jacuzzi with views of the mountains, recline in the tranquil relaxation room, or get dressed and head down to the vibrant lobby bar on the main level. And for an all-out splurge, book yourself an exhilarating adventure on Helijet (www.helijet.com), with prices starting at $149 per person for 10- to 30-minute panoramic tours. There's no better way to inhale the city landscape than from above, on board a helicopter, departing just minutes away from the Waterfront SkyTrain station.
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