Best Night Out:
Helen of Troy may have launched a thousand ships, but Gastown has truly launched a thousand sips.
When the alluring downtown neighbourhood won Best Night Out in our 2016 Best of the City Readers’ Choice poll, no one in the Westender office was surprised. On any given night, you can make your way from the acclaimed food and beverage options filling up its turn-of-the-century storefronts, to the overflowing nightclubs, intimate music venues and spirited cocktail bars, to the windows of its head-turning independent fashion boutiques and back again.
While the photogenic (and rapidly gentrifying) neighbourhood has become a destination to see and be seen in, however, the historically rowdy quarter hasn’t lost its sense of fun. If anything, it’s just getting started.
We asked four locals who either punch the clock or hit the pillow in Gastown to let us in on where they head after dark.
Answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.
Kate MacDougall, 34
Founder and principal of Camber Communications PR.
What's your connection to Gastown? I’ve lived in and loved Gastown for most of my Vancouver life. In 2007, I joined the opening team at Boneta – one of the first restaurants to move into what was then a pretty sketchy part of town — and moved into my first Gastown apartment. I continued working as a server before getting my start in PR where I got to represent the many of the new additions to the ever-growing scene in and around Gassy Jack Square. Today, I still live in the ‘hood and work with many of the young restaurateurs and entrepreneurs that make this area so great.
Why Gastown? What sets it apart from other neighbourhoods and makes it a great destination for a night out? There’s an energy to Gastown that really sets it apart from any other area of the city. While the bricked beauty of Water Street can be crowded (read: hectic) by day, the lamppost lit streets in the evening really set the tone for cocktail-hour, and there are great bars on every block to saddle-up to. For a smart cocktail made by a skilled hand, you can’t go wrong with Pourhouse, Pidgin, Wildebeest, L’Abattoir or Clough Club.
What are your favourite nighttime haunts? I’m a barstool kinda gal. I love hopping to a few different places in a night for drinks and a plate or two. Kick-off cocktail hour in the heart of the square at L’Abattoir. No matter who is behind the wood, you’re in excellent hands. I’m a sucker for their Sweetbreads on Toast and their Donald Draper cocktail.
I've been obsessed with Pidgin since its doors opened. I love the share-style menu; it’s tasty, inventive and fun. They always have cool wines (many that lurk off-list), the cocktails never disappoint, and if you happen to show-up for their industry night, beware of the punch, it’s packing liquid power (trust me, I’ve done the research). So you’re a few cocktails deep, now what? Time to work off some of those plates.
I’m a Maritimer so Portside is always on the list. It’s got a great vibe and to be honest, I love anything Nova Scotian. And, right around the corner is The Alexander. Their hip-hop Fridays never disappoint.
If you still have some gusto the morning after, weekend brunch at Wildebeest is my favourite. I should just have a standing reservation there. Their Caesars, shucked oysters, and the bone-marrow laced eggs are reason enough to rise.
Give us an insider tip — something someone who doesn’t live or work down there might not know? The Grilled Cheese window on Cordova (just east of Carrall) is killer. The window opens at lunch and gooey, buttery grilled cheese slabs are served until they run out. You’ll find it by spotting the line. Get there early.
One of the best spots to catch the game in Gastown is The Charles Bar in the Woodwards Building. They have great screens and there are always a few barstools and lounge tables open – the pub menu and the service is always perfect.
Favourite Gastown-specific event? The Gastown BBQ & Chili festival is a ton of fun. Local restaurants line the Carrall Street block of Gassy Jack Square alongside local breweries and a main stage with live music playing all afternoon. Celebrity chefs are onsite to judge best dishes from the likes of Railtown Catering, Peckinpah, The Irish Heather and Gringo, to name a few. Plan for a disco nap to recover.
Bryan Gallant, 37
Manager of The Warehouse Studio.
What's your connection to Gastown? I’ve worked at the corner of Powell and Columbia for 16 years and I can’t think of a better neighbourhood to work in. We have artists visit us from all over the world and I’m always confident that when they go out after their session they’re going to find something great.
Why Gastown? What sets it apart from other neighbourhoods and makes it a great destination for a night out? The look and feel here is different than any other part of the city. Narrow streets, character buildings… It has a real European feel – less about parking and traffic, and more about people. There are so many good bars and restaurants, almost everyone is here to have a good time, but not in a Granville street kind of way, thankfully.
What are your favourite nighttime haunts? I love dinner at Nuba, the food is great and it’s an interesting space downstairs. Sit at the bar, the staff are brilliant. After that anything is possible, I like everything about Six Acres or the Alibi Room – great beer lists, food and people. Revel Room is nice, too.
Describe your most memorable Gastown night ever? I went to an after-show party at the Alibi Room with members of Radiohead, REM and Wilco once. Surreal and unforgettable.
Favourite Gastown-specific event? The Gastown GP cycle race is fun evening. It’s a great spectacle even if you’re not into bike racing.
Gregory McCallum, 27
Chef de cuisine at L’Abattoir restaurant.
What's your connection to Gastown? My connection with Gastown started around the same time I began working at L'Abattoir, almost six years ago.
Why go out in Gastown? What sets it apart from other neighbourhoods and makes it a great destination for a night out? For the food! Gastown is a great place to spend a night out for many reasons. The ever-expanding restaurant scene, the bars and bartenders who are making the best drinks in the city, and the ease of transit to and from Gastown are just a few.
What are your favourite nighttime haunts? I would check out Nicli for the perfect pizza after a long day at work, Pourhouse for my favorite burger and a beer, and Pigeon Park on a clear night for an incredible view our beautiful city lights and mountains.
Give us an insider tip — something someone who doesn’t live or work down there might not know: There is a little place called Gringos behind L'Abattoir in Blood Alley. They serve super cheap beer and tasty quesadillas, with amazing service and a relaxed atmosphere that cannot be beat.
Describe your most memorable Gastown night ever? I have had too many memorable nights in Gastown to pick just one. But they always involve at least two of the establishments listed above, a few friends, and staying out way too late for a work night…
Favourite Gastown-specific event? I love checking out the Gastown Grand Prix: crazy athletes ripping around the neighborhood on their bikes at high speeds? Awesome!
Scott Hawthorn, 48
CEO of Native Shoes.
What's your connection to Gastown? When I was in my early teens my parents used to bring us to the Old Spaghetti Factory as a treat if we were good, so my memory of Gastown goes back to the late ‘70s. I’ve always loved this part of town and am happy to call it home now.
Why go out in Gastown? What sets it apart from other neighbourhoods and makes it a great destination for a night out? Gastown is the original founding street of Vancouver. Its architecture and old-Europe feel provide it with unique smaller intimate spaces. It’s an idea place for unique retail and restaurant spaces to exist, and it’s a nice area to explore on foot for shopping and restaurant experiences.
What are your favourite nighttime haunts? I’d check out Salt Tasting Room for some meat and cheese paired with some good BC wine. The Shebeen is a nice hidden space that has the best whisky selection in western Canada. Revolver makes great coffee. The juice truck fills my juicing needs. The bar at L’Abattoir is a wonderful place to enjoy their food on a Sunday night.
Give us an insider tip — something someone who doesn’t live or work down there might not know: Thursday and Sunday nights are my favourite in Gastown. It’s less busy and more of my Gastown neighbours are out.
Describe your most memorable Gastown night ever? Several years ago it snowed heavily and we had a snowman at Maple Tree Square! Then we had a snowball fight.
Favourite Gastown-specific event? The Gastown Grand Prix in July is a fantastic event on a Wednesday evening. Lance Armstrong won the race in the earlier years of his cycling career.