If you want to see artists and bourgeousie come together in what used to be a down and out area, try Main st/Mt. Pleasant. There's a cluster of hipsters, boutiques, coffee shops and ethnic restaurants that give the atmosphere of the way Vancouver once was: countercultural.
Main St. spans from our 'skid row' area on Hastings up to an Indian district. There's everything in between, including expensive character homes.
Commercial drive is a piece of unique heritage in an area of the world that is dominated by chain stores and coffee shops. The Drive is bucking franchises in favour of amazing shops and stores that are complete one offs.
Start by stocking up with fresh breads, fruits, herbal remedies and more, punctuated by a few coffee breaks along the way in one of many of the NON franchised coffee shops. Then finish your experience in one of the fantastic restaurants (many with outdoor heated patios) dotted along Commercial.
La Grotta del Formaggio is a treasured local purveyor of the best new-world Italian Deli sandwiches and cheeses. If you like kitsch then Urban Empire is the place for you - a shop filled with wonders and surprises. Havana is a great restaurant for good (if not traditional) Cuban food and it has a great photo gallery at the back. Waazubee is also a good rest stop or even better dining experience with a wide range of veggie dishes.
This all comes from a person who doesn't even live in Vancouver. Guess it must be great eh?
Between Broadway and Venables;
A superb little Indian restaurant in the South Granville area, run by a charming man with a spooky photographic memory. The food, atmosphere, crowd and bar are all stylish but low-key and unpretentious. Around the corner from Vij's is the Stanley Theatre, formerly an Art Deco picture palace and now the flagship venue for the hopelessly middlebrow Arts Club Theatre Company. Vancouver's restaurants help to make up for the city's appalling lack of a cultural life.
1480, West 11th Ave;
tel: 604 736 6664;
Main Street south of 49th avenue to about 55th is lined with shops selling wonderful Indian fabrics, foods and jewelery. Fabrics are beautiful, authentic and extremely reasonably priced, and the clothes are unique and beautiful.
Farther north on Main is also lovely, but quite different. Between about 33rd and 16th it has plenty of antique shops, second hand stores and cute little stores selling home furnishings and accessories (no chain stores). Between 16th and Seventh it's more eclectic, with some very good second-hand stores (the Salvation Army is on 12th just east of Main) and cafes. Urban Source, at 16th and Main, is a fantastic resource for craft supplies: they recycle industrial leftovers, and the results and the offerings are irresistable.
The strange triangle between Fraser, Main and Broadway is known as Dysfunction Junction, and hosts 2 outstanding second-hand bookstores, literary cafe Our Town, a pool hall, a neon art cafe, and several hole-in-the-wall galleries and restaurants. The Jem gallery is a particular gem; a recent exhibit featured the work of I.Braineater, an outstanding local artist.
Farther north again, Loomis arts and crafts superstore is an awesome place for paper junkies. Just to the west is the Seawall; you can go on the south side all the way to Kitsilano, or you can take the north side and go up to Yaletown, English Bay, and Stanley Park. If you know some tricks you can connect with Portside Road and skate all the way from Science World (near Loomis) to Stanley Park and back to the foot of Main street, a loop of about ten miles if you don't also skate around the park itself. And it's all on the Seawall, away from traffic, except for a mile along Portside Road.
North along Main is Chinatown, and then at the very foot of Main street is the Viaduct which will give you a fantastic view of the mountains, North Vancouver, and Downtown. It will also take you to Crab Park (closed after 10pm) which is the only beach on the Downtown Eastside, and features nesting eagles and hawks, seals in the water, and a marvelous break from city noise.
Nearby, on Alexander just west of Main is the Alibi Room, a very arty place with a very hot crowd, very good food, and very original (and tasty) cocktails. Open late, and for great Saturday brunch, but the DJ might be a bit loud if you're hungover. Not that I would know what that's like.
Best brunch in the city. Experience the real San Francisco - chances are you will be the only tourists. It's an easy bart ride to 24th street or better still get the J (Church) tram from the downtown.
3296 22nd St (cross street: 22nd and Valencia)
It's the second-largest Chinatown outside of China, and perfectly authentic. It's a living, breathing cultural artefact. Go in the daytime, as everything shuts at six pm, unless it's a Friday or Saturday; the street market is on then in the summer.
See the Sun Yat-Sen garden and park, the Chinese Cultural Centre, and Pender Street between Carrall and Gore. Keefer Street is also Chinatown, between Columbia and Gore, and in the summer (late May-September) on Friday and Saturday nights it's closed to host the street market. This features entertainment, games, children's rides (dinky ones, but fun) and lots of bargains along the cheap bag/sunglasses/clothing line.
Good restaurants include Goldstone on Keefer (closes early), Hon's on Keefer, and Gain Wah on Keefer, which is open late. Great groceries are to be had at many of the local stores, or the local Asian supermarket, T&T, on Keefer near the Stadium Skytrain station.
After the street market (which runs till nine or so) walk over to La Casa Gelato on Venables and get one of their 200+ flavours of ice cream: rocky road, yes, but also durian, basil and pernod, or gorgonzola.
East Pender street between Carrall and Gore, Keefer Street between Columbia and Gore, East Georgia Street between Main and Gore. North-south axis is Main Street.
Asian fusion bar/restaurant in a dodgy part of town, but with great food, beautiful people, amazing cocktails. It's one of the few places with a buzz.
117 West Pender Street, Vancouver;
tel: 604 642 2882;
Get on the little passenger ferry across False Creek to visit Granville Island. Former industrial buidlings have been converted into galleries, shops, craft workshops and restaurants. There is also a fantastic farmer's market and a brewery.
South Shore under Granville Street Bridge, catch the False Creek Ferry or Aquabus;
The Drive (Commercial Drive) is a street in Vancouver that boasts a vibrant community. All the stores and restaurants are unique and interesting. A Subway was proposed along the Drive and a committed campaign was raised to prevent it from succeeding.
Many coffee shops along The Drive have slam / beat poetry sessions if you look for them. Also, one place of particular interest is Magpie Magazine Gallery, wherein one can find magazines of all stripes. Feel free to browse forever -- it's easy to get lost in them. Slightly north along the Drive is Britannia Community Center, where there is an ice rink and a swimming pool as well as a large park.
Another place of interest is the Vancouver East Cultural Center where various dance groups and theatrical performances can be seen.
The Drive is uniquely Vancouver and it reflects a slightly anti-corporate sentiment here - as I said before, it belongs to small businesses and restaurants that are not chains. It is ideal to spend an afternoon (sunny, of course) walking along, starting at Broadway and slowly making your way north along the street, stopping for coffee or ice cream or sushi or Thai or...
A great 24 hour vegetarian restaurant, the Naam has been around for thirty years, and is still going strong. A friendly comfortable atmosphere, hearty, satisfying meals and live music in the evenings. The Naam nourishes the spirit as well as the body. And if there's a lineup, don't be put off, just come back later; it's worth it. During the quieter times, like three in the afternoon, or three in the morning, it's a great place to grab a cup of coffee and some coffee cake, sit back, relax, and start that great novel you've been meaning to read/write.
2724 W. Fourth Avenue, Kitsilano (one block east of MacDonald);
tel: 738 7151;
This restaurant used to be a hospital and is the real-deal for stereotypical Bavarian food. The staff wear traditional Bavarian clothing and the menu is nearly 100% meat with cabbage and/or potato noodles. Also has good beer, but not one for the vegetarians.
tel: 0911 22 1761
Amazing food hall... choose from healthy salads to fish and chips. Buzzing place. And once you've eaten head for the boutique shops on the island.
Bus, train, car, cycle, walk or take a boat taxi;
A beautiful complex designed by Moshe Safdi (he designed Habitat in Montreal). The courtyard is a great place to grab a snack and sit. There is a calendar of readings/performances, etc.
350 West Georgia Street;
tel: 604 331 3603;
Many non-Chinese restaurants in Taipei are either run or conceived by foreign expats, but not the Bistro. Instead it is run and head chef-ed by Maggie, a Francophile Taiwanese who cooks like she was born in a Paris brasserie.
This is good old bistro fare. If you want high end Provencale go to Le Jardin in TienMu. Yes you can have foie gras perfectly seared at Bistro L'Olivier, but this is the place for your down to earth French fix. Escargots followed by Cassoulet, Confit De Canard or table mixed Steak Tartare with crispy frites, for example.
If you've got room after that the warm chocolate cake is Maggie's speciality with chocolate sauce oozing from the sides.
OK, it's not very Chinese but then it's hardly TGI Fridays or the Outback Steakhouse either.
145 An Ho Road, section 2, (opposite Carnegies);
tel: 02 8732 3726;
open: 11:30 am-11:30 pm
The Café du Livre is a new place in the heart of Guéliz, the new part of town. It's a second hand bookstore, mostly English, great selection, with lots of magazines, newspapers, guidebooks for browsing and a very reasonably priced menu done by two michelin star chef Richard Neat of Casa Lalla (who hangs out there all the time, as do all writers and journalists because they have a wifi connection). It's hidden, very low key, very cosy and a great place to have breakfast, lunch or an early dinner as they serve non stop from 9.30 to 21.00. Not to be missed.
44 rue Tarik Ben Ziad (in the patio of Hotel Toulousain, just behind the old Guéliz market);
tel: 024 43 21 49
This place in Circular Quay is worth popping into. The two exhibitions I saw, by Edwin Wurm and Ron Mueck, were both been fun and thought provoking. You don't need to be a great art lover to like this place. The cafe attached has great food too
140 George Street, The Rocks;
tel: 9245 2400;
Send your feedback or queries to email@example.com