Vancouver’s Gastown and Chinatown areas have been described by many a public poll and swanky living magazine as “Canada’s call to New York or San Francisco.” These neighborhoods are vast, a mix of yuppies, real-live starving artists, playful gang activity, and mild gentrification. The cobblestones and bright colors of these combined locales are proving to be the most successful areas for young snapback enthusiasts everywhere. Most people have not ventured beyond the steam clock for fear of miscalculating those dangerous first steps into a world where everyone listens to bands with names so ironic they would make Alanis Morissette herself cringe. A world where any given person can name ten up-and-coming vintage-inspired ethnic diners with a sweep of their whimsical, uncombed hair. Yes, it can be terrifying approaching this breeding ground of app designers and art history majors, but once you’re familiar with the surroundings it will be well worth the unintentional memorization of the Urban Outfitters catalogue. Let the wisdom of a native resident be your guide through the best and worst neighborhood in the whole city: the much anticipated “2013 Gastown/Chinatown Business Roundup” is here to show you the way. Pull out your grandfather’s army jacket, strap on your birkenstocks, and let’s get really eastside.
FOOD & DRINK
Nelson The Seagull
315 Carral Street
Nelson the Seagull is not only one of the best coffee shops in the city, but also one of the best businesses in Gastown. Whether you want to impress someone with your hip knowledge of local brunch spots or your wifi has stopped working and you need to finish facebook stalking your ex-boyfriend, Nelson has it all. The walls are white and the tables are wood (probably salvaged from a Russian cabin, or at least an independant version of Home Depot). It’s minimalist and not too in your face about how carefully designed it is. Well spaced pictures adorn the walls, creating an aesthetic Martha Stewart herself would be proud of. Strategically placed lamps aside, the real attraction of this place is its friendly environment and suspiciously good food. You won’t find better bread than the slices served hot and toasty under thin pieces of avocado at Nelson the Seagull. For the lactose intolerant/vegan crew, the almond milk made in-house pairs perfectly with their coffee beans (which are probably single origin, whatever that means). If you’re feeling really adventurous, the saints over at Nelson host a yoga night on Wednesdays, so you can stretch out those hamstrings while enjoying a home cooked meal. Next time you have work to do, grab your laptop, order the poached eggs on toast with avocado, and chat up the friendly staff as you soak in the good vibes of Gastown’s only not-completely-douchey coffee shop.
300 Powell Street
There’s nothing in the world better than food. More than a nourishing factor, every moment of life which involves sitting down and chomping is likely the kind of shit you’re going to put in your diary later. With a love of eating comes a love of having a fully stocked pantry. That complicated vegan cheesecake recipe your coworker just sent you? You should feel safe in the knowledge that you have enough organic cashews and palm sugar to pull it off at anytime. The problem with all that food romanticism is when your beloved, digestible friend burns a hole in the ol’ wallet.
That’s where Sunrise Market comes in. Sitting delicately on the border of Gastown and Chinatown is a wondrous place where living on your last dime is no longer a concern. The produce section is so cheap they practically hand you bags of fresh fruit and veggies with smiles on their faces, saying “Here, have this on us!” Their store brand tofu and two cent apples have shaped the lives of many local eccentrics and fixie bike lovers. If you want to fully embrace the Gastown lifestyle, you must let their discount corn tortillas nurture you into the person you dream of becoming. The place itself is very disorganized and almost always busy with odd arrangements of more people than should really be squeezed into one orange awning covered building. The whole joint smells a little bit like rotting fruit, but as long as you don’t look too closely at the floor you will find the shopping experience to be practically euphoric. Go in with $25 and your monthly grocery list, force yourself to buy whatever leafy green this month’s issue of “Healthy Living Magazine” is boasting about, and then feel free to indulge in whatever 99 cent jello-based dessert you can find. A veteran’s tip is the little fridge island placed in the middle of the store; this is where the super on-sale items reside. Keep in mind that most on-sale products in Sunrise are one of two things: past the due date, or a new introduction to the store. So enjoy your discount kombucha, but watch out for that deli meat. All in all groceries are a touchy subject, tearing happy roommates apart, causing the emotional breakdown of many a candy-bar-deprived kid, and making you reconsider the importance of organics in general. Sunrise is a supermarket that makes grocery shopping into a cheap, exotic adventure. It’s gritty, charming, and has primo prices on every flavor of Pocky imaginable. Talk about five stars.
105 East Pender Street
Bestie is a lovely German food place fresh out of the business-womb. This little gem features a pretty mean currywurst and the best font in all of Chinatown. You may be wondering: what is the importance of font in your restaurant enjoying experience? Dear reader, eating somewhere with a sick font adds an aesthetic appeal that just can’t be beat. Mainly because of the delicious font, but also because of the wafting smell of ginger cookies and the waves of hype surrounding this up and coming eatery, Bestie is almost always packed. This may mean you have to wait until a table is available, which would be an unpleasant experience in a lesser establishment, but the hilarious hosts and the comfy benches outside make the wait more than bearable. Once inside, it is recommended that you order everything. Everything. Bring a hoard of friends and split as many dishes as you can to get the full Bestie experience. The currywurst is to die for, the sauerkraut brings tears to the eyes, and the pretzels are like doughy pillows shaped by the hands of God himself. The staff are helpful and entertaining, the place looks cool as heck, the food is exotic (not to mention mega yummy), and kombucha is on the drink menu. Go for dinner with a group of your fave peeps and, with your currywurst and kombucha in hand, immerse yourself in the sausage fest that is Bestie.
Charlie & Lee
223 Union Street
At the tail end of Chinatown sits Charlie & Lee, a boutique in its truest form. Complete with moody lighting, unparalleled apparel, and staff that don’t make you feel judged, this is the place to go for a jaunty shopping experience. Charlie & Lee carries some super neat labels, slightly pricy but nonetheless lovely brands such as Rag & Bone and Primary New York for women or The West is Dead and Wolverine 1000 Mile for men. If cash just isn’t flowing, Charlie & Lee is also home to less expensive, good quality, and irreplaceably cool garb. Favourites include the Daria dress ($49) by C&L Finds and Strathcona stockings ($38) for women, or the Vintage Road shirt ($79) by Iron & Resin and ties by the Hill-side ($78-$99) for guys. It’s hard to find a place in the area with with swanky decor, enjoyable goods, and non-terrifying staff, but let’s thank our lucky stars, because Charlie & Lee is one such establishment.
Community Thrift & Vintage
41 W Cordova St (unisex) & 311 Carrall Street (women)
Have you ever poured out the change in your wallet and counted up your nickels and dimes to form a semi-coherent amount of cash? Let’s say you have, and through this wallet haul you’ve managed to scrape together five bucks. You are toying with the idea of grabbing a slice of pizza from your local greasy dive, but, looking down at your patchy overalls you decide… pizza can wait, you need some new duds. In this emergency situation, and in all situations, really, Community is the place for you. They have five dollar racks where you can buy t-shirts boasting advertisement for senior frogs circa 1970 or a flowery blouse that will have you looking like the coolest walking curtain alive. Have you ever wandered into a large, brand name store and taken a gander at super expensive “vintage inspired” clothes? Now you can buy that $500 dollar bohemian-print, glitter-encrusted, mod-style, 40s-era, leather mini-dress you’ve always dreamed of… for $20. As the sign hung on the five dollar rack says, it’s “cheap as borscht”. Gents, have you ever sat in your bunk bed, legs dangling over the side, wondering how you can achieve the looks of Matt Hitt or a young James Dean without shelling out 800 smackeroonies on your token leather jacket? Community is here to support you through this cowhide-covered coming-of-age with leather jackets that cost around $50. They’re pre-worn, so you never know, you might be able to soak up some leftover vintage biker sweat and raise your street cred by a solid ten points. This store used to inhabit one convenient location, but they got so many amazing vintage clothes that expansion was necessary. Now there are separate stores for girls and boys, practically across the street from one another. The womens’ store, otherwise known as “The Frock Shoppe” is a little more lady-focused, whereas the mens’ store is pretty unisex, so if you’re delightfully androgynous and feel you can pull off a rustic hiking boot you’ll be at home either way. The cherry on top of this lightly-worn vintage sundae? These shops are owned and operated by the Portland Hotel Society, a local collective whose mission is to provide safe housing and competent business advice to homeless and mentally ill people in the Vancouver area. So go ahead, stop by the $5 rack in either shop, buy yourself something swell, then walk next door to Nelson the Seagull for a salted peanut butter cup. You deserve a reward for a hard day’s shopping.
The Board of Trade Co.
206 Carrall Street
Are you bored of looking like shit all the time? Don’t be bored, go to Board of Trade! If this store was a website it would be bomb.com, in the cool slang sense, not the terrorism sense. Board of Trade is a tried and true boutique in the same vein as Charlie & Lee, complete with similar moody lighting, a little more ambient neon signage, and staff that look like they were born in loafers. Board of Trade has to be included in this roundup because they are dominating the Gastown/Chinatown business scene with two locations (one in Gastown and one in Chinatown, talk about coverage). This store has some swanky, expensive items, but the majority of the stuff is super well priced and quality you can’t beat. Boys, if you’re in the business of searching for a button up, your hunt is over. Board of trade is here to support you in your quest for semi-formal wear. Girls, looking for a fun print or a basic dress? Board of Trade delivers it on a silver platter. They sell clothing made right here in Vancity, and if you don’t want to be caught dead in clothes made in the ‘couv they also offer designs from Korea, Los Angeles, New York, and other equally ethnically diverse places. If your walk in closet is full to the brim, Board of Trade has a variety of accessories and home goods for you to snap up. So stroll on in, make an effort to strike up a solid convo with the crazy cool staff, and purchase a candle that doubles as a whiskey glass when it burns out.
(OH THE) PLACES YOU’LL GO
223 Main Street
Are you a fan of good old fashioned rock and roll? Have you been waiting for a chance to unleash your inner punk? Have you been waiting even longer for a chance to unleash your inner funk? Do you like cats and men wearing uggs? If the answer was yes to any of these questions then you need to scoot your toot over to Zoo Zhop. The Zhop is not only the best place in the neighborhood to buy 2Pac vinyl for under two dollars but it’s also one of the only all ages concert venues in the city. They have a fantastic collection of ancient, brand new, and hard to find local records, all available for prices as low as Sunrise produce. By night Zoo Zhop serves as a sick concert venue, providing a haven for the lost and wandering youths unable to sneak into Vancouver’s grimy 19+ venues, and up-and-coming musicians playing their first shows. It’s essential you visit this magical music wonderland soon because due to Vancouver’s current “no fun city” climate, Zoo Zhop, like most all ages venues, is fighting for its life. Recently the City of Vancouver accused Zoo Zhop of being a hazardous venue due to some minor safety violations. As soon as they were informed, the lovely folks over at the Zhop got to pulling strings and fixed all the potential safety hazards the city was using as means to shut down them down. Despite the resolution of these problems, the government is still insists that Zoo Zhop is an unsafe venue. Although community members and avid supports have given their best efforts, it looks as though Zoo Zhop is doomed to meet the fate of so many other all ages concert venues and be forced to close its doors. It’s especially important, given this situation, that Vancouverites band together to support this amazing record shop and dedicated venue. Whether you’re a raver, a punk, a lover of Sara Mclaughlin, or a fan of Pabst Blue Ribbon, Zoo Zhop’s array of events will ensure you have a night to suit your niche. Arm yourself with a group of friends, a bag to put some previously abandoned Tim McGraw records in, the intention of breakin’ out some 80’s prom style dance moves, and skadoodle your noodle down to Zoo Zhop.
524 Main Street
Beautiful, beautiful China Cloud, a saucy little secret venue living up a steep flight of stairs that can only be discovered in what may be the best accident since the author’s birth. One day in the future you may be browsing event invitations on Facebook when you notice an advertisement for a show performed at a place called China Cloud. You find yourself wandering the streets, perhaps on a warm Friday night, trying to find the location of the show. You search and scour the Chinatown area, opening random doors and fearlessly peeping into alleys as you go, keeping your eyes peeled for this infamous little venue. Then you see it: a black door with no signage, save for a little cloud sticker in the far corner. You step inside and begin the hike up a steep flight of stairs that ascend beneath a large, nonsensical mural. Upstairs, China Cloud takes advantage of some serious mood lighting, there’s a tiki bar in the venue, it seems as if the entire place is made of driftwood, and hanging from the walls are lovely pieces of abstract art you can pretend to understand. It may be a hunt to find, but the thrill of the search makes the experience that much better. China Cloud hosts a variety of shows ranging from the jazziest of jazz to the most comedic of comedy. It truly is a whimsical and beautiful secret, so shh! Don’t tell!
433 Dunlevy Avenue
Dearest reader, I know what you’re thinking. Putting what is technically a food place—it literally has snack in the name—in the hangout section of the article? Try not to question the wisdom being bestowed upon you, as this establishment is not only great for savvy snacking, but also serves as a prime hang out location complete with the occasional DJ night and a lip smacking selection of munchy korean fusion foods. Many a Vancouverite can be found ranting and raving about the lack of late night tea/coffee establishments in this town. For instance, have you ever been to an event on a fun Friday or a sassy Saturday, only to find yourself roaming the streets after it ends? It’s 10 or 11 o’clock, the night is still young, and you’re unwilling to return home to your sad life watching “Cougar Town” on netflix. You search and search for a place that won’t pressure you into eating an eight ounce steak and that isn’t as scary as a McDonalds within a train station. These are the times you crave nothing more than a cup of warm tea or a craftily made cappuccino in a location that can save you and your buddies from cold, boredom, and thirst. The Dunlevy Snackbar is the answer to your prayers. They’re open late, they have drinks for those over and under 19, and they host all sorts of events featuring super chill DJ’s that provide a perfect soundtrack to your casual snacking and late night continuation. The Dunlevy Snack bar has a great font (still important), light bulbs and cool paper lanterns hanging from the ceiling, and the perfect low key vibe to accommodate a good old-fashioned bro down. Show up at 10 o’clock after a weird modernist art show with a group of your favorite pals and order some snacky Korean fusion as the DJ serenades you. Then, when the mood is right, consider the ridiculousness of even attending a modernist art show.