Ticket to Paradise - The Shangri-La Vancouver Lobby Lounge

Shangri-la Vancouver by SashaFatCat via Flickr

I had coffee at the Shangri-La Hotel’s Lobby Lounge last Sunday. It’s the cafe bar on the first floor just behind the hotel’s main entrance here in Vancouver. It only makes sense that I should introduce you to this place while the paint is still drying and the planters sit empty awaiting their fauna since the building itself has been towering over Only HQ for the past two years while it crawled slowly towards the sky. Since I am unwelcome at the other flagship hotel of this fine city due to past debauchery, I suspect that I’ll be filing more than one report from within the walls of the Shangri-La. We are, after all, neighbors.

I’m a total pervert. And the fact that women working in Shangri-La are forced to wear kimono-style gowns while they serve me plays into a variety of fetish scenarios that I am trying my very best to spare you. At least once, I had each member of the Lobby Lounge’s staff over to my table to answer some stupid question about the chandelier in the corner, or the blend of my coffee in the karafe only to bask in their attention. Oh, except for the one with the Australian accent which didn’t at all fit into my fantasy. I made her shine my shoes while perusing a style advice column in one of our National newspapers reporting on the acceptability of loafers without socks (yes, absolutely).

This earth-toned paradise was mine. I was the only one in the room while my kimonoed lovelies danced an attentive and submissive dance all about me. I sipped from my $6 coffee and read their free newspaper. I admired the motorized panels behind the bar that were slowly retracting to expose a variety of libations that suggested a multitude of combinations. I listened to the enchanting sounds of a rain forest work inconjunction with the thick panes of glass to block out the obscenities being mouthed by two portly workers caulking the courtyard tile just outside. Their fat asses however, were in plain view.

And it was at the site of ass in Shangri-La that paradise began to fail me. Hosts at restaurants, listen here! The biggest mistake you can make in your duties is to seat someone directly beside another occupied table when the room IS FUCKING EMPTY.

My hostess, who was later punished by having her legs removed on my orders had committed the unspeakable act of seating two women in their mid 50’s directly beside me. I was no longer in my personal garden of Eden. I was now at my Grandmother’s for tea instead of being on the verge of group sex with the bage pages of the WestEnder. They tried to out-do each other with talk of trips to Japan and the Napa valley mixed with some gossip in hushed tones so the pervert sitting beside them couldn’t hear. I sneered at their over-accessorized outfits and rolled my eyes at their matching bolero jackets with gold applique.

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MELVYN'S: PALM SPRINGS

“He’s just the nicest, nicest, most genuine man.”

How anyone gets anything done in Palm Springs, California, is beyond me. The heat’s punishing lull of excessiveness this place doles out makes it nearly impossible to get out of the pool long enough to enjoy the culinary delights of the desert, never mind delivering a written piece about it on time. My role as Food and Drink editor during Palm Springs week at Only Magazine was to eat and drink my fucking face off. Which is exactly what I did. However, most it took place in the comforts of the house that Team Only rented in what’s called the Movie Colony of Palm Springs. Frank Sinatra used to live just around the corner, same with Cary Grant, and Busby Berkeley too. Continuing on then, with the theme of celebrities at play, I went to Melvyn’s at the Ingleside Inn. I was in Palm Springs, California. I was a celebrity at play.

Melvyn’s is all about the approach. Through a gate, up a long and winding path in the dark, to a large white awning that stretches from the front entrance to shroud you in fantasy before you step inside. A gentlemanly figure with gray hair and impeccable dress was seated just inside the door. A quick peruse through the pictures hanging on the walls led me to the discovery that the silver fox sitting at the end of the bar, greeting guests by the entrance, was indeed Melvyn himself. I seated myself at the other end of the bar from Melvyn. With a perfect view of the heavy door, keeping reality at bay, I was able to watch the characters roll in. Young, old, and really really old, they all presented themselves to Melvyn upon entering. Loud shirts, sun torched skin, canes, wheel chairs, weird hats, and slinky dresses. There seemed to be no inherent identity to Melvyn’s minions. Except that everyone looked wonderful. The sun does that.

Perhaps I should have ordered some food, but I was stuffed with poolside steak, so this review is drink only. The staff at Melvyn’s is older, more distinguished, and formally dressed. They seem to hold court over the various rooms like keepers of a by-gone era in hospitality. I stayed in the bar. I drank dirty Martini’s which were poured long, and packed a serious wallop. I small talked with the bartender. I enjoyed the nonstop show tunes being peddled throughout the room by a tuxedoed lounge act. I was so impressed by the old school pay phone in the bathroom, I called my mom on it. She sounded worried about me. What mother wouldn’t when they get a late night call from their son in a toilet in the desert. Then I danced to an Eric Clapton song in the back area that is covered entirely by mirrors. The dance floor, just big enough for two or three couples to dance on, with a little string of lights that surround it, is just about the cutest thing in the world. Even cuter than me dancing by myself to Eric Clapton.

I had a conversation with the most striking woman of about 70. She had just returned from shooting an episode of the Brett Michael’s reality show Rock of Love. “He’s just the nicest, nicest, most genuine man,” she testified, dressed entirely in white, giving me a chance to admire her decadence that was entirely California.

She was drinking Daiquiri’s at Melvyn’s. It made perfect sense. A parade of celebrities have spent time here, and Melvyn is pictured with many of them throughout the long and low room. Cher, looking slutty as usual, stands with no expression on her face in a seventies-era photo with Melvyn. And wow, John Travolta was actually kind of good looking at one time. If you were a celebrity in Palm Springs, you would have at one time been to Melvyn’s. You would meet Melvyn, your picture would hang there. Your stomach, full, forever.

Palm Springs exists only for leisure. And what better way to view people than seeing them at their best, at leisure, eating and drinking. Here, in the sun of the desert, at Melvyn’s, young and old can intermingle in a secluded and wonderful world of standards coming from the piano, couples in love slowly dancing, dim lights, idiots blasted on dirty Martini’s dancing to Eric Clapton, and stories about Poison’s front man Brett Michaels recounted by the grandest of dames. At Melvyn’s, in the artificialness of Palm Springs, we are able to leave the reality of our daily lives because of the simple fact that we are there, instead of wherever we came from. Slowly escaping, up the drive and through the darkness.

For seven days I lived under the spell of Palm Springs. It didn’t take long for me to introduce myself to Melvyn with the insistence of a picture on the wall like all his other celebrity guests. I wanted the spot beside Travolta. He was polite enough to oblige me with the compromise that the photo would be prominently displayed above the pay phone, in the toilet.

David’s camera was broken in Palm Springs when he used it to brace himself in a fall from the hood of a Chrysler 300, therefore, pictures had to be stolen from the internet. We also apologize for the presentation of this article three days past the end of Palm Springs week. It was the sun. We couldn’t do anything. Go there, you’ll understand.

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ARMY & NAVY

I’m wearing a suit in a discount department store with a bunch of long faced old guys lazing through ham sandwiches wrapped in plastic while I eat a hot dog. And why the fuck is there some retard sitting on the floor taking its clothes off?

It seems that more often than not, life finds me in this demographic of dining: retards and old guys. I know I should stop, I’ve certainly tried, but I have a problem. So when a source tipped me off to the $1.50 hot dog being served at the lunch counter of the Army & Navy (36 W Cordova), well, by now I am sure we all know what comes next.

Seated at a small brown table set up amongst some DVDs and a display of food processors that were on sale, I started the short, but arduous journey through the 11 inches of hot dog that I self dressed from a bucket of mustard and relish packets on the small counter that makes up the Army & Navy restaurant.

Army & Navy

I was wearing a suit because I had snuck away from the office to imbibe in an endless chain of $1.50 hot dogs at the Army & Navy. I’d been warned about my long lunches before. Surely, by now, my colleagues must be aware of my penchant for dirty dining. But all seemed well enough as I was waiting for the elevator and the receptionists teasingly inquired about who I was spending such long lunches with.

Good lord, if they only knew the reality of the situation.

“Hey, you want to hear a joke?” before I could send an answer back across the salt covered table, I was getting the punchline from a guy with insanely white hair that ran bald through the center of his head, wearing an ill-fitting acrylic sweater that exposed his enormous gut. “Politicians spend 10% of their time running for office, and the other 90% running for cover.”

I decided to get up for some dessert. The Army & Navy lunch counter has an ice cream machine, and for $1.25 you can get a little styrofoam cup overfilled with soft serve in chocolate, vanilla, or a twisting combination of the two. Naturally I went for the twist, and decided to get a better survey of the Army & Navy restaurant by eating it at the standing only counter that wraps around one of the large white pillars running throughout the large store.

Army & Navy

Security is tight. Guys dressed in black circle the entire first floor at all times, keeping an eye on the dining area and the front entrance, ready to club anyone at a moment’s notice if they get out of line or take too much mustard. I was terrified to take pictures; I could barely eat my ice cream. It was kind of like eating in an asylum or prison that just so happens to sell strappy shoes for $8.99 the next aisle over.

The location of this place, mixed with the low prices of the food being offered, brings in all the weirdos (myself included) who guiltily and secretly desires this kind of shit to no end. As I sat eating my twisting ice cream with euphoric lust, a woman — lets just call her that, because it was fat, balding, completely asexual and really, I couldn’t tell — came in, sat herself on the floor, and began to make herself at home by taking off most of her clothing. She wasn’t eating. Clearly the food didn’t matter anymore, she was just sitting there, happily undressing on the floor. Normally this sort of behavior would not be able to penetrate my deteriorating culinary habits, but on this particular afternoon it was like I had awoken in a crack den on prime time television. If I continued eating hot dogs, I too would wind up half nude, asexual, and on the floor. And worse even, not eating.

Army & Navy

Things have spiraled out of control. There would have been a time where I would have enthusiastically described to you in great detail the history of the Army & Navy, and the architecture of the building itself. With precision and excitement I would have related the wonders of the $1.50 hot dog, in several thousand words no less; the neat and tidy stacks of toothpaste for sale, the never ending chatter on the intercom, the sunny disposition of the server herself. But things have progressed to the point where it doesn’t matter any more. I don’t care, I just want my fucking hot dog. I want it cheap, salty, dirty. I’ll put the bloody mustard on myself too.

Returning to my desk a bit sweaty, cuticles stained with mustard, and reeking of onion, everything seemed just fine. Nobody knew that I had just been eating hot dogs and soft serve twist in the DVD section of a discount department store. I have a problem though.

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KFC

Imagine being dismembered, mixed with the various appendages of your friends, dipped in batter, deep fried, haphazardly stuffed into a cardboard tub with the words “Taste Lives Here” on the side of it, and then delivered to my door for drunken consumption. What I am describing is the ultimate symbol of negligent dining, of trash aesthetic, of ill health and disdain for longevity in life. I am talking about the bucket of chicken, and when it comes to the bucket of chicken, only one proprietor comes to mind, and that’s Kentucky Fried Chicken (various locations).

The Author, and the Colonal with their chicken buckets

It all started with a flyer that had somehow discarded itself on my bathroom floor. All week it taunted me, whether I was on the toilet, lazing in the bath with a martini, brushing my teeth, or fighting with my contact lenses to rest upon my bloodshot eyes. Perhaps I knew exactly what was going to happen the minute I saw its bold type painted in shades of garish red and beige, advertising the “Mega Meal”. Whatever the case, a recent Wednesday found me a bit tight from a few early evening Manhattans, and it was all the impetus needed to dial up Colonal Sanders like I was returning to the dolor of an abusive lover.

The Mega Meal

Passivity and guilt was quickly replaced with desperation and urgency once I called KFC HQ to place my order, only to learn that at 9:55pm, KFC was no longer taking orders. I realized then that my entire well being hinged on holding a bucket — that I had been staring at that sumptuous trophy of golden grease all week long and had wanted its succulent juices coating my whiskered chin like I wanted an end to world famine.

In my hastened and crafty anxiety, I pulled up a list of KFC restaurants in the area on Google and called the closest one, directly, six times in a row. When someone finally answered, they tried to pawn me back off onto KFC HQ, which I explained to them was now closed and that I absolutely needed a bucket of chicken. And gravy. I wanted gravy. I am happy to report that the service at KFC is excellent, because without hesitation they complied, possibly out of fear.

Dark Meat

With my order safely processed on credit card for $33.99, I proceeded to drink more whiskey, which is the only suitable pairing for the KFC Mega Meal. In my anticipation of breaded and battered euphoria, I imagined myself walking down the street in sweatpants with the bucket under my arm to the envy of everyone around me, while arguing loudly with my girlfriend on a cellphone. Then I envisioned myself contemplating suicide in a cheap hotel with the bucket beside me in bed, drinking mini liquor bottles from the mini bar with a package of Export A cigarettes making a regular appearance between my fingers while staring at a steady stream of hardcore porn on a swivel based television set. The scenarios I was able to dream up came fast and furious, all with the bucket as a fixture of holy debauchery.

End of the bucket

How the overwhelmingly large bags of food arrived with several of my friends in tow remains a mystery likely attributed to the empty bottles of Canadian Club and Crown Royal I found on my kitchen counter the next day. Perhaps I had called them to witness the carnage, or to prove that, yes indeed, I had ordered the bucket. Maybe it was a cry for help. Whatever the reason, I am sure they were wildly entertained and thoroughly disgusted, but not so much so that it stopped them from photographing my drunken ass with my coveted bucket in various states of compromise. What unfolded over the span of several hours, with a refill trip to the liquor store in between, was the unassisted devouring of the KFC Mega Meal. Which consisted of seven pieces of original flavor chicken (in a bucket), a box of fries, two containers of coleslaw (which was top notch stuff), one massive tub of gravy, and a bag of those cute and tasty little brownies.

Victory

Despite attempts at separating their filthy brand image from suburban domestic violence, fat asses, and the racism of the South, Kentucky Fried Chicken still offers chicken by the bucket for those moments in life that we seem, as a society, unable to live without. Likening itself to drinking excessively, fornicating with minors, snorting drugs, and living in a trailer with three dogs, meat in a bucket fits nicely into the realm of humans behaving badly. I ate an entire seven piece Mega Meal one Wednesday night. By early morning, I was on the floor, seventy dollars in debt from whiskey and chicken, dipping the last remnants of those poor birds that sacrificed themselves for this momentous occasion into a waiting vat of gravy. When the end finally arrived, everything began to magically glow and I saw myself leaving my body behind while an ambulance crew applied a difibulator to my naked chest. I ate that Mega Meal, so you’ll never have to. So a chicken will never see the inside of a bucket again. So the taste can live here, instead of there. Forever.

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P.C.O.V / Hotel Vancouver / Gerard

pcov

I should begin by telling you that being an adventure diner is a lonely business. The pursuit of cheap food prepared by strangers in questionable environments is dangerous, and often involves spending a lot of time on the toilet. It makes for few friends.

It’s even worse being an adventure diner with zero cultural heritage, save for that shit mix of white that’s void of any kind of distinct tradition except appropriation and burning people. Other than gravy and breakfast cereal what’s a Westerner have when it comes to relating to the heritage of food?

My visit to the Portuguese Club of Vancouver (1144 Commercial Drive) one Friday night was motivated entirely by these two shortcomings. I had an agenda. To get friends, and an identity. I’m not sure how drinking Martinis and acting like a complete asshole at the Hotel Vancouver before getting up and walking out without paying the tab fits into the scheme of things, but I’m pretty sure it has something do with being a white guy.

Seeing as it had the word “Club” in it, the P.C.O.V. seemed like the ideal place to begin my attempts at belonging to something, anything. I wasn’t exactly sure if I would be tested at the door with a few questions as to my Portuguese-ness before being allowed entry, so I studied Wikipedia before I left. It said that the Portuguese are really into leather bomber jackets. Having my red leather jacket on helped me look like a faggy-er version of everyone else, which allowed me to blend in quite seamlessly with a party of eleven fully engrossed in the harassment of their silver-haired friend standing in front of them. “Give us a line of coke!” A woman that looked like Andre The Giant in a black leather bomber yelled, sending the entire table into an eruption of laughter. I was poured beer, was handed bread, and told to get my food from the bar. I was a part of the Club, and it was time for dinner.

Inside the P.C.O.V.

The P.C.O.V. is a large, two-sided room with tables and chairs, a big TV, and a bar. Covering the entire far wall is a strange collection of horse tackle, paddles, netting, some kind of traditional looking clothing items, and amazingly, a big boxy accordion, all of which are coated with white stucco. The whole club that night was run by two lovely and friendly ladies that were very accommodating when I told them that I had to change my order to suit the demands of my new Portuguese friends that insisted I eat something called Fabreeze.

Or at least that’s what it sounded like, in reality I don’t know what the hell it was called, but it was fantastic. For somewhere around $9.00 I was served thinly sliced cuts of grilled pork, paired with oven roasted and thick potato chips and a small bowl of olives, along with all the bread and butter I could handle. I happily devoured this Portuguese delight while listening to my new Portuguese friends sloppily mixing the melody and lyrics of A Jolly Good Fellow with “and give us free drugs tonight…” over top of a steady rotation of Bon Jovi and AC/DC coming from the house sound system.

Food and drink at the P.C.O.V.

After thirteen pitchers of beer, I was escorted out of my new Club arm in arm with my new Portuguese friends, full of Fabreeze. Undoubtedly the charms of the P.C.O.V. and the people in it could never be accused of thinking less of my unruly dining habits and extended toilet time, but in the end, I wasn’t fooling anyone, not even myself. I was not Portuguese. So the bus ride home was spent thinking about who exactly I was then, and where I was going to connect with my lineage as a culturally naked loser.

The Hotel Vancouver (900 West Georgia Street) is just about as colonial British as you can get in the city of Vancouver. It is the bedroom of the town, a defining feature of the city’s skyline. It shares its history with a group of hotels built in support of, and were once owned by, the Canadian rail system that played a large part in the formation of Canada. Thankfully the exterior of this old dame hasn’t been touched, but the interior is another story. While the room is impressively large and has the most wonderful din of idle chatter mixed with the twinkle of piano keys, the updated decor is abysmal. Thread bare couches dot the room with high-backed chairs, and Egyptian-themed atrocities clash with bad Renoir knock-offs hanging on the walls. The service is terrible. I was completely ignored. Here I was, with my own “people,” and being ignored. I was a dink to my server when I finally got her attention. I promptly drank two Martinis, ate some nuts, and walked out of there, actually I was kind of running.

Compare this then, to Shannon, my waitress at Gerard, a small and intimate bar in the Sutton Place Hotel (845 Burrard Street) that is stately in its decor of dark wood and low light. Gerard is a drinkers room, an English drinkers room, and Shannon is its keeper. She moved about Gerard, keeping an eye on her charges with an air of discretion, grace, and elegance. It was like she was touched by the hand of God for the sole purpose of being a cocktail waitress. Her ability to administer tall stemmed libations with a bewitched twitch of the nose had me completely smitten.

Gerard at The Sutton Place Hotel

Yet another evening of adventurous dining had taken its toll. Uncomfortably full, and even worse, a criminal at large, forever banned from the Hotel Vancouver, found me alone once again. All was not lost though, I had connected with something after all. I belonged to something. It wasn’t the leather clad Portuguese with their excellent cuisine and open armed hospitality, and it certainly wasn’t that overpriced dump The Hotel Vancouver. It was Shannon, my heart belongs to her. Still don’t have any friends though.

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Grade 'A' Cafe and Restaurant

Victim of a dinner that consisted entirely of spirits and cocktail garnishing, I awoke sometime around the breakfast hour one morning, fully clothed and wildly hungry. This was an urgent matter — a dining emergency — and for whatever reason, the yellow awning of the Grade ‘A’ Cafe & Restaurant (1173 Granville Street) appeared in my mind like a message sent straight from my stomach to my brain saying “hurt me.”

The hangover breakfast is a precarious balance of timing, location and ingredients. Amateur revelers are under the impression it’s a social thing that involves lining up like cattle and giggling about the past evening’s antics over gourmet omelets at a diner with a buffoonery of crap on the walls. I belong to the camp that believes this sort of meal is a solo venture, like going off somewhere alone to die so that your dignity remains intact. The hangover breakfast should find you seated quickly in a rather filthy environment, one that will suit your contemplative depression as to why you keep doing this to yourself. A very private matter indeed. Stepping into the Grade ‘A’ Cafe found me comforted by the company of like minded individuals, dining alone, sufficiently long faced, and from the appearance of one patron, on some sort of life support system.

Grade A Cafe

Seeing as I was still wearing the pants that I woke up in, the overwhelming stink that greeted me inside the Grade ‘A’ Cafe was actually a welcomed masking of my own odor. Only hours earlier I was getting out of a cab with an opened can of beer tucked into my jacket that wound up depositing its chilled contents onto my lap, making me look like I had just pissed myself. Now I just smelled like a bar room carpet, which was thankfully unnoticeable to my discerning party of old guys eating their breakfast amongst the all too familiar smell of mold, mixed with a very slight underpinning of sewage.

There is something intensely comforting about fountain pop though, and when I sat down at Grade ‘A’, close to their 5-pump drink fountain and ordered a large Pepsi with lots of ice, I immediately started to feel better. Maybe its the fact that it comes from a brightly lit machine that’s called a Fountain, or maybe its the sugary, watery coolness that fizzes a dance of bubbles about your lips as you sip it, but fountain pop is truly a nectar of the gods in these kinds of situations. Within minutes I had become accustomed to the smell of the Grade ‘A’ Cafe, and an overwhelming need to vomit replaced itself with an enthusiasm for their menu.

All the usual suspects were here, sandwiches, steaks, soups, salads, seafood, a segregated Chinese food menu, and of course, eggs. Despite the sign painted on the window outside boasting the best all day breakfast in town, my condition was not ideal for testing the Grade ‘A’ chef’s skill with eggs. Instead I decided to play it safe with the sponge like characteristics of a Clubhouse sandwich and fries paired with a house salad. My choice of dressing — the dressing I always use for simple tossed salads — was, of course, 1000 Island, a concoction who’s name is as romantic and mysterious as its tangy, salmon colored pallor. The salad, served in a small side dish with iceberg lettuce and a few flakes of carrot, barely qualified as such. My server then instructed me to self dress with a massive squeeze bottle of 1000 Island dressing; it would prove to be my near undoing.

The Grade A Clubhouse

In fact, once my Clubhouse arrived, all kinds of odd and crude combinations of condiment found themselves onto my plate. Between long audible sighs and lots of forehead holding in an attempt to just get the food into my body, a full on sandwich and fry dunk-fest began to take place with assembly line like fervor. After a visit to the ocean of 1000 Islands, to a waiting pile of ketchup, some time in the Worcestershire bath, and finally into a pool of hot sauce, each bit of food made the rounds of my plate before it was forced into my mouth. I devoured everything in a disgusting display of desperation and custom saucery, all the while yammering away to myself about the state of my well being and taking pictures of everything in sight. As a result, I am sorry to report that I have no idea what the food at Grade ‘A’ tastes like.

The Grade A interior and exterior

It was only after I cleared my plate that I was able to sit back and take stock of the interior I found myself seated in. The Grade ‘A’ Cafe likens its decor to that of a cottage exterior. The room is lined with a relief of country style shingles that makes for a faux roof line painted in an unappetizing and unnatural shade of pale blue. A mid-height wall that runs the length of the dining area is topped with a collection of well cared for plants that clash green and light blue together with such force it would challenge any appetite. Of course, there are the signs, always the signs. I don’t even read them anymore, except for the one I noticed pinned to a blue pillar in the middle of the room letting everyone know that cigarettes were available for $9.00. My cook, on this visit, prepared food with unwavering dedication in a traditional chef’s outfit of white, complete with one of those disposable paper hats in the shape of a wedge.

And so it goes, that one Saturday morning I took my grade A hangover and beer stained, stinky pants to the Grade ‘A’ Cafe & Restaurant for the all important past time of the hangover breakfast. Let’s face it, we’ve all been there, and under these circumstances rules of cuisine are blurred by necessity, odd cravings, an empty stomach awash in poisons, tired eyes and a palatable sense of self worthlessness. It’s unlikely that I will ever dine at Grade ‘A’ again, but that doesn’t mean that if you find yourself in a similar situation, where you need a restaurant that smells worse than your pants, you shouldn’t go. I give Grade ‘A’, a B+.

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The Fox Cinema

I’ve spent many an evening sitting in the front row of a theater, sobbing through RomComs while mindlessly feeding myself buttery treats paired with a gallon of soda. So it wasn’t much of a stretch then to have dinner at a cinema this past Valentine’s Day, since every restaurant in town was full. Yes, the theater for dinner, where food and fantasy mingle with each other in a dark and public space. Rather than surround myself with lovers staring longingly into each others eyes between bites of dessert, it made more sense to spend the evening dining alone while staring at the off-tint screen of the Fox Cinema.

Blanketed in a garish shade of light orange carpet that clashes with the yellow painted walls, the Fox Cinema might be the most unappealing theater lobby I’ve ever been in. The Fox also smells really bad, similar to the musty, moldy odor of a condemned building; a real appetite killer. Decorated with a haphazard arrangement of plants, and an extensive collection of telephone books, the small lobby at the Fox Cinema is void of the expected stipends that you would find in any other movie house. The only thing that hinted at the fact that I was in an actual theater were the movie posters hung about the room, all of which advertised various themes of sexual desire and role play. Titles like Summer In Paradise, Sensations and Ultraflesh accentuated the pornographer’s living room feel of the Fox Cinema lobby. There was no ticket booth, no arcade, no flashing lights, not even a leader board letting you know what’s playing or when it starts, but most importantly, and to my ultimate disappointment, the Fox Cinema didn’t have a concession stand. Instead there was just a lone Chinese guy wearing sweatpants, sitting in the back corner, watching a small television, waiting for me to hand over my money. He seemed entirely confused with my inquiry about food, but happily produced a bag of Doritos and a bottle of IGA house brand water, which, included with my nine dollar admission fee, rang out to a competitive twelve bucks.

The Fox Cinema Lobby

After getting my food in order there was only one other place to go, and that was through the large and daunting entrance to the “Auditorium.” But not before I briefly paused to admire all the signs that had been posted on the set of large black doors. Except for one that advertised the availability of a couples only room for an additional $20.00 — which had me racing through a mental repertoire of women that would be suited to the romantic and gentlemanly gesture of renting an entire room just to watch a movie — every sign was saying the same thing: No Smoking. In every conceivable font and format the owners of the Fox wanted one thing made clear to its patrons: smoking in the auditorium was strictly forbidden. Presumably, then, everything else was fine.

Most theaters have some kind of helper lights that assist you with the disorienting task of trying to find a seat until your eyes adjust to the darkness inside. There was no such amenity at the Fox, so finding a seat proved rather difficult because the cinema was not only much bigger than I expected, but actually quite busy for a cold and rainy Thursday night. Stumbling through a small crowd of dark silhouettes milling about in a weird standing only area just inside the entrance with my Doritos and water was an unsettling experience, so I took the first available seat I could find. When I could actually see something, I began to take note of the room within which I would be having my dinner.

No Smoking at The Fox Cinema

The seats were deep and covered in a dark maroon vinyl. They were unlike any cinema seat I had been in prior to the evening in question, and likened themselves to the bench seat of a mid-seventies Chrysler rather than a theater chair. The auditorium itself was sparsely decorated and gruesomely lit by two exposed light bulbs hanging from the walls. The screen, while large and sufficiently proportionate to the size of the room, suffered from a projection system that had been retired for a DVD imaging unit that forced an eight foot warning message onto the lower left hand corner of the screen that said “Please replace the light bulb”, advice that should have been followed because the film being shown had a psychedelic green haze on it the whole time.

It should be noted that the Fox Cinema offers a two dollar seniors discount, which, upon my visit, many older chaps seemed to be taking advantage of. There was a constant assortment of men, young and old, parading themselves up and down the main isle of the Fox. In fact, nobody seemed interested in what was happening on the screen. With all the people coming in, going out, sitting down, looking around, getting up and changing seats, it was hard to concentrate on the film that was being shown, which had obviously started before I arrived. I also have no idea what it was called, and could only surmise that it was shot in the mid-eighties and was about some nerd-ish student returning to school, or just entering school, and he had a crush on his all female cast of teachers.

Doritos and Action at The Fox Cinema

The sound at the Fox Cinema was incredibly substandard and not much louder than the volume you would watch a movie at in your own living room. I had quite a time of it, trying to make the crunch of my Nacho Cheese Doritos quieter than the moans of the female character on screen who had the hero of the picture’s face between her legs after instructing him that she would “give him a lesson he wouldn’t forget.” My Doritos were quite forgettable though and had the unpleasant aftertaste of sawdust, which at least was kept at bay by the IGA brand water. The Doritos were hardly a match for the passionate love making that was unfolding on screen, which by mid bag found the overly tanned and feathered hair male lead actor thrusting himself into the rear end of his now screaming teacher. However, my Doritos were still louder, and I must have been an annoying addition to the scene at the Fox, since no one else happened to be dining.

It didn’t take long for the student to ejaculate all over the backside of his teacher, thus ending his lesson and the movie, which allowed me to notice as the credits were rolling that several men positioned themselves closer to my seat, and seemed to be very interested in my substandard Nacho Cheese Doritos and IGA water. I decided that it would be better to finish my dinner on the way home when I made the disgusting discovery under the coach lighting of the bus, that my Doritos were a full two months past their expiry date.

Admittedly, Valentine’s Day at the Fox was not quite the dinner theater experience I had imagined. My hunger was hardly satisfied by three year old Doritos and I only got to see about 25 minutes of a film I paid nine dollars for. Still, I was privy to a raw and engaging performance by two obviously dedicated artists that will encourage me to order a pizza with a date in the couples only room at the Fox Cinema, before I let myself be emotionally destroyed by the next Hugh Grant film at the cineplex down the street.

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THE BAY

photo:squeaky marmot

It’s called The Seymour Room and it’s located on the sixth floor of The Bay in downtown Vancouver. There are five other restaurants like it, each uniquely named with reference to the city in which they reside. Those five Hudson Bay flagship store restaurants create an imaginary route of pop pumps and carving stations that stretch from here to Montreal. One Wednesday night at the Seymour Room, I was to begin my journey; to eat my way across Canada, one dinner special at a time.

Such an event requires costume, which was not a problem since it was bitchy outside and I just so happened to own an abundance of Bay striped winter gear. So I decided on a uniform that made use of my white mitts that cover an entire forearm and feature the telltale coloured Bay stripes just below the elbow. Around my neck I wrapped a Hudson Bay scarf covered in the classic Voyageur print that perfectly positioned a neat row of beaver on my chest, which I decided to make the official mascot and spirit animal of my journey. Dressed in the regalia of a Canadian Voyageur diner, I made my way towards the cream coloured, Corinthian columned building that was built in 1927 and takes up an entire city block in downtown Vancouver.

On the way to the 6th floor Seymour Room

Inside the first floor there were beautiful women everywhere whose only purpose, it seemed, was to make themselves and their minions even more beautiful by selling perfumery and products which they would apply to themselves and others. They couldn’t stop staring as I proudly paraded through them. I was a sight to behold, a man on a mission, a culinary hero if you will. With beaver on my chest and gravy on my mind, I began an ascent towards the upper levels of the department store on a series of motorized escalators. With each tram presenting me into a different world of fantasy and luxury, I couldn’t help notice that the closer I got to the Seymour Room, the women seemed to have less clothing on. By the time I arrived on the fifth floor they were down to their underwear completely. My imagination ran wild as I began to wonder what could be waiting for me on the sixth floor. As I climbed higher, my thoughts raced between various meats and cheeses, of burgers and hot dogs, endless drink refills, chicken pot pies and open faced sandwiches. The Seymour Room itself would have a panoramic view of the city at night. It would be stately and historic, filled with beautiful people giggling between bites of dessert, and possibly even feeding each other grapes. I had the appetite. I had the outfit. I had about $15.00 in my pocket and I was ready to make dining history.

The Seymour Room entrance

The Seymour Room was big, I’ll give it that, but I was mortified by the appearance of what I had found, which was basically an over sized White Spot. The entrance sheepishly advertises itself in black sans-serif font behind the electronics department and opens into a large open room that could easily accommodate any number of diners. On my visit, though, the Seymour Room was near empty. Except for a collection of senior citizens dining lonesomely under some of the most horrific lighting one would ever want to see the elderly or any kind of food under, and they were hardly feeding each other grapes. In fact, nobody was saying a word. The Seymour Room is the quietest restaurant in the known universe. The expansive view I was expecting was obscured by some kind of reflective coating on the windows, and the seats were hard and uncomfortable. To The Bay’s credit, they at least had pictures displayed throughout the room giving hint to the goldmine of history and nostalgia the company possesses, and what a Hudson Bay dining room once looked like in all its splendidness. However, this only accentuated the injustice of it all and foreshadowed the end of my journey before it had begun.

Here the concept of the department store restaurant was on life support, and operating in survival mode. The salad bar was closed, the grill was closed, so was the deli area and the pre-made sushi buffet. The only thing that was open was a hot table with a sign that advertised two menu items for dinner: roast beef or fish and chips. The woman serving me looked Chinese, but sounded Russian, “Mashed potato or rice? Corn or carrots? Would you like gravy?” She took me through the various sidings after carving a serving from a massive chunk of roast with the disinterest of an executioner. My next stop was the checkout, “Would you like to put your roast beef dinner on your Bay card sir?” I then realized that this huge restaraunt was staffed by only three ladies. One to cut the meat and serve the corn, another to run the till, and lastly one to drag a decrepit, creaking bus cart throughout the room to clean the tables and make sure everyone was still alive.

Roast Beef at the Seymour Room

Clutching my tray with hands that were by now profusely sweating inside my mitts, I must say that my mood was somewhat piqued by the sheer volume of food that I had just acquired for $9.67 as I made my way towards a table in the back of the room. A plate of my design with four big cuts of roast, paired with corn, mashed potatoes and two pieces of Yorkshire pudding — all swimming in a lake of dark gravy — had me thinking that not all was lost, and visions of pushing a fork into my face across the country returned to me. It was all too brief though, because my dinner special was not so special. The potatoes were powdery, the Yorkshire flavorless, and the meat itself overly done, too dry, and void of taste. Eating my way across the country would require better food and a clearly outlined trail of Canadiana to guide my way. Although I bashfully admit that I ate every morsel of food on my tray, I realized that my mission would need to be aborted due to low moral.

What The Bay used to be like

Leaving the Seymour Room for the descent back down to the Granville Street exit was certainly less inspiring than the way up. Everything took on the seedy tone of a used car lot. The clothes were five years out of style, garish sale signs hung on everything to move stock. The women in a state of undress on the fifth floor weren’t even real, they were fucking mannequins in cheap lingerie. I am pretty sure I heard the staff on the first floor snicker at my attire on my way out the door. I looked like an ass, and I ate so much roast beef out of depression and longing I had to unbutton my pants on the way home.

There’s the Chinook Room in Calgary, named after the winds that blow in from the west. The Paddlewheel in Winnipeg, referencing the muddy rivers that intersect at the heart of the city, and then, of course, there is the Seymour Room in Vancouver. After Manitoba the trail becomes more obscure, but there are at least two other flagship Bay stores in the east, each with their own top floor restaurant. But if the Seymour Room is any indication of the level of neglect that these once regal rooms have suffered, I don’t need to see them.

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St. Paul's Hospital

How perfect it would be! Dining in bed at a facility that could not only feed me, but accommodate me in a room for an extended period of time with a television and a staff of women dressed in their pajamas to mind my every whim round the clock. I thought of a myriad of ways to get myself booked into St. Paul’s Hospital so that I could review their food and enjoy the hospitality offered there to the fullest extent possible. However, short of snapping my leg in half, every illness I imagined faking involved admittance under a liquids only meal plan, which was unacceptable. A visit to St. Paul’s main dining room one Sunday afternoon would have to suffice.

The Evacuation plan at St. Paul's and directions to the dining room.

Standing at 1081 Burrard Street since the beginning of the century, with its striking red brick, Renaissance styled architecture, white terracotta trims and ornate stone work around the windows, St. Paul’s is a visual delight in an endless parade of generic glass office towers that surround and threaten it. To date, St. Paul’s must be the holiest place I’ve ever eaten at. There are big white crosses on all the exterior walls, and the actual building itself is designed in the shape of a cross. There’s even a large white statue of St. Paul himself high above the front entrance, welcoming in diners with open arms.

St. Paul’s is really clean and safe. They have an evacuation plan should there be a terrorist attack or something of that nature, and guests are encouraged to wash their hands at little cleaning stations posted throughout the building. Everything is designed to ensure that your visit there is a pleasant one; you can’t use your cell phone at St. Paul’s and they don’t like people coming in if they’ve recently been sick. The hallways are thankfully painted with little road maps on the floors because the dining room is a bit hard to find. My pace quickened as I thought of filling up my plastic serving tray with delectable items of my choosing, but the long walk there was entertaining enough to appease my appetite. Everyone seemed to be very relaxed, especially with regards to their attire. The staff at St. Paul’s dress in mostly dark coloured pajamas paired with really white sneakers, while the guests can be found in all sorts of states of undress and casual attire. I saw one fellow using a bank machine in a fetching blue robe and brown slippers, and another guy in his room, slouched over his food with no shirt on at all. I was tempted to inquire what he was being served as it all looked so tasty, but he seemed unresponsive.

The St. Paul's salad bar and self serve snack machines.

When I finally did arrive at the fourth floor dining room I was disappointed to find a very limited menu. The Grill and Deli areas were closed, which left an Entree counter and a self serve salad bar that looked appetizing enough until I heard two guys dressed in pajamas that walked in behind me discussing it, “Just don’t take anything from the salad bar, the psych patients like to put stuff in the coleslaw.” That revealing bit of information left one option for lunch, which was a guy standing in his pajamas and a hair-net behind the Entree counter, ready to dole me out a heaping square of meat-loaf.

The restaurant itself was lovely though. Large and decorated in a light pink color, it had tables to accommodate small groups, or booths that could comfortably seat large parties. The whole place is surrounded by windows that look out onto the city’s West End, and a patio area which would be wonderful in the summer. However, my meat-loaf left much to be desired. A terrible shade of beige and overly minced, I began to question if it was even actually meat or not. It was topped with a dark mushroom gravy, paired with rice and seated beside a helping of soggy vegetables. It was a fair amount of food for the reasonable rate of $6.37, and at least I didn’t have to live in fear of discovering the snot of the mentally ill lurking beneath the green beans. Still, while Saint Paul seemed to have a handle on hosting a wonderful and laid back facility, the food at his flagship Hospital was seriously lacking in both taste, adventure, presentation, and most of all, variety. There’s no booze either — how everyone appeared so relaxed remains a mystery.

St. Paul's meat-loaf

Bored with my lunch I couldn’t help but listen to some of the conversations around me, all of which seemed hushed, dramatic and serious. The topic of discussion at nearly every table was that of health. There were all sorts of illnesses being outlined in detail along with descriptions of how people had died. One older woman kept having to repeat herself to a member of her wheel-chaired party that seemed half dead themselves. “No, not his neck, Ted, his throat. His throat ,Ted, yes, his throat.” She got louder each time she had to repeat herself. It was all a bit depressing, so I decided to focus my attention on a group of attractive looking women that were all dressed in their pajamas. I found it mildly erotic and even considered batting some lashes in their direction between bites of my meat-loaf until they were joined by a male friend of theirs who was taller and much better looking than me.

Unlike most of the people seated at St. Paul’s, there was nothing wrong in Dr. Love’s world. (At least I assume he was a doctor since he was the only one not wearing pajamas, and the way he held court with the ladies gave hint to some sort of authoritative admiration.) No descriptions of the phlegm that needed to be drained from his friends’ nasal passages, or terminal descriptions to seemingly comatose luncheon dates. Instead, Dr. Love had all the girls giggling with flashes of his perfect white teeth, holiday tan, and dark hair. He was the antithesis of my scraggly hair that was perfumed with the smell of stale cigarettes from the bar I was at the night before, which also left me with a big red bunny stamp glowing from my left hand that gave away the fact that I still had not bathed. Rocking back and forth just to try and get through my remaining meat-loaf, I decided it was a hopeless case and turned my attention to a woman in a pink robe with a big clear bag of fluid draining into her hand that was hanging from a metal coat rack beside her table. She got up soon after I noticed her though, and wheeled her apparatus through the dining room at a gait that suggested she was in some kind of pain.

With culinary and companionship options exhausted, and Dr. Love making me feel even grosser than the two pound meat-loaf I had just consumed, I decided it was time to begin my journey back through the halls of St. Paul’s Hospital. Following the coloured trail that would lead me to the entrance from which I entered, I couldn’t help think that I had missed out on the spell of the full St. Paul’s experience everyone else seemed to be under. Catching a glimpse of my reflection in the mirror though, I comforted myself with the realization that it’s only a matter of time before I am eligible to receive the hospitality I know St. Paul’s is capable of. Three meals delivered to my door everyday, a bed that can be adjusted into every position possible so that you never have to leave it, lazing away time, half dressed with little to do but watch television, and all within the historical atmosphere of St. Paul’s. When that happens, I assure you you’ll be the first to know.

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Planet Bingo

Planet Bingo

Planet Bingo is not a Planet, it’s a fucking universe. A huge and multi-leveled, self contained universe with its very own bus stop, convenience store to supply the Bingo pros with their wares, its own fleet of cabs waiting outside to whisk winners away to the nearest Wal-Mart and its own restaurant called the Galaxy Grill. Which is exactly why I landed on Planet Bingo one Friday night. Who knew that I would barely make it out alive.

If I was going to properly assess Planet Bingo, I needed to seamlessly blend in with the environment there. Obviously, then, I would have to play a few games of Bingo, and you can’t play Bingo without a “dabber”. So, despite being lured by the gravitational pull of the planetary imagery of Planet Bingo’s marquee sign outside, I went to the store just to the left of the entrance to choose my dabber first. I needed something that conveyed a sense of my personality and love of food, something that would bring me good luck, something that the ladies would like and, of course, something that would take me to the jackpot of riches I found myself dreaming about on the bus ride over. I immediately fell in love with an Elvis dabber loaded with green ink that was actually signed by Elvis Presley himself. There were hundreds, probably thousands to choose from, but tonight, the King and I would be taking care of business.

Planet Bingo

Planet Bingo is a strange place, unlike any I have ever visited. The inhabitants are mostly women in their mid to late 60’s. Except for the steady and droning voice of the caller putting everyone under the spell of a letter and number mantra, the place was unsettlingly quiet. The atmosphere in the cordoned off smoking area was most agreeable to my own natural habitat, so that’s where I decided to setup and conduct my experiments. “B23. Two, three. N14. One, four. G16. One, six.” It went on and on while I scoped out the Galaxy Grill and set down my recently purchased set of five Bingo cards ($2.50), my Elvis “The King” Presley dabber and a half-litre coffee cup filled with my favorite Pinot, which instantly transformed Planet Bingo into Vancouver’s only bar that you can smoke in. This mixed with Planet Bingo’s other worldly grid of circular ceiling lights, along with its faded and quite filthy carpet covered with an exploding fireworks print, had me thinking that I had found a new home amongst the stars.

I was starving and wasted no time getting in line at the Galaxy Grill, where a typical fare of burgers, hot dogs and toasted sandwiches were being offered at reasonable prices. I settled on the Galaxy Burger for $6.75, but before I could finish describing with maniacal excitement how I wanted my onions fried, I was interrupted by the counter help and informed that the kitchen was closed. Closed!? This was unacceptable. I told the woman that I had checked the Planet Bingo website and it had said food was available until 11:30pm, and that I had traveled a great distance in my spaceship (the #3 Main) to sample the wonders of the Galaxy Grill. “I know, I’m sorry, but we only have one cook, and she started too early today,” was the only explanation that was offered. I walked back to my empty Bingo cards and Elvis dabber to sip my contraband Pinot in melancholic confusion.

Your Only Magazine Food & Drink Columnist would not give up that easily though! Slightly pissed now on a half litre of wine, I returned to the lineup at the Galaxy Grill, with my eye on a disgusting looking slice of pizza that sat beneath a tired looking heat lamp I had not noticed upon my first visit. It was the last slice, and as each person ahead of me ordered pops, chips and slices of pie, I gripped my fists in fear that my pizza would be sampled by someone else. I got down to the last woman ahead of me, and of course she just had to get the fucking pizza. I began to put plan B into action which involved carrot cake and beef jerky, when a lovely twist of fate arrived in the form of her being so unimpressed with the pizza she instead got a muffin.

The Smile Restaurant on Pender Street

There I was, back in the smoking section of Planet Bingo, happily consuming my stale hand-me-down pizza (which was surprisingly good) paired with a diet soda and bag of salt and vinegar chips, trying to keep up with the task of dabbing out the letter and number combinations on game 2 of my five game booklet purchased earlier on. The games move along very quickly, and as I took stock of the inhabitants of Planet Bingo I could tell that the attraction of Bingo for them must be that it allows little time to think about anything other than the repetitive function of dabbing out the numbers called out by the caller. The very large half-man-half-woman seated beside me — maneuvering her white poodle dabber with a robotic finesse — was all too eager to help me out with the game, not to mention the disposal of my used Bingo sheets. I found the people of Planet Bingo to be of a lonely sort, and seeing as how alcohol was forbidden there, probably recovering boozers.

There is nothing like the collective sigh that emanates from over 100 losers in a very quiet room when someone reaches Bingo other than them. Imagine, then, the glory of victory as the winner gets to walk towards the winners circle to collect cash. Perhaps the looks on the faces of the winners were too intoxicating for me, or I was just plain too intoxicated, but towards the end of game four, much to my amazement, while stuffing potato chips into my face, I connected five dabs of green ink dispensed from the King of Rock N’ Roll himself on my game card, which caused me to break the concentrated silence of Planet Bingo with an all too enthusiastic call of, “Bingo!” I am pretty sure I high-fived a couple old ladies while making my way to the front of the room to have my card verified. Quickly though, I realized the horror of my error when I was informed that in order to win this game, my dabs needed to connect in the shape of an X. A fucking X! I couldn’t believe it, and neither could the inhabitants of Planet Bingo as the call came out over the loud speaker, “We have a false Bingo. I repeat, we have a false Bingo.” Which threw Planet Bingo into anger and panic as everyone went fishing into the garbage to get back their disposed game cards.

The sweet and friendly inhabitants of Planet Bingo had now turned hostile. There was much finger pointing and head shaking. Maybe it was my own paranoia heightened by my idiocy, but they seemed to be focusing on the illegal contents of my coffee cup. I imagined a cacophony of old hags devouring my flesh and destroying my coveted Elvis dabber. I decided it was time to escape Planet Bingo, and as I told my bus driver to hit warp speed I watched Planet Bingo shrink smaller and smaller behind me, still poor, quite drunk, sickeningly full, but most importantly, still breathing.

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