Smile Restaurant

Normally a woman wearing a low cut one piece purple jumpsuit and black pumps, sluttily grinning with a “Today Special” board in her hand could convince me of anything. But when she’s standing in front of Smile Restaurant (424 E. Pender St.), cut from plywood and painted to look like the cover of Duran Duran’s Rio, well then I have my doubts as to the charms she’s advertising. I also must admit that I had eaten at Smile Restaurant before, and just about shit my pants afterwards. Time heals all wounds though, so I found myself taking a seat with a renewed sense of hope and a guest diner who said that her mother would never let her eat in place like this.

Maybe I am losing my mind in the toasted wonders of grilled cheese and clubhouse sandwiches, but Smile Restaurant seemed like a macrocosm of how the world should be. Why then wouldn’t I want to share this with the children of the planet? A gentleman of excess might be a terrible role model — I’ll be the first to admit — but this restaurant seemed like the perfect place for me to impress upon the youth of today a sense of limitless possibilities through the mantra of happiness and goodwill to all humans. I imagined myself filling Smile Restaurant with our future, buying all the kids a pop and a Denver sandwich, because if a Denver sandwich doesn’t excite the leaders of tomorrow into a new way of thinking, then the world is doomed. I was only able to convince one 10 year old kid on loan from her mother on a Sunday afternoon to come with me though, and I had to scrap the Denver, because I’m too cheap.

The Smile Restaurant on Pender Street

Smile Restaurant really is as life affirming as plywood ’80s babe out front would have you believe. It’s utopic in its overwhelming display of all things happy! It’s tinged with a hint of retro diner (wasn’t everything wonderful in the ’50s!?) and boasts the availability of both Chinese and Canadian food on the windows and signage out front. Imagine that, two cuisines on one menu. Evils such as racism don’t exist within the little Pender Street cafe. There is happy face imagery everywhere: in neon, in color print-outs fronting the menus and on the clock above the kitchen. The booth style seating and counter service swivel chairs are dressed in the most wonderful shade of emerald green vinyl that wouldn’t be out of place on the shoulders of someone rich, and presumably very happy.

“You want to be happy? Make sure you have a lot of money. A fucking lot of money.” I find that kids listen if you swear, so I drove home my point with an expletive while admiring the interior of Smile Restaurant. Flowers make people happy too, so it makes perfect sense then that the wallpaper covering the walls of Smile Restaurant is in a floral print, and that the only pictures hanging on the walls are of flowers. They might be the highly stylized, air brushed kind that are framed in gold plastic and bought at dollar discount stores, but they’re still smile inducing in their own special way.

Cheeseburger fries, and a happy face.

The staff at Smile Restaurant were clearly under the influence of the environment they worked in. They must be the jolliest crew I’ve ever had the privilege of being served by. They were always smiling whenever we were being attended to and everyone stopped by our table at least once to see how everything was. They outnumbered by three the only other patrons in the place, who were two old guys doting over coffee and one kid knocking back a milkshake with fries. They were all disciples of the happy faced Smile Restaurant. Cooks, waiters, and waitresses all crammed into one of the U shaped booths at the back over a huge spread of Chinese food. Speaking in Cantonese, which didn’t appear to be lost on the lone white guy in the group because the Smile staff probably speak in every language known to mankind anyway, they would intermittently erupt into a chorus of laughter while eating their lunch. It was beginning to rub off on me too, I could feel the life force of Smile Restaurant! I tried to entertain my guest with silly stories in an effort to gauge the effect Smile Restaurant was having on someone who hasn’t yet ruined themselves. Instead she just dryly noted, without a smile, that the place smelled like an egg roll.

Smile Restaurant’s international menu lists steaks, all day breakfast specials, omelets, sandwiches and salads paired with Chinese dishes like chow mein, egg foo yung and fried rice. I decided on the very Canadian cheeseburger and fries doused in white vinegar. My guest, terrified by my suicidal eating habits, played it safe with a side of fries and a coke, which was good because I’m totally selfish and couldn’t afford to feed us both anyway. Perhaps I’ve built up some sort of immunity from my dining experiences as of late, because I healthily cut through my cheeseburger without a moments hesitation as to my history with Smile Restaurant and the toilet. I’m not even sure if it tasted good, and really, I don’t think it mattered. We were there as witnesses to something magical!

Menu and a Christmas tree

My guest was not feeling it though. While staring at all the flowers, stuffing the cheeseburger in my face and yammering on about the bottle of scotch I was going to buy myself for Christmas, I couldn’t help but notice a morbid silence coming from the other side of the table. Shockingly pale and sunk into the back of the booth, the poor kid whispered, “I’m starting to feel sick, I’m never coming here again.” Not exactly the fantasy scenario of Denver sandwiches in the headquarters to a new world order of smiles, happiness and flowers. While leading her through some breathing exercises which have helped me in numerous similar situations of ill-advised dining, we were interrupted by yet another Smile Restaurant employee. Smiling, and with a huge black shiner on his left eye, he inquired if everything was OK while the speaker above him filled the room with Peter Cetera’s The Glory of Love. I assured him everything was just fine, and asked for the cheque. My ten year old guest was quick to point out that he seemed happy, so he must be rich.

Had I discovered some sort of secret society of happiness on Pender Street? Was it my responsibility to affect social change through good will and peace on earth by luring the youngsters of today and the leaders of tomorrow into this church of international cuisine? Indeed my efforts were probably forgotten and unnoticed that Sunday afternoon, but you can’t blame a guy for trying. I suggest you all head down to Smile Restaurant for a dip in the fountain of happiness, and a cheeseburger. You’ll be a better person for it, just don’t shit yourself… and if you do, just remember to keep on smiling!

  • Comments [28]
  • +
  • +
  • +
  • +
  • +

The Carnegie Public Library

Not since keeping a copy of Thoreau’s Walden 234 days past due, casting me into a state of ill-repute with the public lender, had I set foot in a library. However, once I caught whiff of the $1.75 entree being offered on the second floor of the Carnegie Library (401 Main Street) I decided it was time to make amends with the civic bookshelf and get some lunch.

The Carnegie Library menu

Acting as the last bastion of functional sanity on the notorious corner of Main and Hastings, the Carnegie Library—Vancouver’s first library—has survived here since 1903. Its colonial architecture and stone pillars put on a show of defiance and unwillingness to give up in the face of a community in steady decline. Making your way to the front door of the library is like navigating your way through a crowded red carpet greeting of drug addicts, dealers and people without homes in various stages of intoxication. The interior is beautiful though, and features a winding stairway lined with stained glass murals and glossy white tiles. The whole concept of the public library is at its most impressive within the walls of the Carnegie. My visit one Saturday afternoon found the large reading rooms full of people resting, talking and reading the small collection of materials kept on the first floor. The building also houses a community centre, art gallery, seniors centre, auditorium, gym, dark room, pottery studio and, of course, a kitchen.

True, I have found myself in many a precarious dining arrangement as your storied Food and Drink Editor, but this was without doubt the closest I had come to assuming the lifestyle of a person of no fixed address. The assembly line serving style and collection of volunteers that were dead ringers for reformed inmates, combined with my post-noon hangover, had me unexpectedly humbled and ready to bail. I felt a bit silly standing in line at the Carnegie, perusing the chalk board menu offering a beef or vegetarian curry with a camera stuffed in my pocket ready to use the experience as fodder for Only. As I stepped up to have a healthy portion of the vegetarian curry slapped onto my white plate with a big metal spoon by a guy with a braided pony tail down to his ass, I wondered if this meal was going to be outside the realm of scrutiny. The weight on my server’s brow had me fantasizing about how many people he must have murdered until I remembered that this was in fact a Library and not a jail.

The Carnegie Library Stairwell and Vegetarian Curry

But these feelings were quickly forgotten after a few bites of my lunch beside a big window with a view of Hastings Street and the Empress Hotel below. The curry had a surprising kick, and was full of green beans, chick peas, yams and raisins, and was served on a bed of couscous with a cold cucumber salad and green grapes. Watching people get their lunches, I could surmise that the rest of my party was made up of resident locals desperate for food and a secret society of advantageous eaters who appreciate low cost dining in a unique and historical setting. The seating at the Carnegie is communal, and the topic of conversation at one table was that of the pending Grey Cup football match between Winnipeg and Saskatchewan. “Winnipeg all the way…” one diner quietly trailed off to turn their head to the view out the window, which garnered a mostly ignored and delayed response of “Winnipeg hey? Their quarterback has a broken arm, how do you think a thing like that is going to happen?” The conversation ended in a pause of silence that was in no hurry to resume itself. Everyone seemed to be taking refuge from the craziness outside and were reluctant to get on with the day even though their plates had long since been cleared.

The Carnegie Library dining room with a view of the Empress Hotel

Just over 153 years ago, American author Henry David Thoreau retreated to a simple cabin in a small forest by Walden Pond in Massachusetts to muse on the excesses of life and the pursuit of wealth over things that really mattered. My borrowing privileges at all provincial libraries are still suspended for keeping his book, Walden, for so long. Still, upon my visit and after a delicious lunch, I couldn’t help think that the Carnegie Library was my cabin in the woods, where basic necessities like social interaction without pretension, services based on need rather than financial gain and cheap, hot food with quality ingredients were isolated and heightened. Sure I might be banned from borrowing books, but I can still nurse a hangover with a spicy curry and the newspaper for under $2.00, which will make paying back my fine to restore my borrowing privileges that much easier. Or maybe I’ll just work it off with some volunteer time behind the food line, get some tattoos, grow my hair, spend my days lifting weights and fabricating the legendary criminal past of a delinquent borrower. I’m also good with a spoon.

  • Comments [1]
  • +
  • +
  • +
  • +
  • +

The Brave Bull's House of Steaks

The Brave Bull's House of Steaks

After a long stretch of clubhouse sandwiches in dirty cafes, skid row bars, butcher shop lunch counters and slutty strip clubs, The Brave Bull’s House of Steaks’ faded awning, garishly boasting “family restaurant” seemed like a welcome reprieve from my lecherous dining habits as of late. Just what exactly constitutes a family restaurant anyway? Giddy staff in suspenders? A mascot that goes around entertaining the kids? Cheap prices? I hadn’t a clue. The whole concept seems completely obsolete these days, and on the icy Friday night in November that I paid my visit to The Brave Bull’s House of Steaks (1298 E Hastings St), it was entirely welcome.

9oz. Sirloin

How I managed to avoid the Brave Bull for so long is as confusing as the exterior of the place itself. It sags on the corner of a thoroughfare of heavy industrial traffic oblivious to its presence. It looks like an old vinyl-sided three story walk-up disguised by a facade of imperial pillars, faux Spanish fixtures, an overwhelming plethora of signage tempting hungry drivers with cheap prices, a liquor license, and a sense of family. The sandwich board on the sidewalk out front informs customers of endless dining possibilities: “Breakfast!” “Coffee Break!” “Lunch!” “Dinner!” “Open!” But all these efforts seem lost on the general public, because on my Friday visit the place was completely empty.

Stepping into The Brave Bull is like stepping into a meditation on 70s dining. Deviation from the original interior is minimal, with the inclusion of some Eastern fans upon the walls, some Chinese lanterns hanging from the ceiling and a bunch of those 3D paintings that light up and have moving waterfalls. It also had a laminated review of the place from 1995 hanging beside every table. Other than that, the interior was all steakhouse circa 1975; a palette of beige and brown, a large padded leather bar acting as centerpiece to a collection of well worn tables, dark wood, wagon wheel chandeliers, Spanish knick-knacks, and bull memorabilia.

We accept cash only

I can not begin to stress enough how meticulously cared for the dining room is — the almost manic amount of plants that dot the ledges and walls immediately exposed a caring nature about its owners. When an older Chinese woman greeted me with a menu and a friendly reminder that she only accepted cash, I could tell that she was the proprietor, and that she had oddly dedicated her life to running a steakhouse in Vancouver. I took a table by the window, and felt completely at home. It was the cleanest restaurant I had sat in for months, and knowing that the $40.00 in my pocket meant a no-limit dining experience at the Brave Bull, I was prepared to laze the evening away despite the fact that I was dining alone. There was something about The Brave Bull’s House of Steaks that seemed to accommodate the lonely, solo diner. There was only one other guy there besides me, reading the newspaper while nursing a large decanter of wine that he had on his table which I promptly ordered for myself to get things under way.

The house wine was cheap. The jar said half litre on it, but it seemed dangerously larger than that, and with a price tag of $6.95 I could see myself getting into a bit of trouble with the Brave Bull. Perhaps, then, that’s why my new mother/waitress asked me if I was driving; at these prices the House of Steaks seemed very drink-centric. After all, there’s an alcoholic in every family, and I suspected that seeing as it was a Friday night, I might be it. I matched my seven dollar chalice of loveliness with the $8.95 9oz. sirloin steak. I sat drinking and listening to the traffic outside, which was loud enough to penetrate the thin window beside me, but not loud enough to drown out the sound of Neil Diamond’s “September Morn” over the house speakers mixed with the obvious sound of my steak being pounded with a dull blunt object from the kitchen in the back. Hunger was building.

Open for breakfast, coffee break, lunch, dinner!

Before long I was devouring a perfectly cooked medium-rare sirloin, served on a classic metal plate rimmed with brown plastic, topped with mushrooms, paired with a foil wrapped baked potato, garlic bread, steamed vegetables, and a side salad. My new mom began to make her rounds to the two diners that occupied her establishment, making sure her boys were happy. She stopped at my table to comment on how slow it was, and that people must be at home watching hockey. “Tonight they phone the pizza,” she said, while laughing and exposing the fact that the Brave Bull is normally busy, thankfully ending my amazement that such a great place could be so empty. My entire experience came to $21.00, including a $4.00 tip, a gesture that seemed to knock mom into confusion. “All for me?” she responded, with an appreciation that was cute, but alarmingly sad at the same time.

If the family restaurant still exists, it has certainly fallen prey to a confused sense of values. Thoughts of today’s most popular restaurants conjure images of franchised interiors that are bland and void of uniqueness, with waitresses that have their tits hanging out over tight dresses and exorbitant prices no family could afford. The Brave Bull’s House of Steaks might be far from your idea of fine dining, or, reaching even further, a family experience. After my evening though, I think I’ve found a new home. I’m moving into the Bull’s basement, even if mom says I have to quit the strip club scene.

  • Comments [5]
  • +
  • +
  • +
  • +
  • +

THE NO. 5 ORANGE SHOWROOM PUB

The No.5 Orange Showroom Pub

Eating lunch with someones crotch six inches from your face might not be your idea of a good time, but if the food is good, it certainly has the potential to be mine. The strip bar lunch is a staple of the blue collar lifestyle, and where there are blue collars, you can usually find manly fare at affordable prices. With this in mind, a visit to the No. 5 Orange Showroom Pub (205 Main Street) was not only necessary, but required.

Taking advice from the marquee sign out front, “Your day starts here with ice cold beer”, I found myself outside the No. 5 Orange willing to step into the seedy darkness of a gentleman’s club for my first meal of the day. Done properly, this venture would have to exploit the full potential of crassness such an opportunity presented itself with: I would sit as close as legally possible to the entertainment. I would gratuitously stare at the women on stage
while eating my lunch. I would even take a massage if it were offered. A lap dance, however, was not within my budget, so some restraint would have to be exercised.

your day starts here with ice cold beer

Once my eyes adjusted to the interior of the club, I wasn’t exactly plunged into a world of erotic fantasy. There was lots of black, purple, and plexiglass distributed about the room. Brass bars divided all the seating areas with a cheesy panache that only brass bars can deliver. Dark woods and thick berber carpet completed the hotel bar ambiance. Photocopied photographs of featured
dancers were on all the tables, glowing in neon white from the blacklights that dotted the ceiling. Everything was placed in such a manner that the stage was the definite focal point of the room.

The stage was equipped with a reflective ceiling, some kind of faux bathing area (don’t ask), various poles for acrobatics, a lit up ladder for sexy entrances from the dressing room above, and, of course, stools that surround the perimeter of the elevated floor. They have all kinds of names for the seating area that lines the stage of a strip joint, the one I always heard was “Sniffers Row.” Sniffers Row hardly seemed like an ideal place for proper dining, but a split decision I had to make on my seating choice found me at eye level to the stage floor, and past the point of no return.

The menu, with its sandwiches, fries and salads, seemed void of a lunch special, and even worse, mashed potatoes. Perhaps it was too much to expect for a Saturday afternoon, but this forced me to cast a suspicious glance at the clientelle seated about the No. 5. Most of the patrons were alone, and too immersed in the show to care about food quality. There wasn’t a Hydro or phone utility uniform in sight, which immediately tipped me off that I was not in for the meat and potato fantasy that I had envisioned for myself. I decided on the usual clubhouse sandwich with French fries instead, but before I could put ketchup on the side of my plate I was approached by another woman who was carrying a small tray of moisturizers, “would you like a massage sir?” Well of course I did!

clubhouse sandwich at the No. 5

Imagine if you will, your Food and Drink critic seated in Sniffers Row, receiving a massage from a large woman in a short acid wash skirt whilst eating a clubhouse sandwich, because this was the scene that was unfolding at the No.5 Orange Showroom. I devoured my lunch in mere minutes. “You should relax a little, you’re so tight,” my massuesse assessed out loud. The discomfort of the predicament I found myself in forced me to eat with an alarming urgency that shouldn’t be trusted, so let’s just say the food was good.

It would be unfair to go on without mentioning the entertainment being offered at the No. 5 Orange. I was treated to two shows while enjoying my massaged lunch. Both dancers —while exuding some pretty impressive pole work, and being able to dance reasonably well in 6 inch stiletto heals— seemed pretty disinterested in what they were doing. Each spent at least one song of their routine mostly standing or sitting around talking to the obvious regulars at the end of the stage. They were freaks in their own right, backing up a hi-five with, “yeah baby! Show us that ass!” one minute, and making retarded small talk to the half nude dancer the next. The second act spent most of her time talking to a woman sitting in her underwear at the side of the stage with some old dude.

All this tawdry behavior was too much after awhile and I quickly found myself in the harsh light of day on Main Street. I couldn’t have been inside the No. 5 for more than a half hour, which was really all that was needed to assess that the food, while tasty enough, was about as exciting as watching a woman with no
clothes on talk to a bunch of creeps who, by virtue of the amount of time they probably spend there, own real estate at Sniffers Row. Maybe I should give the place another chance; next time I’ll get the onion rings, and save up for a lap dance.

  • Comments [1]
  • +
  • +
  • +
  • +
  • +

Save-On Meats & Funky Winkerbean's

Save-On Meats

Save-On Meats (43 W Hastings St.) has got to be the biggest full service butcher in the city. Unabashed by the tongues, legs, thighs, butts, rumps and roasts all over the place, it operates like a mecca of death for the meat eater. I lived on their five dollar rib-eye steaks all summer long, and with each pre-BBQ visit, I would remind myself that an appointment with the yellow awninged lunch counter at the back had to be a mandatory autumn event. Rumors about the enormity of their one pound burger eventually led to me standing under the East Side grocery store’s neon-pig-marquee with a bravado generally reserved for Sunday dinner in a suit. The sandwich board sign from the bar next door, Funky Winkerbean’s Pub (sluttily advertising $1.50 glasses of beer) didn’t go unnoticed either. So I knew I was in for a potential overdose of exorbitant portions and low prices served in a unique and possibly vile environment. Nothing could excite this food and drink critic more.

the save-on one pound cheeseburger

The proximity of the seating at the Save-On Meats Coffee Shop is, well, let’s call it intimate. The U shaped counters put you face to face with some of the East Side’s finest. Whether it’s single occupancy hotel dwellers, homeless people who have scraped together enough change to get a coffee or snot nosed journalists looking for an experience, everyone is happy, it seems, when food is in abundance. I found the atmosphere at the rear of Save-On jovial. The guy sitting across from me seemed borderline ecstatic as he proceeded to pour an entire cup of sugar all over his french fries, devouring them before I even had a chance to order a Coke. Everyone seemed to know each other and would nod in recognition or shout salutations across the yellow counters.

save-on meats

The menu is very simple, and incredibly cheap. Burgers, toasted sandwiches, the obligatory all day breakfast and Chow Mein — that’s it. I opted for the cheeseburger. With drink, my entire meal came to just under $6.00, tax and tip included. The burger was double-pattied, had bacon, lettuce, tomato, onion, and came with a ton of fries. It was near impossible to finish. Seeing me laboring
through the last few bites must have been too much for the woman that approached me, doing the meth shake while blurting out “are you going to finish that or what!?” Before I could even react she was quickly escorted out the door. It gave me that last little bit of appreciation for what I had just experienced; one of the cheapest, and best burgers in the city. I dedicated the last few fries to her.

Sure, food brings people together, but nothing creates a sense of community like the drink. This was apparent not five minutes after I sat down inside Funky Winkerbean’s Pub (35 W Hastings St.), just after my visit to Save-On Meats. I was half way through my first bottle of Kokanee when I could hear a woman screaming behind me, “get the fuck away from me! I don’t even know who the fuck
you are!” as a very large man in sweatpants ran sheepishly up the main isle, and out the door.

funky winkerbean's pub

I had walked past Winkberbean’s several times throughout the summer and found that the sunlight always shrouded the interior in an ominous obscurity that, mixed with the unsavory looking characters smoking out front, was all that was needed to create an intimidating scene. I was actually pretty disappointed by the appearance of Funky Winkerbean’s when I finally did walk in. It was surprisingly clean, and the red walls with the half nude flapper girls that adorned them helped to create a kind of calculated aesthetic. Still, the collection of old men and women who looked like men quietly contemplating their golden fluids like crystal balls revealing an unfruitful past, mixed with AC/DC and The Tragically Hip on heavy rotation, gave away the fact that Funky’s was indeed a dive bar.

Six or seven bottles into act two of my Save-On/Funky Winkerbean’s evening, our sweat-panted hero made a return appearance. He was clearly drunk — the kind of drunk that had his head cocked back onto his shoulders with his eyes closed to the ceiling one minute, and over-enthusiastically pumping his fist and yelling out the lyrics to AC/DC’s “Have A Drink On Me” the next. His presence was gigantic and dangerously unpredictable. He started maneuvering about the room, stopping at various tables to high-five everyone. At one point he completely missed his target and went down face first into a table of empty draft glasses. I left shortly after that with a decent drunk on that couldn’t have cost more than $20.00, and a mandate to find something slightly dirtier in the future.

save-on meats and funky winkerbean's

The zero block of West Hastings Street and its immediate surroundings formed the social and economic center of Vancouver for decades. The area’s steady decline has been well documented, but what of the businesses that are still legitimately operating here? My visit to Save-On Meats and Funky Winkerbean’s Pub left me with a ground-beef induced, beer soaked feeling that while the clientele has certainly changed, there still is a community, and it revolves around other things than rock cocaine and crystal meth. It’s in our most basic necessities: Food, drink, and a drunken high-five sent crashing to the floor.

  • Comments
  • +
  • +
  • +
  • +
  • +

The Ovaltine Cafe

the ovaltine cafe

It took two separate visits for me to fully comprehend what the hell is going on with the Ovaltine Cafe (235 E. Hastings St.). The environment is so loaded with history and nostalgia that perhaps I expected too much from it. One Sunday morning, I ate three dollar eggs served with tomato juice in the company of blue collared workers fashioned with stiff haircuts. Two weeks later, I went back for a Saturday night dinner of clubhouse sandwiches and cheap domestic beer. This visit was anything but uneventful, and eventually ended with deplorable behavior, vomit, and a broken heart over what was and will never be again.

The Ovaltine is huge, beautiful, impressive, usually empty and under appreciated. A glass cabinet—originally designed to display items of daily deliciousness—runs the length of the room, and is stuffed with a confusing array of knick knacks. It also has a really shitty and barely audible AM radio slobbering all over it. There are condiment containers on the tables made up from emptied out juice containers, and hot sauce bottles with holes punched in the top. The women’s washroom is permanently out of order, and it’s unlikely that either functioning toilet ever accommodates “Ladies,” or “Gentlemen,” as the sign suggests. At least the disinterest keeps the bathroom graffiti intact, which makes for an entertaining read. My favorite, “Beckett was a sham!!!” is scribbled in black marker just above the toilet.



Still, the Ovaltine is able to shine through all the mediocrity it’s been handed over the years. The neon out front is some of the finest the city has to offer. Inside, a twenty foot ceiling towers over a long, stooled lunch counter with a double barreled row of high backed booths that allow a view of seated patrons from the forehead up. The place is coated with the most wonderful shade of brown wood, originally installed when the Ovaltine was built in 1943. The whole room creaks like an old ship if anyone moves.

Options like cabbage rolls, steaks in various forms, pork chops, open face sandwiches with gravy and an all day breakfast had me gripping my fork when I first visited the Ovaltine. I was so elated to see $10 pitchers of draft on the menu that, had it not been so early, I would have ordered one. I opted for the breakfast special, and it was certainly worth my $3.50. What I would like to mention instead are the pancakes. As noted on the menu, you can order them stacked as high as you please. I didn’t want to get too high, so I just ordered a stack of three. With my sobering height of pancake, and coffee instead of beer, breakfast idled along like any other lazy Sunday meal.



I wanted more though. A return visit was required. This time I would treat the Ovaltine Cafe with the respect of a fine restaurant, ready for it to deliver the magic I knew it was capable of. I went on a Saturday evening, invited a date, and dressed up for the occasion. But while my Clubhouse Sandwich was filled with an ample amount of turkey and served on the most perfect white plate, everything else was disaster. For starters, $10.00 pitchers no longer exist and I was forced to plow myself with $3.00 bottles of Canadian since the rest of my party was late. When she finally arrived I was quite drunk, and fully engrossed in an argument between a couple, three booths up. “What do you think you are, a $100.00 a night whore?” he complained, while she worked him for dinner as if they did this every night. My guest seemed thoroughly unimpressed, and ordered a bowl of soup. The evening ended with yours truly losing his keys, inviting himself back to his date’s apartment, drinking her scotch, and finally, barfing in her sink. I haven’t heard from her since.



I don’t know exactly what I was looking for inside the Ovaltine Cafe, but a feeling of emptiness surrounds time there. I would like to see it full of people, vibrant and loud. Instead it seems on its last legs, resigned to the reality that it’s patrons couldn’t give a fuck about its appearance as long as the food is cheap and hot. It’s all about in and out necessity dining, and the Ovaltine was never designed for that. It’s unlikely the current owners really appreciate this gem of a time machine they have in their possession, but at least somebody is keeping the neon going and the doors open so we can all chase the past just a little bit longer… but I don’t think I’ll be back anytime soon.

  • Comments
  • +
  • +
  • +
  • +
  • +

Wing's Cafe

Wing's Cafe

I come here to be depressed

It’s pretty hard to notice anything that shares a block with the piss-soaked alley beside the old Brickyard pub and the always appetizing Pigeon Park. But one afternoon the door to Wing’s Cafe (325 Carrall Street) was propped open, revealing, much to my horror, a functioning restaurant. I was certain that the fellow sleeping under an umbrella out front was daring me to eat there, so the challenge was on.

The beige faux wood counter forces diners to contemplate a collection of signs scolding them for a multitude of infractions including “No shirt, no service!” “No free food!” “No change!” “No asking for money!” All followed by the obligatory, “Have a nice day!” This wall, the focal point of the cafe, also held a menu made of hand-made neon posters, beautifully contrasting all that beige. There was no music playing because Wing’s obvious proprietor, let’s call him Wing, seemed to have his own beat going on via some kind of small hand held audio device that trailed a thin wire into his left ear. It should also be mentioned that Wing’s Cafe has an awesome collection of Madonna magnets on the fridge behind the counter.


Wing's Cafe

The silence was soon broken when another guy sat down two seats away, ordered a coffee, and began a monologue towards Wing’s wing man, who had been keeping busy tidying things behind the counter. It started with “I come here to be depressed,” and ended with, “Shit man, you’re looking good. Got a good job, doing well, damn! You’re looking good.” It was pretty obvious that Wing Man, holding a zip lock bag filled with cigarette butts didn’t quite agree with the assessment of the new guest. “Don’t you fucking pull my leg,” he responded before leaving the cafe to smoke.

Wing's Cafe

If I had any balls, I would have ordered the pork chops for $5.50. Pork chops! Just the words themselves elicit a certain greasy bravado over the fickleness of the dining experience these days. I was so tempted to feast in wanton excess under the dullness of Wing’s florescent lights, but once I caught a glimpse of a twenty pound turkey half carved and sitting out in the summer heat of the back kitchen, I just couldn’t do it. Instead, I played it safe with a grilled cheese and fries. It was pancake thin, made of the cheapest bread and cheese, and was served on a plain white plate with McCain krinkle cut fries. The fries were nostalgically good, but this was comfort food gone wrong. Not even a fridge magnet of True Blue-era Madonna could inject the dish with flavor. But that’s what you get for playing it safe. I doused it in a sea of ketchup and finished it all.

Serving affordable food in the DTES isn’t exactly the most rewarding career path. and really, neither is eating it. But Wing’s provides the locals with cheap food, employment, and a place to be depressed. Something that should not only be commended, but celebrated with a visit. If you’re not a pussy like me, drop by and have some of that turkey, or some pork chops even. I’m not about to drool onto the concrete under an umbrella to do so, but I still dare you to eat there.

  • Comments [3]
  • +
  • +
  • +
  • +
  • +

Only Sea Foods

the only sea foods

fuck everyone, yeah that means you

The Only Sea Foods Cafe (20 E. Hastings Street) has occupied the same block in the downtown east side for over 90 years. Its history runs deep through many generations in Vancouver, but no one knows much about it except that their grandma ate there.

Standing in the entrance under the instantly recognizable sign that features the adorable Only the Seahorse, I noticed that you’d be hard pressed to find a restaurant as coated in the word “fuck” as the Only Sea Foods Cafe is. And not just with marker or spray paint—screw that urban shit. This was hand-scratched park bench style. There was “fuck” to my left, the usual “fuck you” over by the pay phone, and my favorite, “fuck everyone, yeah that means you” scratched right into the painted window beside the door.

Inside, the ceilings are uncommonly tall and the massive mirrors that stretch across two of its white tiled walls make the little room seem much bigger than it is. Interiors like this don’t exist anymore; they’re often attempted, but it’s always ruined by the bullshit of pretension. The Only Sea Foods Cafe is the real deal. Seventeen swivel chairs around two horseshoe counters and a couple of booths in the back are all the seating you’ll find. There is no music, television and no washroom.

Weird nautical-themed knick-knacks line the shelves above the exposed kitchen and the chef quietly stares into the dark pool of the deep fryer. A small Asian woman keeps tabs on everyone coming in and out of the restaurant. And everyone but me went straight to the back room. The Only seems to have adapted throughout the years to suit the needs of its neighborhood. From a middle class evening destination, a working class lunch cafe, a late night hang out to a mostly empty diner (and from what I could tell, a source for rock cocaine). Except for two people that came in to buy a pop, I was the only one of a steady stream of people that was actually going to be eating anything.

Even though the menu offers every kind of seafood imaginable, straight up fish and chips seemed to be the safest bet for a first visit. I had the salmon for $7.95. My meal started with a half loaf of fresh bread served with butter. The salmon soon followed. Two pieces in cocoons of golden batter, wet from the grease it had just been cooked in, served on a bed of chips with white packets of no-name mayo. I ate everything in silence and listened to the drama wafting in from the street through the louvered window high above the entrance.

The general consensus on the Only Seafood Cafe is that it’s a dive. And walking up Carrall Street afterwards, I did have a moment where I thought that I might shit my pants. My sense of adventure for unique dining experiences has left me poisoned on more than one occasion, so a bout of paranoia about the fact that I just ate seafood in one of the dirtiest neighborhoods in North America was warranted. But that was some tasty, greasy, fish and chips. And I seriously doubt that the Only is any dirtier than your average White Spot. So fill one of those booths with some choice friends and order a round of lobsters for the price of a double double or whatever the hell it’s called. Or go it alone, you’ll be dining with history as your companion. A formidable date, at least until it’s inevitably bulldozed and forgotten about because it’s covered with “fuck”.

  • Comments [4]
  • +
  • +
  • +
  • +
  • +

Hey, we're all for washing your hands

We have here in our hands a list of a few dozen Vancouver restaurants that were made known to us by the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority as being nasty as hell. This list (pdf) includes Best Western Pizza on Main and 11th, shut down for rodent infestation. (The pies were back in the oven 3 days later.) Ditto for the Tim Horton’s on Pender and the Blenz on Robson, though both of those establishments were miraculously able to remedy their little problem in a day. There’s a Cactus Club in there too, but mostly it’s just a list of Chinese, Japanese, and Pho joints that were forced take a few days off to deal with “unsanitary conditions,” “improper food handling” and rodents.

We’re stoked to be finding fewer needles in our jelly donuts, but honestly, fuck health issues. The establishments in this city have far greater problems than potable water shortages. What follows is a shortlist of bars and restaurants which, based on zero criteria other than our own loathing for them, will no longer be graced by our patronage. Sucks to be them.

ONLY PROPOSED CLOSURES

Chill Winston
With Blake’s, Six Acres, and the Irish Heather building up the only hangout-worthy area in Gastown, it’s unfortunate that fake tits, Jenga fries, and lowrider bikes have to permeate it, as they do every other corner of this fucking city. Can we please find a place to drink cheap imports in the sun without getting an eyeful of lame?

The Five Point
Until DoMain (“Vancouver’s hippest condo”) opens, Kits officially re-locates to Main, and the Five Point changes its name to Biminis, this restaurant and its faux-hawked clientele have no place in the ‘hood.

The Red Burrito
Everyone hailed the opening of this place as the long awaited arrival of the authentic Mexican burrito experience. But it’s not. Anyone who has ever been to San Fransisco knows the following: A burrito should be the size of your forearm. If and when you finish it, you shouldn’t be contemplating seconds. Chicken does not spin in a pile on a stick, and guacamole isn’t extra. Play by the rules, or don’t play at all.

The Brickhouse
It’s kind of odd that the jock/college crowd has decided to descend upon an establishment whose primary bartender rocks a sexy Lance Armstrong costume every night. And odder still that said bartender continues to turn a profit charging a fiver for flat beer and closing at midnight. What was formerly Vancouver’s best and only bar has now officially become a great argument against public transportation.


McDonalds (any location)
McD’s has their target demographic all wrong. We all know that it’s the kitchen of the homeless, and they need to accept that. Keep it tidy, offer a safe injection site, and clean the fucking washrooms.

  • Comments [5]
  • +
  • +
  • +
  • +
  • +

the barclay hotel: the new bosman's

While everyone has been lamenting the impending death of the beloved Bosman’s Side Bar—one of the last sane bars in town—we’ve been busy finding a replacement. Bosman’s has been one of our favorite spots in the city for ages. As one of the last places you could openly smoke, it was like an all-night speakeasy at which you could communally break the law, and stay up late drinking quietly with your friends. But to be honest, we’d grown fed up with Bosman’s long before they announced their closure. All the popcorn you can eat doesn’t make up for steep beer prices, and the crowd had shifted from selective and stylish to jockey and lame. When smoking was finally banned, the secret society charm quickly disappeared, and we knew a replacement was needed. And holy shit did we ever find one. The Barclay Hotel (1348 Robson) is literally the new Bosman’s. In every way, it is what made Bosman’s great—and more. Let’s start with the beer prices: Each night of the week there is a pint of very drinkable beer on special for $3.50. Not “Barclay Ale” or Pacific Pilsner or something. We’re talking Honey Creams, Pale Ales, 1516 and shit like that. On Saturday and Sunday, all pints are four bucks. Instead of popcorn there are pretzels and peanuts—all you can keep down. The interior is ghastly, with decor inspired by Twin Peaks, or maybe The Sopranos if they shopped at Canadian Tire. It’s got the same basement vibe as Bosman’s, with four or five older chaps permanently attached to the bar. All it needs now is a crowd. So check out these photos, find yourselves an excuse to get hammered, and go take advantage of the last refuge of sanity on Robson. Bosman’s is dead. Long live The Barclay!

  • Comments
  • +
  • +
  • +
  • +
  • +

Newer »