Places That Couldn’t Be Anywhere Else
Every city has a personality. A composite of its history, its peoples, even its climate. A fingerprint that, to all intents and purposes gives a particular cluster of skyscrapers, bridges, parks, adjoining suburbs and the people who live there a common identity. Chicago’s geographical location on Lake Michigan has earned it the title of Windy City. Paris is the City of Lights, Los Angeles the City of Angels, Portland’s even the City of Roses. And while Vancouver has had many half-baked labels thrust upon it (Vansterdam, Hongcouver, Lotus Land and Terminal City to name a few), none have stuck, nor for that matter, really encapsulated its essence. But what’s in a name, anyway? In reality, it’s the street-level subtext, the tangible experiences that leave visitors with a particular taste in their mouths – The cheesesteak in Philadelphia. The attitude in New York, the canals in Venice…
So unique metropolitan monikers aside, let’s explore what gives Vancouver its unique face:
Unlike the rest of Canada, Vancouver’s climate is uniquely temperate with warm summers and mild winters reminiscent of its southern neighbour San Francisco – a condition that has incubated a culture of outdoor events, especially during the summer months. Theatre Under the Stars has become a favourite Vancouver summer tradition. This professional company has been performing amazing shows in Stanley Park at the outdoor Malkin Bowl for decades. Usually running in tandem, shows alternate on a nightly basis (weather permitting). You won’t find a more West Coast way of watching Broadway’s favourite shows!
But Annie Oakley, Danny Zuko and superstars like Jesus aren’t the only ones who find new life inVancouver’s fresh air. Seventeenth Century English Playwrights also enjoy the coastal BC summer experience as well. For over twenty years, the Bard on the Beach Shakespeare Festival has been gracing the shores of downtown’s Vanier Park. This two tent affair provides nightly performances from June to September, treating 800 fans to Will’s most celebrated plays with the glorious Coastal Mountains acting as a backdrop. Now that’s much ado about something!
Like your stage a little livelier? Expo ’86 has left the city with several legacies, one being The Edgewater Stage at The Plaza of Nations. Catering to everything from festivals and concerts to fairs and corporate events, this glass-canopied, 750-seat outdoor amphitheatre is guaranteed to produce a wow moment.
Vancouver is famous for its wide variety of festivals. An institution since the 1980’s, the Vancouver International Jazz Festival includes over 1800 musicians, 400 concerts and 40 venues, showcasing the city’s ongoing love affair with the genre. Paul de Barros of the Seattle Times was quoted saying, “If this isn’t the best jazz festival in the world, please send us tickets to a better one.” Every year, 460,000 plus visitors would have to agree. If pyrotechnics impress you more than Wynton Marsalis, check out the Symphony of Fire, an annual firework exhibition and competition that’s become one of Vancouver’s favourite summer events. Choreographed to a radio simulcast, these jaw-dropping displays from Canada, the USA and China light up the skies over downtown’s English Bay to the delight of the tens of thousands of tourists and locals who pack the city centre and urban beaches. But, not surprisingly, some of Vancouver’s flavours come via a more literal method: the taste buds…
The social side of the Granville Island Theatre, Backstage Lounge is a favourite haunt for artists and art students due to its proximity to the internationally acclaimed Emily Carr College. Not only are the city views nothing short of jaw-dropping, but the combination of micro-brewed beers and dilettantish home-grown live music make for as unique an experience as Vancouver has to offer. For a taste of the burgeoning bohemian scene beyond Granville Island, DV8 with its vivid paintings and handmade ceiling lanterns is as hip as it gets. This downtown joint is a popular restaurant by day, but by night the lights dim and Vancouver’s musicians, writers and artists come out of hiding!
Vancouver cosmopolitan spirit comes courtesy of numerous exotic and memorable establishments, but several are ultimate memory-makers. BaBalu is a piece of Havana smack dab in the middle of coastal Canada. This Cuban lounge with its mouth-watering tapas, exotic cocktails and extensive wine list serves up jazz, funk and R&B, depending on the noches. Want your own shot at the spotlight? In the grand tradition of the city’s Asian community, Hollywood North Cabaret is the oldest traditional Japanese karaoke lounge in town. This cultural crossroads features a huge selection of Japanese, Korean, Chinese and English songs and includes beautiful Japanese hostesses to help you get over your stage-fright.
For an elegant Old World experience, the polished wood and fireplace charm of Bacchus Piano Lounge in the Wedgewood Hotel is a piece of Vancouver finery you won’t want to miss. Conversely, Vancouver’s rugged Merchant Marine heritage is alive and well at the charmingly rusticMarine Club. This small, pleasantly cluttered nautical hang-out is a favourite with sailors from all over the shipping world. If you were to ever find a real pirate in Vancouver, he’d be sipping rum here!
Anyone with access to ESPN knows that Vancouver is a hockey city and you’d be hard-pressed to find a resident who wasn’t a die-hard Vancouver Canucks fan. Tickets to their home games at GM Place can be pricey and hard to come by, but you’ll always find a table waiting for you at The Shark Club. The downtown branch of this sports bar franchise has become the unofficial headquarters for serious fans on game nights. Not only are the beers cold, the wings hot and the atmosphere electric, but occasionally, players actually pop in for a post-game bite themselves. Heads up, autograph-hunters!
Occasionally, it’s not just the establishment that holds that local charm – it’s the neighbourhood. Gastown is one of the oldest parts of the city, tucked into its northeast corner of downtown. These historic cobbled streets bring old and new together in a quaint collage of boutiques, bars and bohemian culture. Just blocks away, a walk through the ornate Millenium Gate will take you intoChinatown, a world far more east than its home on Vancouver’s East Side. Across town, the West Side’s Kitsilano is an eclectic mix of heritage homes, new condos and gorgeous boutiques and bistros posing as a tranquil beach community.
Sure, Vancouver doesn’t have a nickname. But when you’re this cool, do you really even need one?