These days, Vancouver’s Gastown is a hip and sophisticated center. // © 2013 Tourism British Columbia
Old “Gassy Jack” would be proud. In 1867, he opened a saloon for mill workers and, as more bars and businesses took root nearby, the place grew quickly to become the city of Vancouver. Now, Gastown, his namesake neighborhood, may be Vancouver’s trendiest area. The pop culture website Complex.com even recently rated Gastown the fourth most stylish district in the world, just behind New York’s Soho.
For many years, the oldest part of Vancouver was — let’s be frank — seedy. Its cobbled streets and big iconic Steam Clock, which blows off steam and plays musical tunes throughout the day, were its best features. And visitors liked the inexpensive souvenir shops selling T-shirts and maple leaf knickknacks. But in recent years, gentrification has ramped up Gastown’s cool factor.
Lofts have been converted into high-end condos, and a wide range of designer stores and hip restaurants have moved into the historic brick buildings. The outer edges are still gritty — as Gastown borders the city’s infamous Downtown Eastside, with its shelters for the homeless and drug-addicted — but clients are quite safe exploring the main parts of Gastown, day or night. They might even bump into a movie star. Robert Pattinson and Jessica Biel are among the celebrities who have been spotted dining in Gastown.
Some of Gastown’s more interesting shops include One of a Few, which stocks chic clothing and accessories not easily found around Vancouver — such as silver lace-up tennis shoes for $485 — and The Block, which carries local designers and up-and-coming international lines as well as some reasonably priced fashions. But whether clients are just window-shopping or seriously spending, they must visit the John Fluevog store. A Vancouver native, Fluevog designs and produces art-inspired shoes using eco-friendly materials. Much of his footwear sports his signature chunky heels, which are fun to at least admire. While he has shops across North America, including in San Francisco and Los Angeles, the Vancouver store is the flagship. Sandwiched between two brick buildings, the loft space itself makes an architectural statement with its soaring glass roof.
There are plenty more shops worth browsing too — from vintage clothing stores to quality First Nations art galleries and 1960’s-retro furniture shops. And once clients are done shopping, they can relax at one of the neighborhood’s trendy restaurants.
One of the newest eateries is Pidgin, which features inventive and delicious fare and with nearly all dishes under $20. Start with oyster shots with iced horseradish and apple while sipping draft sake, and then move on to sharing plates of Asian-meets-French cuisine, such as beef tongue with basil sauce or calamari with bacon and noodles.
Over in hard-to-find Blood Alley, Salt Tasting Room lures hipsters and visitors-in-the-know with its artisan cheeses and charcuterie. Choose from the giant chalkboard’s ever-changing selection and a knowledgeable server-sommelier will pair the dish with a wine flight. We almost made a meal of our experience (salad and fresh-baked cheesecake is available too), but instead saved room for spicy meatballs and other Mediterranean tapas at tiny Judas Goat next door.
Without a doubt, strolling though Gastown is one of the true Vancouver experiences that your clients should be sure not to miss.