The Idealist

Insider City Style Guide: Vancouver

Take a trip to Vancouver with professional designer and fan of all things vintage, Ena Kenny, in this insider guide to British Columbia’s world-class city. We’ve got designer stores, great eats and historic sites — and oh, those views!

Getting to know Vancouver

On the west coast of Canada is beautiful Vancouver, a city that boasts mountain views, waterfront and beaches, idyllic Stanley Park and the Vancouver Aquarium, eclectic Granville Island and the Emily Carr University of Art + Design, and of course, great shopping, food and drink.  This guide will touch upon some destinations in Yaletown and on Commercial Drive, a couple of interesting neighbourhoods beyond the downtown core.  Yaletown is on the south side of Vancouver, the historic site of the western terminus of the Canadian Pacific Railway, built in the late 1800s. More recently, a mix of retail, dining and office spaces have sprung up in this area.  Commercial Drive, or just “The Drive” as locals call it, is a neighbourly area east of downtown. It’s easily accessible by taxi or SkyTrain, the light rail system introduced for Expo 86.  You’ll find plenty of casual dining, cafés, green spaces, and interesting little shops.  In the springtime, the city is abloom with cherry blossoms.

Shopping Vancouver

designhouse/Marimekko

This stylish shop carries many favourite designer brands including Blu Dot, Kartell, Alessi, Iittala, Pablo, Huppe, Normann, and Chilewich.  They also have a custom furniture line, designed and built in Vancouver.  All of their wares are available online and ship internationally.  For the traveller, there are many small, unique items to bring home.   designhouse shares space with Marimekko Vancouver, which is Canada’s only Marimekko Concept Store. You can browse the brand’s small housewares, clothing, textiles and accessories, all in a space beautiful staged with Marimekko products.

851 Homer Street, 1.604.681.2800, www.designhouse.com; On Instagram @designhouseca, 1.604.609.2881, www.marimekkovancouver.com; On Instagram @marimekkocanada

The Cross – Decor and Design

Located in Yaletown, this gorgeous shop has been open for fourteen years, and features dreamy home decor, art, lighting, baby gifts, jewellery, and more.  Wander this huge old warehouse space, and come away with the perfect gift or addition to your own home.  Locals can make use of interior design services and a gift registry; for out-of-towners, The Cross offers international shipping.  We loved the stationery area, with its unique party favours and decorations, as well as the seasonal displays.

1198 Homer Street, 1.604.689.2900, www.thecrossdesign.com, On Instagram @thecrossdesign

Suquet Interiors

The original location, opened by husband and wife architects, Ramon Masana and Georgina Tapia, is found on Granville Street in Vancouver.  They began by sourcing fireplaces mantels and other architectural salvage.  We visited the newer Yaletown location, where a recent rebranding by their son, also named Ramon, has added an array of modern furnishings and accessories, and local art.  Prices definitely lean to the aspirational, but it’s worth a visit for the eye candy.

www.suquetinteriors.com, Yaletown: 101 – 1014 Homer Street, 1.604.687.0316, Granville: 3039 Granville Street, 1.604.739.0345, On Instagram @suquetinteriors

Mintage

This fantastic 3000 square foot shop on “The Drive” is one of the best sources of vintage goods in Vancouver.  You’ll find great quality vintage clothing, footwear, housewares, leather goods, jewellery, sports paraphernalia, and collectibles in person, and you can also shop on their Etsy page. Beautiful indigo dyed scarves from Bali and silver jewellery were among the contemporary goods also available.

1714 Commercial Drive, 1.604.646.8243, www.mintagevintage.com; www.etsy.com/shop/mintageclothingco, On Instagram @mintageclothingco

Exposure Home

This family run and locally owned shop on “The Drive” features brick walls and a soaring tin ceiling.  Exposure Home is a go to for unique home furniture and decor.  On our last visit, there was a cheerful display of succulents, botanicals and terrariums. As always, there were unique throws, pillows, lighting options and small works of art, as well as modern furniture.

1616 Commercial Drive, 1.604.253.5808, www.exposurehome.ca, On Instagram @exposurehome

Eat, drink, coffee

There are so many fantastic options for food and drink in Vancouver, especially for seafood, and always an emphasis on healthy, fresh ingredients – the below are a few places we stopped in to recently.  We would go back to Vancouver for Railtown Café’s pistachio donuts alone!

Eat

We fell for the delicious baked goods and coffee: a frittata sandwich with roasted mushrooms, arugula, and Swiss cheese, and the most fabulous pistachio donut you can imagine

Hapa Izakayam – Japanese

One should not visit Vancouver without eating at a good Japanese restaurant.  An izakaya is a sort of casual Japanese gastropub, where one might go for a drink after work.  At Hapa Izakaya in Coal Harbour, dine in the gorgeous, dimly lit interior, or in good weather, sit on the patio with a spectacular view of Canada Place and Vancouver Harbour.  Sample the beef tataki with a cold beer, followed by rice or noodles in hot stone bowls.  For a lighter meal, consider “Hapa Hour”, Mondays to Fridays from 3:00 to 5:30, when small plates such as ika (grilled squid), and fish or karaage (chicken) tacos, are served.

909 West Cordova, 1.604.420.4272, www.hapaizakaya.com/locations-coal-harbour, On Instagram @hapaizakaya

WildTale – Coastal Grill

WildTale serves fresh seafood in an upscale but friendly setting in Yaletown. The deep patio is heated and covered, perfect for the occasional Vancouver shower.   The seafood Pappardelle was outstanding, as was a nightly special: a trio of Arctic Char, BC Salmon, and Basa fillet, served with a lemony herbed risotto and grilled vegetables.  A nice selection of oysters is available, as well as a seafood tower featuring house ceviche, oysters, lobster tail, clams and mussels, shrimp, and tuna carpaccio.

1079 Mainland Street, 1.604.428.9211, www.wildtale.ca, On Instagram @wildtale

Jamjar – Folk Lebanese Food

Visit this lovely little resto on The Drive for excellent Lebanese food and a warm, inviting atmosphere.  It’s been such a popular spot that a second location recently opened on Granville in downtown Vancouver.  The hummus, freshly made daily, is said to be among the best you’ll get in the city, and is also available, along with other dips and dressings,  for sale in “jars to go”. There are plenty of good vegetarian and vegan options on the menu, as well as interesting cocktails, like the “Souk Saida” with rum, Campari, 7 spice and orange syrup, or the “Lady Harissa”, featuring Pisco and rosemary lime syrup.

2280 Commercial Drive, 1.604.252.3957, 1488 W 11th Avenue, 1.604.733.2211, www.jam-jar.ca, On Instagram @jamjaronthedrive

Vancouver Art Gallery Café

In every city, one must stop in to the art galleries, and Vancouver’s should be no exception.  Even if you don’t have time to peruse the galleries, on a fine day, the Vancouver Art Gallery Café is a worth a visit and can be accessed without entering the gallery itself. It has a huge outdoor seating area perfect for people-watching, nicely shaded with large umbrellas.  Choose from a selection of soups, sandwiches, quiches, fresh salads and tempting desserts – we tried a slice of heavenly peanut butter pie, and an airy lemon strawberry cake. The café is licensed so treat yourself to a glass of champagne or one of the British Columbian wines on offer.

750 Hornby Street, (in the Vancouver Art Gallery), 1.604.688.2236, www.thegallerycafe.ca/cafe

Drink

Tangent Café

This is a venue for “gathering friends around great food and beer”.   The menu is an interesting mix of options under the headings “west” – think eggy breakfasts, burgers, wings and salads for lunch and dinner – and “east”, in this case, Malaysian.  Try the green beans or eggplant cooked with spicy Sambal sauce, a curry, or Mee Goreng, egg noodles stir fried with tofu and bok choy.  Later in the evening, take a spot on the patio, choose from a great selection of craft beer on the patio, and enjoy live jazz.

2095 Commercial Drive, 1.604.558.4641, www.tangentcafe.ca, On Instagram @tangentcafe

Cactus Club Café

A lovely walk to take in Vancouver begins at Canada Place, follows along Coal Harbour, across Denman Street, and ending at English Bay.  We came upon the Cactus Club Café there, when it was a bit drizzly, and stayed for a glass of wine and snacks.  This is actually one of a chain of restaurants, founded on the West Coast, that now have locations in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario in Canada.  The menu is based on fresh local ingredients of dependably good quality, including Ocean Wise seafood. We loved the interior of warm woods and expanses of glass facing the water.  Here you are perched as in a lightbox on English Bay, with sweeping views of the beach and the mountains.

1790 Beach Avenue, 1.604.681.2582,  www.cactusclubcafe.com/location/english-bay/, On Instagram @cactusclubcafe

Coffee

Prado Café

The signature robin’s egg blue cups and saucers caught our eye as we passed by the Prado Café on “The Drive”, as did the cross street (East 4th Avenue) lined with cherry blossoms. Prado Café is known for fabulous baked goods, 49th Parallel Coffee Roasters coffee, and using local, organic and fresh ingredients.  All-day breakfasts including “The Prado”, a poached egg with mint pea avocado smash, arugula, and prosciutto on toast, and waffles with ricotta, honey and pecan. Pick up some home made granola to go!

1938 Commercial Drive, 1.604.255.5537, 100 West Hastings Street, 1.778.379.4315, www.pradocafevancouver.com, On Instagram @pradocafe

Railtown Café

We visited the Railtown Café on Howe Street in downtown Vancouver, one of three in the Vancouver area.  We were drawn in by the black, white and red interiors, and charming graphics and signage, but we fell for the delicious baked goods and coffee.  Perfect for breakfast, lunch or a coffee and snack, we sampled a breakfast burrito with black beans, egg, roasted onion and peppers, and jalapeño Monterey Jack cheese, a frittata sandwich with roasted mushrooms, arugula, and Swiss cheese, and the most fabulous pistachio donut you can imagine.  A location on Granville Street is coming soon in 2017.

968 Howe Street, 1.604.428.8255, 1691 Main Street, 1.604.336.2251, 397 Railway Street, 1.604.428.0800, www.railtowncafe.ca, On Instagram @railtowncafe

Small Victory – Bread and Coffee

The scones with clotted cream and jam are worth the trip to Yaletown.  The menu is updated daily with various salad and sandwich options, beautiful breads and croissants. Enjoy an espresso and a slice of salted caramel cheesecake in an interior clad in warm wood and cool marble, with gold accents.

1088 Homer Street, 1.604.899.8892, www.smallvictory.ca, On Instagram @sv_bakery

Stay

Fairmont Pacific Rim

This gorgeous luxury hotel designed by architect James Cheng overlooks Vancouver Harbour, with a view of North Vancouver and the snow-capped mountains beyond.  Its amenities include an outdoor heated pool and jacuzzi, a fitness centre and the Willow Stream Spa. Outside, look for the futuristic Bocci “16” LED trees, by Omer Arbel.

1038 Canada Place, 1.506.863.6310, www.fairmont.com/pacific-rim-vancouver, On Instagram @fairmontpacific

OPUS Hotel

Named one of the Top 15 Hotels in western Canada last year, in the Condé Nast Traveler’s Readers Choice Awards, this modern boutique hotel is located in Yaletown. Enjoy beautiful and colourful guest suites in a vibrant neighbourhood minutes from the waterfront.

322 Davie Street, 1.866.642.6787, http://vancouver.opushotel.com, On Instagram @opushotel

Rosewood Hotel Georgia

This stately 90 year old hotel is a city of Vancouver protected heritage property.  Situated in a prime location in downtown Vancouver, it was restored by Toronto interior design firm Munge Leung in 2011. Imbibe a 1920s era cocktail while tucked away in the Prohibition Cocktail Bar on the lower level, or indulge in contemporary Canadian cuisine at the Hawksworth Restaurant on the hotel’s ground floor.

801 West Georgia Street

1.604.682.5566, www.rosewoodhotels.com/en/hotel-georgia-vancouver, 1.604.673.7089, www.rosewoodhotels.com/en/hotel-georgia-vancouver/dining/prohibition, 1.604.673.7000, www.rosewoodhotels.com/en/hotel-georgia-vancouver/dining/hawksworth-restaurant, On Instagram @rwhotelgeorgia

Travel

Travel to Vancouver from London non-stop via Air Canada, Lufthansa, or British Airways, with flights starting at about £750.  Vancouver City Centre is about a twenty minute taxi or a half hour SkyTrain ride from Vancouver International Airport via the Canada Line.

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Feature image (c) and courtesy Jakobradlgruber/123RF. All other images (c) Ena Kenny or respective locations featured.

  • Ena Kenny is a registered interior designer from Toronto, Canada. When she's not at work, designing healthcare spaces at multi-disciplinary firm Stantec, she enjoys city life with her husband and two small children. She loves things that are simple, functional, and beautiful, but her desk is always messy.

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