Canada is the second largest country in the world, and because of its size and diversity, it is not only a mystery to the outside world but also to its own inhabitants. As a Torontonian, it is cheaper to fly to Prague in Central Europe than to Vancouver on Canada’s west coast. So when I heard from Via Rail that I could get a cheap ticket from Toronto to Vancouver, I thought, “Carpe diem! Time for my first great Canadian adventure!”
As a big fan of magazines like Monocle and the craft beer scene, I have always dreamed of visiting Vancouver because of its reputation for classy fashion, creativity and high standard of living. Since I was limited to three days, I had nowhere near enough time for mass exploration. In light of this, I decided to focus my time on having a “Gentleman’s Adventure.” This is a concept I have explored in cities like Winnipeg and Toronto. The idea is that a modern man needs to have great clothes, knows how to drink, and has impeccable grooming to be considered a “gentlemen.” The reason for this is that if a man feels good about himself, he will function better in society and live a happier life.
After contacting the local tourism board, PR agencies and through some plain old fashion research, I came across some great places to check out and tours to better familiarise myself with the city. As a city, Vancouver is interesting. The public library downtown is modelled after the Coliseum in Rome, Chinatown and other main attractions are accessible by foot, and because of the city’s temperate climate, Stanley Park – the city’s biggest urban park – is accessible year round. With an absence of corporate head offices, the city has a huge focus on independent entrepreneurs.
A great way to get an overview of the city is to take a tour with Landsea Tours & Adventures. We had a great overview of the city, the right amount of picture stops, and my guide was fantastic at giving advice and patient with silly questions. The tour takes around four hours to complete and allows guests to get off at Granville Island or their hotel.
Gentleman’s Guide to Drink in Vancouver
I will add full disclosure here that I love cocktails and I love beer, which makes this a perilous city for me! Because of Vancouver’s vicinity to Portland, Oregon, the craft beer scene in the city has exploded, only to be rivalled by the island of Victoria. Since navigating this beer scene can be overwhelming, I took a trip with Vancouver Brewery Tours. We visited three breweries, and although I sampled generous amounts of beer I would like to say I have just scratched the surface, and I am looking forward to my next visit!
What really impressed me on this trip was the Opus Hotel. This boutique hotel located downtown in Yaletown was a pleasant surprise. Along with its bright coloured rooms, showcases of local art and built-in fireplaces, it also provided creative room service menus with snack pairing involving hot buttered rum and gourmet hot chocolate. A taste of luxury!
The hotel’s bar and restaurant, “La Portola” was equally amazing. While chatting at the bar with Barry (who, if I can choose my next life, will be to be as handsome and cool as him), I learned a lot about the local spirits culture in Vancouver. I was extremely impressed by the intense flavours in the cocktails he created. As a bourbon lover, I have to say that they were all delicious. The newly renovated bar offers guests a great place to grab that first drink and hang out before a night out in the city. Rumours also have it that local doughnuts appear at the bar during the breakfast hours, to the delight of families and those inflicted with hangovers alike.
My experience in the restaurant La Pentola was equally as fantastic. This restaurant specialises in Northern Italian cuisine and makes their pasta and sausage in-house. Since the restaurant has a family style approach, multi-course options are offered at around $70.00 per person – very affordable for the quality of the food. We enjoyed a parade of oysters, lamb, and lobster-stuffed tortellini with squid ink sauce. Like the hotel bar, Martin, the restaurant bartender, did a fantastic job. He was explaining to me he had studied flavours popular in 1920s Italy and infused them with his own. I did experiment with a couple of these cocktails, and the euphoria has blended into flavours of sambuca, limoncello and blood orange. All amazing. My favourite was a cocktail called “Rosabianca” – who knew rose syrup and sambuca went well together?
Hawksworth Restaurant, is a fantastic restaurant located in the Rosewood Hotel Georgia (one of the most luxurious hotels in Vancouver – think gold leaf, marble and elegant design). Businessmen in expensive suits, well-dressed ladies, and a serving staff that could double in Calvin Klein ads are everywhere. As the restaurant changes with the season, you can see a variety of local ingredients infused into the dishes such as a plate of raw fish with green apple, ramen noodles, scallops and tofu in a Malaysian style sauce. However, their in-house hamburger is very popular, and it is a little comical to see the juxtaposition of a man in a three-piece suit devouring a burger.
I admire the fact that the restaurant has created an organisation, the Hawksworth Young Chef Scholarship Foundation, which offers aspiring young chefs an opportunity to shine.
One day on another adventure in Vancouver, I hope to check out “Prohibition,” a secret 1920s style bar that is said to have recently opened in the hotel. Good luck finding the hidden door on the side of the hotel!
Gentleman’s Guide to Grooming in Vancouver
Like in many other Canadian cities, Vancouver has experienced a rise in barber shops. One of the most prominent companies in the city is Barber and Co. Though it is rare to see the old-school barbershop as a chain, I was told these guys have locations all over the city but was assured each site has its own charm and uniqueness. Though I can’t comment on the other locations, I loved my experience at their shop in the financial district at 905 Dunsmuir St, Vancouver BC.
The shop is a mishmash of vintage barber chairs and old Playboy magazines, reminiscent of a time when nudity was art and not smut. They had everything the modern man could hope for, from Spanish leather aftershave to cigars in a case near the register. My barber, a shy Brit from London, danced hot towels on my face and shaved me with masterful skill. He then went on to give me one of the best haircuts I have ever received. I left feeling like the resurgence of the barbershop in Vancouver is in good hands.
Gentleman’s Guide to Dress in Vancouver
As a rule of thumb, I never tell men how to dress. One man’s Sinatra is another man’s Elton John; both fabulous, but just different. From what I have seen, the epicentre of fashion in the city is Gastown. This once rough area has cleaned up nicely and is now a beautifully lit neighbourhood with bars and boutiques converted from old warehouses and other industrial space. Here you will find expensive boutiques and pop-up shops like Indochine, who make bespoke dress shirts and suits, as well as the Monocle shop, which brings the best of fashion, grooming and art from all over the world.
More up my alley was Main Street, also known as the Mount Pleasant area. This neighbourhood would make even the toughest of hipsters melt with its mix of vintage cloth shops, independent fashion boutiques and coffee shops. Oh, and a barbershop and tattoo parlour or two for good measure! I had a lot of fun wandering around, talking to friendly shop owners and looking at affordable and eclectic clothing to accentuate my outfits.
I was sad that my adventure in Vancouver had come to an end – not only for the sun or the abundance of cheap Japanese fast food but the overall vibe the city gave off. After a day drinking my way through the city and meeting awesome bar tenders, getting a great shave and looking through countless boutiques, I had reached the ultimate goal of a gentleman: I felt awesome! I had a mere taste of Vancouver, and now I want more. I may just skip that trip to Europe and return to the West Coast and explore Victoria. Who’s with me?