Vancouver Neighbourhood Guide: Gastown
Being one of Vancouver’s oldest neighbourhoods, Gastown is steeped in all sorts of history, stories, and myths. It was named after “Gassy” Jack Deighton, a boat captain as well as the owner of Gastown’s first saloon, who called the area home in the 1870’s. Fast forward to 1886, when it fell prey to the Great Vancouver Fire in which it lost all but two buildings. However, this calamity did allow for a period of new prosperity in the form of wholesale produce, which found a home in Gastown until the Great Depression. Soon after the Depression began, Gastown began declining. The cities drinking life was centred in Gastown, with 300 licensed establishments in its twelve block span as it fell further into decline and decay, it earned the reference of “skid row”. It wasn’t until the late 1900’s when an effort to revitalize Gastown began and slowly transformed it into the attraction it is today.
In 1977, Gastown became home to one of the world’s only working steam clocks. Underneath Vancouver, there runs a massive network of steam pipes that provides heat to much of the downtown as well as delivers the steam for the whistles that sound from Gastown’s Steam Clock. Many people believe that this clock was the second ever built (the first being built in England). The actual clock is electronically powered but the whistles that are produced every quarter hour are fully created by the steam.
But enough history, on to the exploring!
I always like to start any exploration day with caffeine. There are an impressive number of great coffee shops in this neighbourhood but my personal favourite is Nelson and the Seagull. Think community coffee shop with long communal tables, home-baked bread, and ever friendly staff. If you are a real coffee expert, head over to Revolver for a coffee tasting or flight, checking on their website today, they had 13 types of beans being poured.
After that, I usually turn to some of my favourite boutiques in the neighbourhood. Always on my list is Old Faithful, which sells home goods, succulents, and Mast chocolate (some of my favourite bars). Gastown is home to John Fluevog Shoes, a Canadian shoe designer noted for producing progressive styles. While the price point of these shoes is not necessarily within the average person’s reach, it is quite fun to observe these amazingly artisan-made shoes. Just across from Fluevog is a great row of shops including Litchfield and InForm Interiors. With a masculine and modern style, Litchfield is one of another favourite stops in Gastown as I always come away inspired by a new design. InForm Interiors is a great place to wander through (preferably with a coffee), if you love furniture. Orling and Wu has two stores in Vancouver, but the best in my opinion is located in Gastown. This home store has all sorts of whimsical items from dog beds to multi-coloured cooking utensils.
There are countless options when you are ready for a bite to eat. 6 Acres in a cozy kitchen that serves up sliders, poutine, and hotpots which are all excellent and pair well with their extensive beer offerings (many that are local). Gastown is also home to Tacofino, which really has become a BC tradition for many of us locals. Serving up some of the best tacos in the city, this beloved Mexican eatery began its story out of a small truck in the back of a Tofino, B.C. surf shop. Today, they have expanded and have several locations around town. DiBeppe Ristorante & Cafe is a great place to stop at any point during your day. Part espresso bar, pizzeria, and gelateria there is something here for every palate. They have a cafe and full restaurant depending on what your feeling.
For dinner, I would recommend sitting down at La Mezcaleria - a great Mexican food spot with some awesome cocktails being poured. The Sardine Can is a tiny tapas bar that is perfect for a sherry and some small plates. Jules Bistro is a French cafe that serves classics such as duck leg, moules frites, and escargots. Gastown is also home to L’Abattoir, which is on almost every top restaurant list in Vancouver. If your budget allows for a meal at this standout restaurant, I would definitely make a reservation.
Gastown is home to some of Vancouver’s best bars and is my favourite neighbourhood for bar-hopping. If forced to choose my top place to grab a cocktail, it would have to be The Diamond (try the London Fog or the Oaxacan New Years) or, if you are a wino head to Salt Tasting Room. Salt specializes in charcuterie and wine (which is pretty much my favourite combination in life). You can build your own charcuterie boards from their wall of selections and design a own wine flight from their offerings. If whiskey is more your thing, then head straight to Shebeen Whiskey House (easiest way to find it is to walk into the Irish Heather and ask for directions). Here you will find a very fun atmosphere with close to 300 whiskeys on their menu.
For something sweet, Soft Peaks Ice Cream is a great place to grab a cone. New in town is Cacao 70's The Dip Shop. Soft serve ice cream dipped in delicious toppings such as Black Sesame and Matcha - it is the perfect cold treat for summer. If you aren't feeling like ice cream, Tacofino's Diablo cookie is exceptional (think Cayenne and chocolate)!
If you are looking for a different kind of activity in Gastown, Forbidden Vancouver tells stories from Gastown’s “dark early history”. The tours are designed for adults and the company refers to them as both a walking tour and a theatre piece.
As always, happy exploring!!