West End Living Rocks!

(March 30, 2014 )

The West End is the best end because everything--EVERYTHING--is here. And in the best possible order. Denman Street is lively (and no longer just with dealers and the homeless, and their dogs). Robson Street gives you a retail buzz. But walk down Davie Street on any sunny day and you'll really get why we love this most populous of Vancouver 'hoods. Not as posh or touristy as Robson, not as summer holiday--like as Denman, Davie lines up all our urban-living needs on one long, lively, glitzy, tacky, gay-friendly stretch between downtown and English Bay.
We walk everywhere in the West End: to work, to play, to shop, to eat, to drink, to movies, to drag shows, to doctors, dentists, opticians, veterinarians, psychologists, hairdressers, massage therapists, and tarot readers.

On Davie, we walk past nightclubs and sandwich shops and arguably the best wine merchant in the city. Past clothing stores, bookstores, dollar stores, and Internet cafés. Past hamburger joints, pizza joints, bakeries, and delis. Past cheap-and-cheerful restaurants with food from around the globe. Past Laundromats and liquor stores and greengrocers. Past gay bars and coffee bars and travel agencies and sex shops. Past a framing store, a shoe repair, a hardware store, and a florist. Past a 24-hour drugstore, a 24-hour restaurant, a 24-hour supermarket, and a string of 24-hour convenience stores.

Crest the hill at Jervis heading northwest and there it is. The view: English Bay, Stanley Park, Lighthouse Park, Bowen Island, Vancouver Island--even after all these years, it still fills us with childlike joy. And speaking of childlike, another part of what we love about the West End is its shifting demographic. An influx of immigrants from the former Yugoslavia means that this is a family neighbourhood again, with babies, kids, and teens abounding. Singles and couples, working people and retirees, gay folks and straight folks still make up a goodly part of the social fabric. But now kids! In the West End! And those views! We wouldn't live anywhere else.

Best place to consider the merits of location, location, location

The entire neighbourhood

Because the West End is ringed by scenic fabulousness--False Creek, English Bay, Stanley Park, Coal Harbour, Burrard Inlet--residents are never more than a few blocks from parks, beaches, marinas, and the gently lapping sea. West Enders walk, jog, run, skate, and bike the seawall circuit in hilarious numbers and then, if we absolutely have to leave the place, we hop on a little passenger ferry at the Vancouver Aquatic Centre and putter to Granville Island Public Market. Life is but a dream.

Best places to ponder the poststructural meaning of long lineups

Stepho's Souvlaki Greek Taverna
1124 Davie Street

Pumpjack Pub
1167 Davie Street

Daily, starting about 5 p.m., a long, cheery queue of young and middle-aged women and men starts to form outside Stepho's. Meanwhile, on the other side of the street, crowds of leather-clad men gather in front of the subtly named Pumpjack. Other restaurants and bars stand half-empty or go bust, but these two businesses are beyond popular, supporting the impression that the West End is a happening place.

Best options for the time zone--challenged

Although we have a long way to go before we rival metropolises like London or Tokyo, this city is starting to catch up on losing sleep. Shift workers, the insomniac-prone, or those with siesta-attuned body clocks can live their lives a little less hindered, thanks to a growing number of late night and 24-hour options concentrated in or near the West End. There's Chapters (closing time 10 p.m.), Japanese convenience store Minna-no-Konbiniya (2 a.m.), and Starbucks, as well as Blenz coffee shops, McDonald's, Super Valu, Shoppers Drug Mart, Denny's, Fitness World, Hamburger Mary's, convenience stores, and numerous Internet cafés, all open 24 hours. Robson boutiques have also been staying open longer, until 9 or 10 p.m., and even the Bay followed suit. With clubs grooving until 3 a.m., being able to walk home after late-night/early-morning partying without worrying about parking, taxi fare, or designated drivers is another major justification for West End living (which also explains why Stats Canada says almost one out of two residents are between the ages of 20 and 40).

Best multicultural mix

It's possible to walk the stretch of Robson from Burrard to Denman and hear every language from Farsi and French to Thai, Turkish, and Tagalog but not a word of English. It's also possible to order Greek food in Japanese, Japanese food in Chinese, and Chinese food in Greek. No wonder: about half of the West End's population doesn't have English as its mother tongue. This growing international population is fed not just by ESL students but also by new immigrants. The West End is also one of the likeliest places in the Lower Mainland to find Caucasians who are more fluent in Asian languages and cultures than most Canadians of Asian descent.

The sizable presence of these international and intercultural residents fuels the maturity of the West End's culinary diversity. Once shrouded in obscurity, Korean restaurants, from the dark but cozy Dansungsa (1221 Thurlow Street, 604-609-7095) to the homey and vibrant Ap Gu Jung Restaurant (1642 Robson, 604-681-8141), have steadily multiplied, proving they no longer have to masquerade as Japanese. A critical mass of Korean eateries, video outlets, and bookstores is imminent.

Perhaps the direction taken by restaurants like the new Clove on Denman (735 Denman Street,
604-669-2421)--an East Side import and a welcome South Asian addition to the West End--point the way to becoming more accessible. By channelling two restaurant trends--tapas and fusion--it's easier to introduce traditional foreign foods when you remix them in hip styles and chic settings. The successes of izakayas like Guu (838 Thurlow Street, 604-685-8817) and Guu Garlic (1698 Robson Street, 604-685-8678), Hapa Izakaya (1479 Robson Street, 604 689-4272), Umami Tapas & Wine Bar (572 Davie Street, 604-696-9563), and Zakkushi Charcoal Grill (823 Denman Street, 604-685-1136), for instance, have saved Vancouver from OD-ing on its sushi addiction. Asian choices are well-represented in the West End, with the fab and spacious new Maria's Taverna (1037 Denman Street, 604-681-8500) joining the likes of Hespero's Greek Taverna, Taki's Taverna, Cazba Persian Restaurant and the neighbourhood phenomenon of Stepho's.

Awesome Article about Vancouver's West End living from Georgia Straight by Robin Laurence.