You don’t need a girlfriend named Alberta to enjoy Vancouver’s appeal
After all the anti-gay amendments passed earlier this month around the United States, it’s easy to start thinking about a trip to enlightened Canada. Where same-sex marriage is legal. And Vancouver, one of the world’s most stunning cities, is a great destination. You can kayak in English Bay in the morning before skiing down Grouse Mountain later that afternoon indeed, few cities offer better access to the great outdoors.
The glimmering, postmodern city center anchors a peninsula jutting into the rippling Strait of Georgia, its shoreline sculpted by bays and inlets. From just about anywhere on this peninsula, you’re within walking distance of leafy Stanley Park, two beaches, the ultra-gay Davie Village district and other diverting neighborhoods. It’s little wonder Vancouver has emerged as one of the most wonderful gay destinations anywhere.
For Americans, visiting Vancouver is easy. Just a three-hour drive from Seattle, and it also has direct flights from numerous cities. (Keep in mind that in a couple of years, travelers will be required to show a valid passport when crossing the border.) Also keep in mind that the U.S. dollar has become increasingly weak against the Canadian dollar in recent years, so traveling north isn’t the bargain it was a couple of years ago. Still, it’s less expensive than New York, San Francisco, London and the like.
Vancouver’s vibe is highly progressive with queers and feminists playing a prominent role in local politics, and rejuvenating several flagging neighborhoods. The West End, which was a prostitution-ridden eyesore in the 1980s, is the city’s main gay commercial and residential sector. You’ll find most of the gay nightlife and social scene along a roughly eight-block stretch of Davie Street known as Davie Village.
Farther north, Davie intersects with another lively strip of cool shops and restaurants, Denman Street. At this intersection, you’re just steps from sparkling English Bay Beach, a fine spot to catch a few rays on a warm afternoon.
Davie Village is a terrific area for eating and bar-hopping. Bin 941 exemplifies the growing popularity of tapas-style restaurants in Vancouver. The campy and affordable Cafe Luxy serves humongous portions of pasta, and nearby Hamburger Mary’s is a fun bet for burgers.
Near where Davie meets Denman, sample inventive Pacific Northwestern cuisine at the Raincity Grill. Grab an espresso nearby at gay-popular Delany’s or up the street at Melriches, which is just around the corner from the acclaimed queer book and gift shop Little Sisters.
Later in the evening, check out Davie Street’s gay bars, the most popular being Celebrities and the Odyssey, which both draw young, stylish crowds.
Both pull their share of lesbians, but Celebrities is the more diverse of the two. The Odyssey has a festive patio and a great little dance floor.
Other fun drinking spots along Davie include Oasis (an attractively decorated piano cabaret and restaurant), Pumpjack (a leather-and-Levi’s neighborhood pub), 1181 (a chichi martini lounge drawing a well-coiffed crowd), Fountainhead Pub (a fun sports bar with a great patio) and Numbers (a lovably dive-y cruise bar with three levels).
If you’re looking for action, drop by one of the city’s popular bathhouses, F212 Steam or M2M Playspace. The latter is part of the saucy Fahrenheit Hotel, a men’s sex-plex with private rooms and a steamy vibe (there are rooms on one floor that are geared more toward guests who want to keep their clothes on and get a good night’s sleep).
Several gay-friendly bed-and-breakfasts and hotels rate noting. The upscale West End Guest House is among the best, with its beautifully decorated Edwardian rooms. Another luxurious B&B that’s highly appealing is O’Canada House, whose rooms have spacious tile baths.
Less pricey but still with ample charm, handsome furnishings and a great location near Davie Village is Nelson House. At the Sandman Suites you’ll find 195 spacious, contemporary suites with full kitchens, moderate rates and amenities that include Moxie’s Grill, a spa and a fitness center. If you’re on a budget, the Inn at False Creek Quality Hotel is a reputable and affordable chain option on the edge of Davie Village.
Steps from the West End, explore beautiful, rugged Stanley Park, which occupies a peninsula of more than 1,000 unspoiled acres of lush greenery. From here it’s a short drive to North Vancouver, home to Grouse Mountain ski area. For a great photo-op, stop by the nearby 450-foot-long Capilano Suspension Bridge, which swings gently (for the most part) 230 feet above the river below it.
Back in the city center, you’ll find some of the city’s best upscale shopping along Robson Street, and you can enjoy a more historic aspect of Vancouver by wandering through Gastown, the site of Canada’s transcontinental railroad terminus. The neighborhood boomed throughout the late 1800s, foundered by the 1940s and ’50s and became a model for urban restoration in the ’60s and ’70s. Today you can stroll along Gastown’s main cobbled thoroughfare, Water Street, past dozens of touristy shops and restaurants.
Just a few blocks from Davie Village you’ll find Yaletown, where Vancouver’s fine-arts-and-fashion elite have converted dozens of early 20th century warehouses into chic restaurants, galleries and shops (including the stellar gourmet food market, Urban Fare, an excellent place to pick up picnic supplies).
This hip district is also home to the city’s coolest hotel, the Opus, which also happens to be one of North America’s most gay-friendly addresses. This swank yet unpretentious property with 96 rooms and suites is a favorite haunt of visiting celebrities, who appreciate the super-efficient staff, boldly designed rooms and cool lobby lounge. Don’t miss the hotel’s sensibly chic restaurant, Elixir, a postmodern vision of a Parisian bistro noted for its brunches and superb contemporary cuisine, including a knockout pan-roasted halibut with wild mushrooms and truffle-marjoram sauce.
Another cool Yaletown address for sophisticated chow and memorable people-watching is Blue Water Cafe, whose specialties include a sampler of four ceviches with salmon, halibut, tuna, and scallops, and a wonderful entree of local sablefish caramelized with soy and sake. A block away, slick Glowbal Grill & Satay Bar can be forgiven for its slightly pretentious and gimmicky ambience, because this plays turns out delicious food, including tequila lamb satay with lime-mint glaze.
From Yaletown, you can catch a water taxi to Granville Island, once the shipping and processing center for the city’s logging industry, and now yet another successful urban renovation with a mammoth public market and many galleries and artists’ studios.
It’s a 15-minute drive east to Commercial Drive, a neighborhood reborn in the past decade as the city’s lesbian hub. Here you’ll find several woman-owned shops, including Womyn’s Ware, the definite source for women’s sex toys, and fetish wear. Most afternoons and evenings, you’ll see cute lesbians passing time at the neighborhood’s several shabby-chic coffeehouses.
This is also a great area for affordable, healthful cuisine. Excellent options include globally inspired Stella’s Tap & Tapas Bar and Havana, a great source for delicious Latin-infused fare.
Finally, if you’re looking for some outside fun on a sunny day, make the 20-minute drive to West Vancouver to Wreck Beach, which is right by the campus of the University of British Columbia. Not especially sandy or accessible (you must hike down a steep 100-foot trail), it’s the city’s only more-or-less sanctioned nude beach (at least the illegality of letting it all hang out is overlooked by authorities). The south end of Wreck Beach (to get there follow the signs for trail number 6) is predominantly gay, and depending on your vantage point, the views from this secluded swath of sand can be amazing, whether you’re admiring nature or naturists.
Little Black Book
Fahrenheit Hotel, 1212 Granville St., 888-685-2615, Thefahrenheithotel.com. Inn at False Creek, 1335 Howe St., 800-663-8474, Qualityhotel.ca. Nelson House, 977 Broughton St., 866-684-9783, Downtownbedandbreakfast.com. O’Canada House, 1114 Barclay St., 877-688-1114, Canadahouse.com. Opus Hotel, 322 Davie St., 866-642-6787, Opushotel.com. Sandman Suites, 1160 Davie St., 800-726-3636, Sandmansuites.com. West End Guest House, 1362 Haro St., 888-546-3327, Westendguesthouse.com. F212 Steam, 1048 Davie St., 604-689-9719. M2M Playspace, 1210 Granville St., 604-684-6011.
Food & Drink
Bin 941 Tapas Parlour, 941 Davie St., 604-683-1246. Blue Water Cafe, 1095 Hamilton St., 604-688-8078. Cafe Luxy, 1235 Davie St., 604-669-5899. Delany’s, 1105 Denman St., 604-662-3344. Glowbal Grill & Satay Bar, 1079 Mainland St., 604-602-0835. Hamburger Mary’s, 1202 Davie St., 604-687-1293. Havana, 1212 Commercial Dr., 604-253-9119. Melriches, 1244 Davie St., 604-669-1753. Raincity Grill, 1193 Denman St., 685-7337. Stella’s Tap & Tapas Bar, 1191 Commercial Dr., 604-254-2437. Urban Fare, 177 Davie St., 604-975-7550.
Bars & Clubs
Celebrities, 1022 Davie St., 604-681-6180. 1181, 1181 Davie St., 604-687-3991. Fountainhead Pub, 1025 Davie St., 604-687-2222. Oasis, 1240 Thurlow St., 604-685-1724. Odyssey, 1251 Howe St., 604-689-5256. Numbers, 1042 Davie St., 604-685-4077. Pumpjack, 1167 Davie St., 604-685-3417
Shopping & Resources
Little Sister’s Book and Art Emporium, 1238 Davie St., 604-669-1753. Tourism Vancouver Tourist InfoCentre, 604-683-2000, Tourismvancouver.com. Womyn’s Ware, 896 Commercial Dr., 604-254-2543.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, November 17, 2006.