Dining-In as a Treat

May 26, 2020

Yesterday, I had to go to the pharmacy. They were busy and I was asked to wait twenty minutes for my prescription.  I had no problem with that as I am at an age where having to sit in their comfortable chairs and wait is a bit of a blessing, to be honest.  However, I had noticed on my walk passed, that The Dime had re-opened, and so I went there instead.

The Dime in pre-plague days

The Dime is one of my favourite places on the Drive and I was genuinely excited to get back in the door for the first time in a couple of months. They did not disappoint.

On entering, you have to sign in with your contact information. I noticed I was the fifth diner. That business, plus some blocked off tables and the use of a much-smaller paper menu, were the only signs noticeable to me that we had gone through this plague. There were no gloves or masks, but each setting was well cleansed after being used. It was service with a smile from a server who seemed genuinely happy to be back at work.

I sat in my usual spot, looking out onto the Drive, thoroughly enjoying my Swiss Peppercorn burger and a long cold drink of Dam Amber beer. Beside the Dime being a lot more empty, and a lot quieter, than usual, I felt back at home!


Good News — and Bad — for the Drive

April 14, 2020

In previous reports I have noted that Triple A Grocery at 1626 Commercial was boarded up and probably closed.  However, today it seemed to be open again, which is good news.  Hope it is permanent.

On the other hand, Storm Crow Tavern at 1305 Commercial is closed and not coming back.  The owners posted on Facebook:

“The Tavern already had many challenges, such as an expiring lease in an aging building slated for redevelopment, and the coronavirus, for us and many other small restaurants, is a fatal blow while we’re already down.”

They will be keeping on with their Alehouse on Broadway, and the Manor in Toronto.

 

Many thanks to Ferry Seagull for the heads up.


Another Shoe Drops ….

April 7, 2020

Federico’s Supper Club, a 20-year veteran at 1728 Commercial has announced its closure.

“The restaurant’s owner, Federico Fuoco, said that in addition to a rent increase, thousands in monthly taxes being paid, and wage increase requests, the COVID-19 pandemic was ‘the nail in the coffin’ for the small business … ‘Now is the time for [small businesses] to get real help. Not deferrals or loans, but real financial help. This is the only way landlords will be able to work with tenants in finding real solutions instead of just letting tenants walk away for good,’ read the statement.”

Fuoco has been a force on the Drive –especially concerning Italian Day — for many years. He ran for City Council some while ago, and is still on the Board of the Vancouver NPA. He has been a leader in the move to “protect” the Drive from bicycle lanes.  His club has staged numerous tribute bands over the years. It will be missed.

Last week Cabrito Cafe announced its closure, and Triple A Grocers was boarded up.

 


The Drive’s First Closures

April 3, 2020

In the last Changes on the Drive report, I noted that it is too early to tell the long term damage the covid-19 crisis will inflict on local businesses.  However, we have now heard of the first closure in this period.

The five-year old Cabrito Restaurant at 2270 Commercial will officially close this weekend.  The tone of the press announcement suggests that the closure was going to happen with or without the virus. The virus, however, has disrupted any plans for a big send-off party.

 

When I was doing the Changes walk last Tuesday, I noticed that Triple A Grocery at 1626 Commercial had closed. When I passed by yesterday I saw that they have actually boarded up the place.  I hope that is just a temporary situation.

 


The Virus Strikes The Drive

March 16, 2020

This weekend I received a useful email from Fet’s Whiskey Kitchen at 12340 Commercial Drive reminding me of the extra safety regime they had put in place at the restaurant to protect customers.

Today, in another email, they announce they have decided to close indefinitely as a precaution.

“In light of the clear and strict recommendations of Canadian and provincial health officials for social distancing, we were compelled to act swiftly and decisively to help combat the spread of COVID-19. Along with the collective governmental and societal efforts to contain this pandemic, we hope that this decision contributes to bringing us closer to putting this behind us, getting our people back to work, and once again fully enjoying the relationships that we’ve nourished over the years. Aside from public safety our highest priority is to ensure employees are looked after. As we await details on emergency government relief funding, we will be making every effort to properly assist our employees through this crisis.”

I didn’t hear anything about restaurant closures in the BC Health Officer’s press conference this morning, so this action by Fet’s is purely voluntary, and I applaud their community spirit.


Absinthe Makes The Heart Grow Fonder

February 14, 2020

We had another great meal at the Absinthe Bistro on the Drive tonight.  Excellent food and gracious service.

Between us we had the goat cheese terrine, rib-eye steak, scallops, and rice pudding.  Each was beautifully presented and perfectly cooked.  Moreover, they were more than happy to explain the ins and outs of the sauces, reductions, and special sides; the chimichurri (with the beef), the endive marinated in lemon and the pink apple confit (with the terrine) were particularly good.  The rice pudding with caramel was the perfect finish.

So happy to have somewhere so special so close to home.


Absinthe Bistro

October 30, 2019

Finally, we made it to Absinthe Bistro on the Drive tonight.  The Everloving bought me a fine birthday dinner.

After seven years in a tiny unsuitable space in the 1200 block, and after their rent doubled, Absinthe recently moved to 952 Commercial. The building was erected in 1963 for Babic Lighting and was separated into two storefronts in the early 2000s.  Since then, the 952 space has been occupied by Pane Vero bakery, Adeline’s Restaurant, Cafe Shibuya, Nonna’s Sandwiches, and Joe’s Grill, with long vacancies in between. That doesn’t sound like a great pedigree for a new business location; however, I suspect that Absinthe will break that unlucky streak.

First, the space.  They have cleaned and refreshed the place considerably, with white walls and black ceiling and floor. It looks a lot better than it ever has before. The counter/bar has been pushed further back, giving the impression of much more space. A quick peek into the kitchen was very satisfying. The owner told us that it was a joy to have a good size space after the cramped quarters in which they had laboured for seven years.

The tables were elegantly set with simple glassware and candles. And the tables are placed such that, even with the thirty or so diners we saw in the room, it never seemed crowded.  The service was extremely friendly and relaxed.

Then there was the food.  They have a very short menu: a couple of starters, three mains, and two desserts. The choices change on a frequent basis.  We shared a beef carpaccio starter that was beautifully dressed. I had a hanger steak with a mushroom and spinach side in a rich glaze. It was perfectly cooked.  The Everloving had the duck cassoulet which she adored.  There was excellent bread with perfectly seasoned garlic butter.

We finished by sharing a decadently rich chocolate lava pie with vanilla ice cream. My dessert was served on a Happy Birthday plate complete with candle!

 

All in all it was a delight.  We’ll be saving our pennies for another visit!

 


In Praise of Older Diners

September 25, 2019

The Everloving and I went for breakfast today at the Skylight on Commercial. Nothing newsworthy about that; we go there on a regular basis.  However, it was special because the Skylight is going to close later this week, with Eva and her husband retiring after working so hard there for more than twenty years.  The closing saddens us but, unfortunately, extends a series of such closures.

I love a cooked breakfast, and I particularly love eating a cooked breakfast in inexpensive diners.  When I first moved to the Drive in the early 1990s, and living on Graveley, I almost immediately discovered Grant Cafe at 1464 Commercial. The fact that it was positioned at the intersection of Commercial & Grant was a pure coincidence, the cafe having been opened in 1951 by Wally and Gladys Grant at 1501 Commercial. In those days, it was anything but a lowly diner. On its opening, the Highland Echo praised its “unusually pleasant wallpaper design.”  After several changes of ownership, the Cafe moved across the street in May 1968 and by the following year was advertising itself as “The Place Where The Elite To Eat.”   However, it went through another series of owners in the 1970s and 1980s and, by the time it became my regular haunt, it had become a down-at-heel diner.  I thought it was great — the sausages were especially good as I recall — and I was devastated when it closed in 1996.

Luckily, I had already found a substitute. A restaurant called Greek Express had been opened in the Il Mercato mall in 1995. It operated in the space west of Van City and served both breakfast and lunch. The owner was a grumpy old sod but it had the very best coffee I have tasted and the same with their rye toast.  Even better, perhaps, was the gorgeous smell that they produced and which saturated the interior foyer of the mall.  Unlike say McDonalds where the sickening greasy smell keeps me away, the aroma of the Greek Express was sweet and delightful. Even when I didn’t stop for breakfast, I used to walk through the mall just to enjoy the atmosphere. v At the end of 2000, we moved from Graveley to Adanac, and so the Greek Express became less convenient as a daily stop. However, if I had business at the credit union or SuperValu, say, I made sure to have breakfast at the old place, until they too closed in 2010.

Meanwhile, we had discovered the Skylight within walking distance of our new home.  For a couple of years in the early 2010s, I split my breakfast custom between them and the regrettably short-lived Adelines, but the Skylight has been our regular go-to place for the last twenty years.  They have friendly service, great coffee, the best corned beef hash I ever ate, and a large cadre of regular customers, many of whom have become nodding acquaintances at the least.  During school terms, it is filled at lunch time with Britannia students, and I wonder where they will go when they want something better than a slice of pizza.

We are sad, for ourselves, that our favourite diner is closing. But at the same time, we congratulate Eva and her family on their retirement; they have earned it and I hope they enjoy their rest.

 

 

 


A Date For The Calendar: Theatre On The Drive

February 15, 2019

It has been three years since the Caffe Napoli closed, and The Drive Coffee Bar took its place at 1670 Commercial; and it has proven to be a whole lot more than just a coffee bar. They make really good use of a long thin room. I have been to political meet-and-greets there, for example, and they have their Tuesday night open mic music sessions and on Wednesday night’s they have Weekly Stories.  In a couple of weeks they are adding intimate theatre to their repertoire.

On March 1st and 3rd at 8:00pm, Jo Dworschak will present her award-winning one-woman show, Oh Man; an autobiographical monologue featuring the problems she has with the men in her life, only to learn she’s pregnant and having a boy.

Tickets are available through Eventbrite.


The Whiskey War Goes On and On

January 26, 2019

One year ago, I reported on the BC Government’s seizure of $40,000 worth of whiskey from Fets Whiskey Kitchen on Commercial Drive (here, here, and here).  You may recall that, although Fets purchased their whiskey from legal outlets and paid the full price and the full tax on the purchases, they were technically not allowed to purchase from those outlets.  Similar seizures were made in Victoria.

Last June, the BC Government’s own panel set up to look into the issue, recommended changes to the law to allow the kind of purchases that Fets had made.  This month, the Federal Competition Bureau entered the fray in support of Fets, declaring the BC regulations “anti-competitive”.  It is now 12 months since the raid, and more than six months since the panel’s report, but Fets still doesn’t have their whiskey back, and they are still on the hook for legal expenses and potential fines.  According to an article on Whiskey Cast:

“While the other three bars settled their enforcement cases with the province and paid small fines, the Fergies [Fets owners] are still fighting the potential loss of around $40,000 (CAD) worth of whisky and a proposed fine of $3,000. Their hearing has been pushed back to this May.”

I am clearly on the side of Fets in this fight, but regardless of right or wrong, it is crazy that this can drag on so long. As mentioned above, the government’s own panel came up with recommendations six months ago but they are “still under review.”  I certainly don’t believe that government and business should operate in an identical fashion, but, seriously, no business would survive if they took so long to make a decision, especially in this day and age.

Our otherwise worthy AG needs to get off the pot and make this right for a business that has helped the Drive flourish for more than thirty years.

[Hat tip to Nati Harron for the link to Whiskey Cast]

 

 


Schnitzel and Wine!

August 24, 2018

This coming Sunday (26th), the Downlow Chicken Shack at 905 Commercial is closing out the summer with a special schnitzel and wine menu that sounds like fun.  The event goes from 5:30pm to 10:00pm.  I’m sure there will be crowds.

I could rewrite the Scout’s piece on this and pretend I know what’s going on, but I’m happier to point you to their article.


The New Nicks Is A’Coming

April 18, 2018

When Nick’s Spaghetti House closed after 62 years in business at 631 Commercial, there was already talk of another restaurant moving into the space.  Now, that talk has become concrete action.

The old restaurant is being refurbished and will open as Pepino’s Spaghetti House, owned and operated by the chefs and management team who have been so successful with their Savio Volpe osteria at Fraser & Kingsway.  Much of the ambience of Nick’s is being kept, according to a story in Scout Magazine, including the old murals.

Image: Scout Magazine

There is hope the new restaurant will open in June.

The convenience store that used to be next door to Nick’s has also been taken over by the same group. After a complete refit it will reopen as Caffe La Tana, a traditional food store and cafe.

That northern part of Commercial Drive is home to a wide range of less expensive houses and small relatively affordable apartment blocks. It seems to me that Pepino’s and La Tana are probably looking for a more exclusive clientele which they hope to find once that stretch of the neighbourhood is thoroughly gentrified. In the meanwhile, their marketing will aim, I am sure, for the destination crowd.

 


EVIL Doings at the Havana

March 24, 2018

The East Vancouver Improve League (EVIL) engage in a fast-paced improv comedy contest every Sunday at the Havana Theatre.

 

Proceedings get under way at 7:30pm and tickets are just $8 at the door.

Not sure what will happen in the three weeks that Havana is closed for renos from this Monday, but give tomorrow a look!


Story Time On The Drive

March 22, 2018

Thanks to the always useful ILiveInEastVancouver blog, I learn that The Drive Coffee Bar at 1670 Commercial is hosting a weekly story session each Wednesday evening from 7:30pm to 9:00pm:

“You will hear tales from some seasoned storytellers, but each week they do try and get a new face up to take a turn.  The venue is a favourite of ours for the great coffee, selection of Cartem Donuts and some of the best sandwiches in the City by La Grotta del Fromaggio plus they also serve wine and beer.”

Sounds like a fun evening!

 


Sopra Sotto Arrives!

March 4, 2018

One of our big spaces — what used to be the Roma Caffe, at the corner of Commercial and Grant — seems as though it is just about to burst into life once again after 15 months of shuttered windows.

Since last April we have been teased by the signs suggesting that at some unspecified time in the future we would have a fine Sopra Sotto restaurant.  Now it seem it has finally come to fruition.  Here is the interior as I passed by in the sunshine yesterday.

 

My very first thought was that it is a cleaned-up and airy pastiche of all The Drive bars and cafes we already have; nothing particularly original, done well.  But it will be in the taste on which its future success will have to rely: we have a good number of pizza places here already at all price levels. Where will they fit?


Updated Review: The Dime

March 3, 2018

 

After the NPA event, I went to the Dime for brunch with the Everloving. It is nothing much more than a bar with background music, TVs on most walls, heavily tattooed staff (giving great service), and good cheap food.  I really enjoy the place, as does herself, and I thought it time to give it another shout out.

If we go there during the week for lunch, we are both addicted to the Breakfast Sando, served with greens and a piquant dressing. Great stuff.  But on the weekends they have a brunch menu and we both adore their Chorizo Hash Skillett. It is a good plateful of potatoes and onions and peppers, a fried egg, with enough chorizo to give it a kick, and served with a form of hollandaise that is to die for.

The quality of the food is superb and the real kicker is that, like all the food at the Dime, they are just $5.95 each. So, two filling brunches and a great pint of local beer cost $17.00 including tax.  Most breakfast places on the Drive will charge you $17 for a single serving of hash and eggs with coffee. And most of them won’t be as good.

If you’ve never been to the Dime, I can thoroughly recommend it.


Looking Sad

February 7, 2018

At the end of Changes on the Drive #77, I reported on the closure of the long-established Nick’s Spaghetti House along with the convenience store next door. There were reports at the end of the year that another restaurant was primed to take over space.

A correspondent recently wrote asking what was happening at the site, so I went down there yesterday to take a look.

 

It was disappointing to see just how sad it was, with no work going on there so far as one could see. I’ll keep an eye in it in the hope that something new will appear soon.

 


Follow Up To The Fet’s Whiskey Raid

January 21, 2018

As I reported earlier, and has been widely reported since, Fet’s Whiskey Kitchen on Commercial Drive was raided last week and $40,000 worth of bottles were seized by agents of the BC government.

At the time there was some mystery as to why this had happened, but the reason has now been made clear — they were purchased from private liquor stores (which had purchased them legally from the BC Liquor Distribution Branch) rather than from the BCLDB directly. All required taxes had been paid but these bars are only allowed to buy their liquor from the BCLDB — even though the BCLDB won’t sell them these particular whiskeys.

It is worth repeating that all required taxes had been paid.  In other words, this is all about the bureaucratic nonsense that is BC’s liquor laws.

Apparently bars and clubs have been buying from private liquor outlets for years and liquor inspectors have allowed it to go on. Now, suddenly, the Ministry under David Eby has decided to stamp down on the practice. They could, of course, have changed the law so that BCLDB could sell these whiskeys to the bars but no, they wanted to play the heavy instead.

In a long article by Martyn Brown, he suggests that the “prohibition style” raids may have been occasioned by the money laundering crisis in BC casinos:

“It is in an interesting coincidence, I’m sure, that this crackdown has occurred only days after Attorney General Eby launched his own scathing indictment of the inept gaming policy enforcement and money laundering problems that transpired under the former government’s watch. No doubt, the last thing the general manager or others in the Liquor Control and Licensing Branch want to do is to leave the branch vulnerable to being accused of falling short in its enforcement responsibilities.”

However, as the same article notes, the raids have done nothing to enhance BC’s image as a tourist friendly Province. Perhaps more importantly for locals, Eric Fergie of Fet’s notes that his small business could suffer badly.

“Fergie said he’s now worried how his small business will absorb the cost. ‘If we are fined heavily for the infractions and we lose our product, then, you know, we’ve got 20-something people that work for us and it’s going to be difficult’.”

Eric and Allura Fergie have been mainstays of Commercial Drive business since opening their original Fettucini’s Cafe in 1987.


Fet’s Whiskey Kitchen Raided

January 18, 2018

Fet’s Whiskey Kitchen, 1230 Commercial, is one of the Drive’s longest serving establishments. It has the widest selection of whiskies in Canada. According to a note on Fet’s Facebook page:

“What an interesting day we had down at The Kitchen today.

At 10am three government agents showed up with the police to conduct a prohibition style raid. The government inventoried, catalogued, sealed and removed 242 bottles of whisky from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society [SMWS] worth about $40k. The same raid was conducted simultaneously at The Grand Hotel in Nanaimo, Little Jumbo and The Union Club in Victoria. All 4 establishments are SMWS Partner Bars and the only whisky taken at each location were the Society bottles.

Every cocktail bar in the province has a few specialty products in their shelves yet only these 4 bars were raided and the only product removed was the SMWS bottles.”

It will be fascinating to learn what this is all about.

 


Lingua Franca

December 20, 2017

With so much linguistic and cultural diversity on the Drive, it is not surprising that sometimes we make up our own language and spelling.