Downtown Vancouver’s towering skyline against the North Shore Mountains. Photo: Nick Kenrick
Atrium dining at L’Abattoir in Gastown, the city’s oldest neighborhood with its newest shops and restaurants. Photo: Glasfurd & Walker
A window seat in a Gastown coffee shop. Photo: Philip Tong
A Rodney Graham art installation at Hawksworth Restaurant in the Rosewood Hotel Georgia. Photo: Martin Tessler
The spare concrete interior of Obakki. Photo: Gaile Guevara
At last, a functional city for the urban minimalist.
If you like to catch a plane, hop on a metro, arrive at a hotel, toss your bag on the bed, and walk out the door into the epicenter of the local scene, get yourself to downtown Vancouver. You won’t waste time weeding through the mundane or the suburban to get to the good stuff, because it’s all here: a dense, meticulously edited collection of stellar shops, bars, museums, and hotels packed into a 1.5-mile radius. You need only plant yourself in one of three key districts (or opt for a night in each; trust me, the hotels are worth the switch-up) to see it all.
Gastown, near Portside Park, is the city’s fashion and design hub, and the metro’s Waterfront station delivers you to an ideal base, the Fairmont Pacific Rim, the hotel that the 2010 Winter Olympics built. It’s achingly modern, with floor-to-ceiling glass windows throughout that overlook the spectacular snow-covered mountains surrounding the city. Watching the seaplanes and ferries glide around is mesmerizing, but snap out of it, because a few blocks away, Gastown awaits.
The neighborhood used to be a meatpacking district, and the brick buildings and scenesters recall its New York City counterpart. Historic structures along Water and Carrall streets house a collection of gastropubs and restaurants. You’ll also find the city’s best boutiques here, including Obakki (architectural clothes in muted colors), LynnSteven (the changing-room walls are made from paperbacks; Danielle Steel features prominently), and Inventory Stockroom (heritage-inspired looks for men).
Six blocks away is Robson Square, the city’s art epicenter and poshest district. Start with a trip to Holt Renfrew, Canada’s chicest department store (the exclusive makeup counters alone are worth it). Then head to the newly remodeled historic Rosewood Hotel Georgia, a majestic Georgian Revival with rooms as luxe as the hand-painted gold-leaf fleur-de-lis design in the lobby. It’s packed with top Canadian art, including a custom installation by Rodney Graham. The Vancouver Art Gallery is just across the street (“An Autobiography of Our Collection,” a show investigating the idiosyncrasies of museum acquisition, runs through February 12).
Don’t skip Yaletown, in downtown’s southwest corner. This is the city’s converted-warehouse district, filled with pretty people, little dogs, lofts, and a Mini dealership. Check in to the design-centric Opus, a boutique hotel with one of the city’s best bars, and, if you dare, head directly to BeautyMark for an appointment with fashion designer turned nail artist Christina Culver (she has mastered fall’s two-tone half-moon look). Then show off her handiwork over drinks at the ultra-stylish Keefer Bar, in Chinatown. Exhausted? Thought so. Now go rest on a beach in Mexico.
Dining in Gastown:
At L’Abattoir, order the steak Diane or any of the seasonal fish; at Chill Winston, pair the pommes frites with the riesling blend from
B.C.’s Okanagan Valley. Robson Square: Hawksworth Restaurant is helmed by locavorism-obsessed chef David Hawksworth. Yaletown: Chambar (try the moules congolaise) is part of Belgian chef Nico Schuermans’s empire, which also includes Café Medina (get the waffles with fig-orange marmalade).