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The Weekender: Nonstop to Vancouver

Jenna Scatena | January 17, 2013 | Story Travel Weekend Escapes Further Afield

Vancouver likes its hotels artsy (and a tad edgy), its food fresh, organic, and in abundance, and its wine on tap. By design, Vancouver is a trifecta of old, modern, and natural: Glass-and-steel structures scraping the sky are punctuated by turn-of-the-century colonial brick buildings with garden rooftop terraces, and the whole city is propped against the backdrop of towering green mountains that gently slope into the ocean. The post-Olympic boom hasn't slowed down yet, as more restaurants, bars, and galleries pile into the already almost too-cool city. Here are the best new highlights.

Brunch
When the opening of Hawksworth was delayed by three years, native Vancouverite chef David Hawksworth took it as an opportunity to travel the world, spending part of the time with the interior designer gathering inspiration for the food and décor. The thorough research paid off, and won them Restaurant of the Year and Chef of the Year in Vancouver magazine. The brunch is the perfect start to a sophisticated day of trotting around this cultural city (think sablefish benedict with tomato fondue) and the accompanying “breakfast cocktails,” offshoot martinis infused with ingredients like green tea, justifies imbibing in a pre-noon cocktail or two.

Lunch
Food trucks have officially earned rank in Vancouver’s eats scene. For a quick overview of your options download the Vancouver Street Food app, which pinpoints dozens of trucks around the city in real-time. Hint: Don’t miss Fresh Local Wild’s seafood chowder poutine—chunks of tender salmon, clams, mussels and double-smoked bacon piled over crispy fries—or the thick-crusted tempura-fried ling cod taco, that could easily be mistaken for being from a cart in Baja, around the corner at Tacofino.

Chances are "canned tuna” isn’t going to be your first choice for lunch if you find yourself scanning the menu at the newly opened Fable restaurant in the unassuming neighborhood of Kitsilano (West 4th is lined with an mix of shabby cafes, head shops, and yoga studios). But not ordering it is a mistake, as the chef, Trevor Bird, of Canada Top Chef will insist. Served in a short Mason jar, sliced albacore comes floating above thinly sliced fingerling potatoes in a viscous pool of lemon confit and thyme. You’re given a spoon to stir it to the consistency of, well, canned tuna, then spread across crostini. Rich, bright, amazing. Bonus: Dangerous décor. A chandelier of pitchforks dangles above patrons.

Dinner
The unabashedly adventurous Wildebeest restaurant is Vancouver’s newest spot to express the snout-to-tail movement. Once inside its weighty doors of the long and narrow Brooklyn-style digs, you’ll quickly notice this is perhaps one of the only restaurants to bridge the worlds of macho and molecular gastronomy. Artfully crafted squares of lamb tartar arrive specked with dehydrated olives crushed to the consistency of cracked pepper, and thick slices of pork jowls lie on a bed of oats drizzled with viscous bourbon barrel-aged maple syrup. Bonus: Manly cocktails and an underground wine bar.

One evening kick things off at Salt, a cozy charcuterie and cheese tasting room down the suspiciously named "Blood Alley" (locals suspect it was named after the butchers who used to work along this cobblestone throughway, but there are other theories too...). Afterword catch a cab to Campagnolo, a popular casual Italian restaurant, for perfectly blistered thin-crust pizzas and handmade pastas.

Libations
Duck into the Irish Heather in the heart of Gastown (Vancouver’s uber-hip nightlife district) but instead of pulling up a stool at their packed fratty bar, slip out the back door into the alley. Hang a right, then a left past the pyramid of tapped kegs, bow under the fire escape, and through an unassuming side door with a laminated piece of paper on it which reads “The Shebeen.” Chances are you’ll be greeted by a mustached man ready to pour you a flight of whiskey on a silver platter.

The Keefer Bar is where you want to spend your final night. Here, Danielle Tatarin slings classic cocktails with an eastern medicinal twist. For three years Tatarin studied traditional Chinese medicine, collecting immunity herbs and concocting house-made tinctures, which she shakes into well-balanced colorful cocktails, sure to make you feel better about life after putting a few down (the menu is titled "Remedies and Cures"). “A lot of classic cocktails actually have medicinal roots; bitters were originally used to treat stomach ailments,” says Tatarin, donning hot pink highlights and zebra suspenders, while slicing up a dragon fruit. The Chinatown bar is adorned with apothecary-esque décor like vintage X-ray screens and microscopes, and behind the bar jars of pickled seahorses, ginger roots, and magnolia bark pay homage to good health.

On the eastern edge of town, Railtown, Vancouver’s up-and-coming neighborhood, has a one-stop wine tasting tour. Vancouver Urban Winery, which opened last summer in a former foundry, is the first winery in Vancouver (and the first place in Canada) to keg wines. Remnants of lifting cranes (shadows of the neighborhood’s industrial past…and present) dangle above the 24-foot Douglas fir bar. Sample the 34 British Columbia wines on tap, most of which are from the Okanagan Valley (we’ll call it Canada’s Napa).

Explorations
Spend a morning riding a bike along Vancouver’s sea wall (Opus and the Burrard rent them to guests for free). Think of the waterfront as a multi-mile long outdoor gallery, with dozens of oversized art instillation. Sculptures like a life-size pixilated orca and a space ship saluting the 1930s comic hero Brick Bradford (and granite capstones engraved with comic book panels) line the way to Stanley Park, one of the largest urban parks in North America.

Vancouver Art Gallery is the best place for an art fix. It has a wealth of historical and contemporary works, with a healthy dose of pieces from British Columbia artists. Save time for a pit-stop on their terrace for a cappuccino.

On the water taxi ride from Yaletown to Granville Island, get your elbows ready... you’ll need them to get a place in line in the tightly packed isles at Granville Market. It’s sort of like the San Francisco Ferry Building on steroids: A chockoblock of artisan, locally-sourced and finely-crafted foods, with goodies like “prosciutto of the week” at Oyama Sausage or cannolis “hand painted with chocolate” at Dusos Italia. Hint: Save room for the arctic char sandwich with serrano aioli and duck fat frites at Edible Canada, Granville’s new relaxed farm-style bistro.

Stay
The Opus Hotel is a modern design geek’s dream come true. The lobby of this stylish boutique hotel is a living room of electric pink mid-century modern chairs with silver chain curtains separating the large space into smaller, more intimate sections. The rooms are of similar accord: playfully decked out in local art (mine had watercolor paintings of squirt guns), fantastic pops of colors, and thoughtful perks like a complimentary iPad (score) and fresh bedside orchids. Rates from $179/night. Bonus: Location. Take a 15-minute Skytrain ride from the airport and you’ll pop out right in front of the hotel. It’s also in the heart of Yaletown, Vancouver’s posh nightlife and shopping district. Hint: Ask for a corner room. The extra windows are worth it.

If retro chic is more your style, The Burrard, a 72-room former motor lodge has been reincarnated into a funky swank Mad Men-era hotel, smack in the middle of Vancouver’s chichi downtown. Plus it has a lush palm tree oasis courtyard (think Palm Springs circa 1962, but with a dash of attitude). Rates from $89/night Bonus: Complimentary bikes for cruising town.

Read more… Ask a local: Three natives dish on Vancouver's best.

For more information check out these resources:
Tourism Vancouver
Vancouver is Awesome
Vancouver Magazine

Find more weekend getaway ideas here.

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