When you’ve only got $20 and you refuse to just pick up a couple eight-packs of pilsner to slam back alone on a bench in the rain, it’s time to head for East Van (or at least Mid). Westward lies an ocean of neatly-pressed pants, and douchebags with martinis. The downtown Granville strip is a cesspool of shitty clubs for the in-town-on-business set, a pretty solid time if your idea of a good scene is 5,000 identical haircuts and $10 cover charges. But for the simple man who needs only a pint, a stool, and a million stories written in grime, here’s a lesson in proper Vanshitty boozing.
THE CAMBIE (300 Cambie St.) Every Vancouverite has at some point blitzed out at the Cambie, that bizarre convergence of the Hastings Pot Block, touristy Gastown, and Heroin Central. For variety, you’ll find your rockers and punkers, collegiate daytime alkies, foreign youngsters (there’s a hostel upstairs), thugs, iron workers, slut machines, the whole bit. There’s always cheap swill and $3.25 Moosehead bottles on weekends and you’ll never go a night without hearing “Sweet Child O’ Mine.”
PUB 340 (340 Cambie St.) Downstairs, and not for first-time visitors, is a wicked basement bar cum storage space. The evidence that this was once a cocaine den for the Hell’s Angels is imprinted on the wall by way of a big axe gouge. The upstairs bar is clean (enough), friendly, and musically interesting. $3 for poor man’s swill, Red Cap stubby bottles are always on special and so is seemingly everything else. A legitimate, unassuming, and barrel-scrapingly cheap boozeroony. The obvious anti-Cambie solution.
THE ASTORIA (769 E. Hastings) Or “Asbalt” if you will, haven and retreat for Vancouver’s punk/metal loogans. Less grimy and lived-in than its predecessor—the Cobalt on Main Street, sadly deceased—the Astoria is still the pinnacle for that fringe-of-society gutter vibe. Like drinking, sitting, pissing, and puking in a shithole? Then this place is for you. Punk-rock karaoke, lots of debauchery, and a mohawk gets you in for free. Cheap as all fuck.
KISHU JAPANESE RESTURANT (538 Seymour St.) There are a couple of proper bars in the Seymour/Pender zone—the Pic, Yagger’s, both decently priced with comfortable environs—but it’s a mere minute’s walk to Kishu Sushi for $2.75 domestic bottles every day all day, and 40-percent off food after 7 PM. This is about the most Vancouver thing you could possibly do, gargle a pissy Kokanee and inhale freakily cheap yakuidon. There are other Kishus around town, though sadly the Broadway and Main location is operated by a gaggle of assholes. Best avoided.
PIZZARIA EXPRESSO (232 E. Broadway) As we told you a few pages back, Mount Pleasant has evolved from a pawnshop dirt trap into hipster heaven. It’s gone maverick with independent trinket shops and coffee dens but inexplicably boasts few places to have a brew. And those that do serve are a little on the pricy side. The only resort is the Pizzaria Expresso, where really cold glasses of Okanagan Springs Pale Ale are an embarrassingly low $2.50. Always packed with dirty construction workers, high-class crackheads, and heated domestic disputes, it’s as if while the rest of the neighborhood boomed, a rift in the space-time continuum caused Pizzaria and its retarded clientele to skid-land in limbo. Pizza is $1.25 a slice and sucks.
IVANHOE PUB (1038 Main St.) A really roomy, kinda crummy workingman’s pub, with the most populated smoking room in the city, some alternating beer or highball for $3.25 or less every day, and $2.75 pints of Molson swill till the end of time. Moderately threatening.
PORTUGUESE CLUB OF VANCOUVER (1144 Commercial Dr.) It reeked of bleach last time I was there, but for $2.25 Kokanee glasses day after day, it’s the best booze deal on the Drive. Espresso is $1.25 if you need to keep the lids up. You can watch Portuguese TV or admire the assortment of traditional Portuguese household items plastered to the wall with spray paint.
PAT'S PUB (403 E Hastings St.) Arguably the nicest pub on Hastings, Pat’s was a jazz haven back in the 20s. Now they host better-than-decent rock/indie/whatever gigs, and the green tables and chairs lend the place a glorified Irish-diner mystique. Double highballs are $4.75 every day. There’s cheap (and acceptable) beer always, $3.50 pints on weekends, and $2.70 Big Rocks on Monday and Wednesday. Pat’s is as solid as they come these days.
The Columbia (303 Columbia) For one brief while they had $1.25 glasses of beer on Mondays. Bad move.
Photo by Dale De Ruiter
EAST HASTINGS HELLHOLES (Funky Winker Beans/Savoy/Balmoral/Regent/etc.) If you really want to be an ultra-cheap scuzzball, there’s a slew of Hastings hotel bars leftover (and not cleaned) since the strip’s glory days, prior to its reinvention as an open-air drug market and boardinghouse for schizophrenics. The rules of entry: Don’t be an idiot (no use getting stabbed by a crackhead), recognize that you’re an outsider, shut up, and enjoy your $1.50 glass of urine. The Balmoral has domestic bottles for $2.75, which, for obvious reasons, is infinitely safer than draft. It’s also got an incredible décor, including plastic totem poles, CDs dangling from the ceiling, and vinyl tacked to the walls to help spark things up. Don’t go there on Welfare Wednesday unless you really know what you’re doing. I’m serious.
Of course if you need a break from all the rampant downers, here are a few islands of refinement that don’t try to pass backlit flat-screens off as class.
LUCY MAE BROWN'S (862 Richards St.) Lucy Mae’s is one of the classiest joints in the city. They’ve got this sneaky basement cocktail lounge that makes you feel like you’re an in-the-know hepcat in the middle of prohibition. If you’ve got lots of money, a date who you’re sincerely trying to bang, and zero interest in rock ‘n’ roll, bring her here.
MORRISSEY'S IRISH PUB (1227 Granville St.) At the ass-end of the Granville strip is a nice little Guinness and Kilkenny hook-up. Decent live venue too, when they feel like it. Cushy little booths, a welcoming décor, and a good likelihood of contact with other reputable human beings.
THE FRINGE CAFÉ (3124 Broadway) One of the few appealing bars in that huge and terrifying upper-middle-class clone-zone west of Granville.
PUBLIC LOUNGE (3289 Main St.) As is the Main Street way, the food here comes in supersmall portions, but they’ve got a nice selection of drafts and the prices are OK. It’s small as fuck though, so don’t bring a crowd.
SUBEEZ (891 Homer St.) For those who enjoy ambient music pumped through a huge, grey concrete room with 30-foot ceilings, local art on the walls and Jesus candles on the tables, welcome to a place you will enjoy going to and then being at. Great food and good service, just don’t sit within eyesight of the life-size naked concrete man sculpture—his dangling junk will distract you all night.
FIVE POINT (3124 Main St.) Probably the best patio spot on Main Street. Usually busy, but that’s OK because the people are for the most part tolerable, unless there’s a hockey game on. Then it’s best to be avoided (but that pretty much goes for any bar with a TV).