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Gastown Eating and Drinking Guide

Long touted as the new “it” neighbourhood, Gastown—with a plethora of new restaurants (35 and counting)—has become the city’s most inviting culinary destination
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Maple Tree Square
Maple Tree Square Lucas Finlay
Long touted as the new “it” neighbourhood, Gastown—with a plethora of new restaurants (35 and counting)—has become the city’s most inviting culinary destination

“Just look at it,” says Paul Grunberg, surveying the 200 block of Carrall. It’s 10:30 on a late summer Friday night, and the nearby restaurants (including his own, L’Abattoir) are filled to capacity. “Isn’t it amazing?”

It is, actually. The grittiness of the neighbourhood is replaced by a parade of the moneyed and fashionable. Grunberg, 30, in grey flannels and white, open-collared dress shirt, stands proprietorially, arms crossed, greeting lawyers, designers, architects, and movie-industry types. Who would have thought this part of town would ever attract such a crowd? A first-time restaurateur (he has managerial stints at Chambar and Market at the Shangri-La to his credit), Grunberg seems to know everyone in this, the new nucleus of Vancouver cool—a title that for the past decade has belonged to Yaletown.

Inside the restaurant, sommelier Jake Skakun is selling out his reserve wine list and the servers are being run ragged by a second seating. Customers feast on albacore tuna confit and delicate custards of Dungeness crab. In the kitchen, chef Lee Cooper stands hunched over a piece of halibut, fastidiously arranging paper-thin radish coins with tweezers. At the bar is Shaun Layton, this magazine’s current Bartender of the Year, up to his neck in fresh chits after doling out Champagne and high-end tequila to a group of West Vancouver nabobs and their artificially amplified wives.

There’s a sudden commotion outside; the street scene dissolves into sirens and shouts. Two guys in their twenties lope toward Water Street with plainclothes police in pursuit. One of the chased—in baggy pants, untied sneakers, and Miami Dolphins jersey—can’t run to save his life. Three cruisers and a paddy wagon head them off at Maple Tree Square.

Up the block, Rodney Scharf, a manager at Boneta, is giving a statement to police as Boneta’s owner, Neil Ingram, looks on. Both wear furious, outraged expressions. Two more young men are in custody behind them, looking sullen and stoned. They’re surrounded by nervous-looking police who try to disperse a crowd of angry pedestrians and restaurant patrons, all witnesses to the four suspects savagely taking turns stomping a local business owner. Strobe-lit in red and blue, the victim’s stunned face is drenched in blood, his eyes incapable of focusing.

“They were after his backpack,” a well-dressed young man offers. He leans in to one of the perpetrators and hisses, “That’s right. I see you. I know your face now.” He might as well have said, “This is our neighbourhood now, not yours.”

Gastown isn’t without hourly reminders that it’s part of the Downtown Eastside. It is still full of alleys littered with needles, used condoms, and the detritus of shattered lives. But a pincer movement is slowly enveloping it, and restaurants—as so often in cases of urban renewal—are the advance guard. Gastown is the concentration point, and the encircling arms of gentrification are snaking through Railtown to the northeast and Chinatown to the southeast.

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