Olympics after Dark: The Granville Island party scene

The best Olympic parties in Vancouver may be at Granville Island, one-time industrial district turned shop and restaurant hub.

With another gold medal today in Ladies’ Snowboard Cross, Canada has plenty to celebrate.  So where’s the best place to party in the Olympic city?  The official celebration sites – in downtown Vancouver and in the trendy Yaletown neighborhood – are great if you’re looking for the mega-event experience.  Both have room for thousands, big screens showing all the action and big-name bands.   There’s also the Granville Street club district downtown – always a happening place after dark and now swarming with fans, street performers and long lines of pub fanatics waiting to get a pint of Guinness or three at the Irish House.

But what if you’re looking for something a bit more intimate?  Someplace with character and atmosphere? A party with a down-home Olympic vibe that’s not all about big name acts and corporate sponsors?

Look no further than Granville Island.  Conveniently located near the Olympic Village on the banks of False Creek, Granville Island is actually a peninsula.  Cross the narrow neck of land directly underneath the Granville Street bridge and you’ll find a maze of streets lined with artisans’ shops, restaurants, a public market with some of the freshest meat and produce in the city and – of course – plenty of bars.   During the Olympics, Granville Island is also home to the Swiss House (which has taken over Bridges restaurant), Place de la Francophonie (highlighting Canada’s French heritage) and the Atlantic Canada House (representing New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Foundland and Labrador).

Canadian fans revel in men's hockey dominance at Granville Island Brewing, the city's oldest microbrewery.

I wandered over to Granville Island this evening.  The streets were quiet compared to downtown’s mobbed corridors.  But I found a booming party inside pretty much every doorway I peeked into.  Inside Granville Island Brewing, the city’s oldest microbrewery, a packed house was glued to the big screens as Canada trounced Norway in the men’s hockey debut.  A third period goal sent cheers echoing down the quiet streets.  Just around the bend, the strains of a furious jig could be heard from inside the Place de la Francophonie – fiddle, guitar and drums building to a crescendo of excitement.  But the place to be, judging from the long lines snaking out onto the street, was Atlantic Canada House.

Lines to get into Atlantic Canada House and its nightly Kitchen Party stretch onto the street.

The House has already earned a faithful following in its daytime incarnation (See a great review in the Vancouver Sun): Three times a day – at 11:30 a.m., 2:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. – aspiring chefs from Canada’s eastern provinces serve up free delicacies for hundreds of fans, from Atlantic lobster to savory mussels.   But it’s at night when the Atlantic Canada House comes alive.  There are two main venues and all shows are free (which partly explains the lines).  Atlantic Canada On Deck is a 400-seat theatre showcasing rising stars and folk favorites from the Maritimes.  Tonight, Prince Edward Island folk legend Lennie Gallant was joined by three other singer-songwriters for a kind of uplugged session.  Artists shared the stories behind their songs and then took turns playing.  It was intimate, authentic and a world away from the stadium rock experience at other Olympic venues.

Atlantic Canadian musicians (left to right) Julian Austin, Bruce Guthro, Amelia Curran and Lennie Gallant participate in the Songwriters Circle at the nightly On Deck event.

But the real draw at Atlantic Canada is the Kitchen Party.  The Backstage Lounge bar has been converted into a replica Halifax pub.  You’ll find 14 beers from back East on tap, plus Shine and Screech for all you lovers of the home-brewed hard stuff.  And every night some of the hottest bands from Atlantic Canada take to the tiny stage for rowdy, raucous rock shows that have become the envy of the Olympic city.  Ashley MacIsaac – fiddle god of Opening Ceremony fame – performed on Sunday night, roaring through a set that had the entire bar pounding out jigs.  Tonight, patient fans waited hours to see The Trews, a high-energy Nova Scotia band that has racked up 10 Top 10 rock singles on the Canadian charts.

Fourteen beers from eastern Canada are on tap at the Kitchen Party, Atlantic Canada's version of a Halifax bar.

Back outside on Granville Island, the streets remained dark and relatively quiet.  But don’t let that fool you.

Remy Scalza – www.remyscalza.com

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