Olympic Party Hopping on the Canada Line

Granville Street is one stop on the unofficial Canada Line pub crawl.

The Olympics have transformed Vancouver in many ways, not the least of which was the construction of the Canada Line – the city’s gleaming new rapid transit system.   Built over four years and at a cost of more than $2 billion, the Canada Line enables Olympic visitors to zip all the way from the airport into downtown Vancouver in fewer than 30 minutes.  And after the Games are finished, it will allow commuters from the city’s suburbs easy access to the heart of the city, saving time and reducing Vancouver’s carbon footprint.

But the Canada Line can also be put to less noble purposes.  Shortly after the inauguration of the train last summer, party-minded Vancouverites began noticing that many of the Canada Line’s stations are conveniently situated near bars and clubs.  The Canada Line pub crawl was born.  The route isn’t set in stone and it would be impossible to visit all the bars along the way, but the crawl has caught on – offering a cheap, safe vehicle for a night of revelry and carousing.

In honor of the Olympics, I decided to do a mini Canada Line pub crawl of my own, visiting four stops right in the heart of Olympic action: Waterfront, Vancouver City Centre, Yaletown and (with an easy connection via the new Olympic Line street car) Granville Island.

As I emerged from Waterfront Station, I found myself engulfed in crowds.  The whole area is a nexus of Olympic action – with the city’s hotel district, the Main Media Centre and the ever-popular torch all clustered in the same few blocks.  I worked my way a few blocks over to Gastown, the lively waterfront neighborhood with no shortage of watering holes.  To start the crawl, I headed into the Irish Heather, a relatively new player on the Vancouver pub scene and one that prides itself on authenticity.  Inside, the ambiance is all dark wood and Guinness.  I ordered an R&B Raven Cream Ale and was tempted to stay for the Heather’s unique communal dinner, where guests sit at one  long table for a single, prix fixe Irish meal.

Start your pub crawl at the Irish Heather in Gastown, which also offers Irish meals at its really long table.

But duty called.  While I could have walked to my next stop, I hopped back on the Canada Line to keep things official and got off at Vancouver City Centre, which is just next to the Granville Street pub and club district.  I took a peek at the Irish House (which adjoins Doolin’s, another classic Vancouver Irish pub), but the long lines to get in were intimidating.  Instead, I found my way to the Railway Club, a Vancouver drinking institution tucked away on the second floor of a commercial building on Granville and Dunsmuir.  The atmosphere in the Railway, which does indeed have a miniature train running through the bar, is always festive – even more so tonight with 250,000 Olympic fanatics in town.  I downed a Central City Big Kettle ESB, another local microbrew, and continued on my way.

The Irish House near Granville Street makes a good stop on the crawl (But expect a much longer queue than in this rare line-less photo).

Next stop was Yaletown, the city’s trendy warehouse district and party central during the Games.  Once the big LiveCity celebration site closes down at 11:30 each night, the bars along Hamilton and Mainland Streets fill with revelers looking to keep the party going.  A popular spot is Society, a dining lounge located halfway down Hamilton Street.  Inside, the big, open room is dominated by an oversized pink chandelier that looks a little like a pulsating jellyfish.  To switch things up a bit, I tried one of Society’s signature drinks, a bourbon milkshake spiked with Jim Beam.  Delicious – But in retrospect maybe not the best choice (What’s that saying about beer before liquor . . . ?).

Crowded in the afternoon, Yaletown's pub zone gets even busier at night.

My last stop of the night required a little leg work.  I took the Canada Line to the next station, Olympic Village.  From there, I caught the free Olympic Line streetcar to Granville Island, a waterfront district filled with gourmet shops, artisans’ workshops and – at night – several lively bars.  During the Olympics, Granville Island is also home to some highly regarded party places – The Swiss House, Place de la Francophonie (see Julie’s great post) and Atlantic Canada House.  I stopped at the long line outside Atlantic Canada House, where fans had queued up to get inside the Kitchen Party – a small bar transformed to look like a Halifax pub that has nightly live music from back East.   Inside, I couldn’t help sampling some of the local brew, a fiery liquor called Shine from Prince Edward Island.

Atlantic Canada House makes a great terminus for the Canada Line pub crawl, just expect a wait to get inside.

Needless to say, it was fortunate that I had decided to limit my Canada Line pub crawl to just four stations.  Anyone else tried the crawl?  Any recommendations for bars to visit along the way?

Remy Scalza -www.remyscalza.com

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