Vancouver’s Mini Rodeo Drive: Alberni Street


Long gone are the days when Vancouver was seen as a rustic West Coast outpost, all lumberjacks and hardy outdoor types.  But a misperception persists that the city, for all of its natural beauty and glorious scenery, somehow lags behind in the glitz and glam department – as if having  snow-capped mountains in your backyard  precludes having fine restaurants and upscale retailers.

Alberni Street, also known as Vancouver’s mini Rodeo Drive, is fast putting those stereotypes to rest.  There may still be a 7-11 on the corner and a BC Liquor Store smack dab in the middle, but Alberni Street has quietly conglomerated some of the ritziest boutiques and snazziest bistros in the city.  The recent completion of the Shangri-La Hotel and the opening of a host of new restaurants over the past several years has cemented Alberni’s reputation as Vancouver’s capital of bling.

We don’t have royal palms yet – and Rolls Royces are few and far between – but the two blocks of Alberni between Burrard and Bute Streets might someday soon give Beverly Hills a run for its money.

Join me for a quick walking tour if you like – just make sure you bring a few credit cards.  Marking one end of Alberni Street is the stately profile of the Hotel Vancouver.  This five-star palace with the signature copper roof had its start as a Canadian Pacific Hotel, one of the “castles of the north.”  Heading northwest along Alberni Street, you’ll immediately notice Tiffany & Co. to your right (for all of your diamond solitaire needs) and to your left Brooks Brothers, capital of country club chic.

Photo: Fairmont Hotel Vancouver

By now perhaps you’ve worked up an appetite.  Fortunately, two of Vancouver’s most talked about restaurants are on the block, in fact, nearly right across the street from one another.  In the mood for sexy seafood in a club atmosphere?  You’ll be lunching at Coast.  High-energy Italian with Vancouver’s young and fabulous? That would be Italian Kitchen.

Recharged, you’re probably ready for more shopping.  Betsey Johnson, Burberry and Blubird are all packed together on the block: an alliterative cluster of high-end purses, shoes  and contemporary fashions.  Not to mention you could head a block over to Robson Street and have your pick of the Armanis, Zaras and Aritzias of the shopping world.

Retail urges sated, it’s time for dinner.  Here, too, you have no shortage of choices on Alberni Street.  But Market – the restaurant from three-Michelin-starred chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten – is hard to pass up.  Climb to the second floor and grab a seat on the patio for a gourmet experience on par with most anything on offer in New York, London and other foodie meccas.

And if you’re feeling a little worn out after dinner and your day of splurging, you’ve got the Shangri-La Hotel right upstairs.  This five-star, Asian-inspired take on the good life occupies Vancouver’s tallest building and is reputed to have a 2:1 staff to customer ratio.

There’s lots more to explore on this tiny swathe of Alberni Street.  If you’ve got a favorite shop or restaurant, please leave a comment below.  And what do you think about the “mini Rodeo Drive” label?  Is it justified?  Or just ambitious marketing?

Remy Scalza

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