Who Loves Gastown?

It seems like not long ago, Gastown – Vancouver’s most historic neighborhood – was best known for a) kitschy souvenirs like “Moose Crossing” signs and BeaverTails and b) a serious problem with drugs and prostitution.  But my how things have changed.

A great article in this month’s Vancouver Magazine looks at how Gastown has become the city’s most exciting neighborhood, with no less than 36 new bars and restaurants opened in the last few years.   Attracted by relatively affordable housing, young, creative people are moving in, giving the area a progressive vibe and attracting a host of edgy new businesses.

Gastown is still gritty, of course, with blocks of trendy new shops alternating with down-and-out blocks of cheap motels and dive bars.  But there’s a new optimism and energy in the area, which feels a little like Yaletown did a decade ago.

Here’s just a very short list of some of my favourite new restaurants and pubs in Gastown.  Do you have favourites?  Please share some of your favourite places to eat and drink in Gastown by leaving a comment below.

The Alibi Room: This charismatic “modern tavern” on the corner of Main and Alexander Streets has an incredible selection of regional microbrews as well as an extensive menu of grown-up comfort food, like the bison cheesesteak sandwich.  Upstairs there’s a big room with brick walls and long communal tables.  Downstairs is a more intimate bar.

Irish Heather:  A reincarnation of a much loved Vancouver drinking institution, the Irish Heather is an Irish pub that aims for authenticity.  No green beers or leprechauns here.  Instead, you’ll find hearty and lovingly prepared Irish cuisine (like steak and Guinness pie) and a great range of beers and whiskies, all served in atmospheric rooms paneled in plenty of dark wood.

Photo: IrishHeather.com

Salt Tasting Room:  Located along Blood Alley, which is still definitely among the grittier streets in Gastown, Salt serves a simple menu of cured meats and gourmet cheeses, accompanied by a great wine list.  Opened a few years ago, it remains among the trendier spots in Gastown, with an interior of brick and contemporary concrete.

Campagnolo:  I know this one is a bit outside Gastown (nearer to Main and Terminal), but Campagnolo serves some seriously authentic Italian cuisine, with impeccable sourcing of ingredients.  This is real, rustic Italian food – not the kind of stuff you’ll see on menus at the Olive Garden or Macaroni Grill.   It’s got a great wine bar and also won VanMag’s best new restaurant award in 2010.

That’s just scratching the surface of what’s going on in Gastown these days.  Please share your favorite restaurants and bars by leaving a comment.

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