#LoveVancouver Neighbourhoods: Gastown & Hastings Crossing

Our final two neighbourhoods in our #LoveVancouver series have a rich history tied to the very first days of our burgeoning city. Gastown has lived many lives since it began as Granville, Vancouver’s first “downtown.” Its neighbour, Hastings Crossing has seen similar growth over the years but retains its rank as a centre for Vancouver’s arts and culture.


Vancouver as we know it began in Gastown. It is called so after a Yorkshire sea captain dubbed John “Gassy Jack” Deighton who opened this area’s first saloon in 1867. Contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t the gas lamps that lit the streets, but the “talkative” nature and penchant for storytelling Deighton was known for that gave Gastown its name. Today the area remains a go-to destination for thirst-quenching libations and great food, and a place to unwind down cobblestone streets that haven’t changed much over the years.

Photo credit: Destination Vancouver / Nelson Mouellic

Gastown grew up from the shores of Burrard Inlet thanks to the Hastings Mill seaport that brought trade and commerce to the region, as well as the, shall we say, pleasure-seeking off-duty loggers, fisherman and sailing crews that stepped ashore. By the 1930s, there were over 300 licensed establishments among the twelve blocks of the neighbourhood. Today, the Pourhouse retains much of that prohibition-era charm complete with absinthe fountain, as does the speakeasy nature of the Clough Club, and of course the oldest liquor license in the city at the Lamplighter Public House.

Photo credit: Destination Vancouver / Nelson Mouellic

After the depression, Gastown was largely overlooked in the expansion of the rest of Vancouver, but in the 1960s, its citizens began to band together to preserve the distinct and historic architecture. Revitalization soon followed and now Gastown is a hub of tourist activity, from the timely crowds around the Steam Clock, one of the only of its kind in the world, to the world-class dining on the menu up and down Water and Alexander Streets. There’s authentic Italian at Ask for Luigi, and the made-in-BC success story at the Tacofino Burrito Bar. There’s tried and true favourites at the long-loved Water Street Cafe and vegan turned comfort food at MeeT with their cozy courtyard seating.

Photo credit: Destination Vancouver / Nelson Mouellic

In response to the pandemic, Gastown has been re-nicknamed Patiotown with its abundance of pop-up and streetside patios installed wherever they can find room. Alibi Room, Birds and the Beets and Milano Coffee are just a few of the Gastown favourites with added outdoor seating this summer. And with the addition of Gastown Unplugged, a new outdoor music series going every Thursday, now is the perfect time to get out and stroll these historic streets like the good-time sailors of old.

Hidden gems we love in Gastown:

Secret Location – It’s in the name! Bring your sense of adventure, surprise and wonder to this independent Canadian luxury retailer of extraordinary goods and fashion. Indulge in unique statement pieces and guilt-free impulse purchases.

Forbidden Vancouver Walking Tours – This only-in-Vancouver theatrical experience offers a  fascinating look at the city’s outrageous past all over town, but its Lost Souls of Gastown tour is an especially sordid delve into “murder, revenge and true grit.” 

Coastal Peoples Fine Arts Gallery  For a quarter-century, fascinating, museum-quality pieces from the legendary art forms of Canada’s First Nations have beckoned the curious and the collectors alike into a restored warehouse on Water Street. Step inside and listen to the stories of master artisans as told through incredible paintings, carvings, sculptures and more.

How to get there:

Take the Skytrain to Waterfront Station and you’re right there. From the west, take the 7-Nanaimo Station Bus and hop out at Cordova and Homer.

Learn more about Gastown by visiting www.gastown.org

Hastings Crossing

Hastings Crossing hugs the edge of Gastown from Cordova to Pender, from Richards east to Gore, centered around Victory Square Park. The sloping greens of the park in many ways mark the birth of the city as we know it. Its southwest corner at Pender and Hamilton is where L.A. Hamilton drove the survey stake that would begin to lay down the street system of the new city. Just down from that point along Pender stand the oldest street trees in the city, planted in 1897. The iconic Victory Square cenotaph marks the location of the foot of the old courthouse where men came to sign up for the First World War in 1914. Its significance makes it the official site of the city’s annual Remembrance Day ceremonies. 

Photo credit: Destination BC

The old courthouse long gone, by the 1970’s a real sense of lawlessness could be heard in the music coming out of this neighbourhood. Much of Vancouver’s infamous punk scene was born and bred in these streets, especially at the legendary Smilin Buddha Cabaret. Gone to myth and legend now, the SBC was the place for touring acts and loud local bands. Rumours conflict over whether a pre-Experience Jimi Hendrix once played there or not, but Janis Joplin, D.O.A. and 54-40 definitely shook a wall or two.

Photo credit: Museum of Vancouver

The SBC was also famous for its elaborate neon sign (that 54-40 would later salvage from the trash heap for their album of the same name, then donate to the Museum of Vancouver.) There was a time that Vancouver’s neon illumination rivaled that of Las Vegas and much of it could be found down this stretch of Hastings. Some of it can still be seen today gracing the outside of businesses at Save-on-Meats, the New Amsterdam Cafe and the Ovaltine Cafe, the latter of which any astute viewer of made-in-Vancouver TV will recognize as the ubiquitous mid-century counter service diner of countless shows. And with good reason: it’s changed little since it opened in 1942.

Photo credit: Destination Vancouver/Purebread

These days, Hastings Crossing is undergoing a bit of a renaissance with new businesses moving in all the time. Across from Victory Square is the original location of the hugely popular Meat & Bread sandwich shop. Just look for the line-up out the door and down the sidewalk at any given lunch time. Around the corner the aroma wafting from Purebread Bakery is impossible to ignore. Coffee is king in this area with talented baristas taking your morning jolt as seriously as you do at Nemesis Coffee, Republica Coffee Roasters and Lost + Found Cafe.

All helping to keep this cultural heart of the city beating steady.

Hidden gems we love in Hastings Crossing:

Deacon’s Corner – Inspired by the truck stop diner on the TransCanada outside Winnipeg of the same name, this southern-style eatery has been evolving its distinct brand of all-day, handcrafted comfort food since 2009.

PiDGiN – When you can’t quite decide on fine dining or casual, haute-cuisine or something more approachable, this award-winning restaurant on Carrall Street combines all of that just as well as the Asian/French fusion in which they’ve made their name

Skwachays Lodge – Canada’s first Indigenous Arts hotel, each guest suite is designed by local Indigenous artists and Vancouver interior designers and features original artwork to tell stunning visual stories about First Nations culture.

How to get there:

Take the Skytrain to Stadium Station and walk north towards Pender Street. From the west, take the 5-Downtown Bus and hop off at Victory Square.

Learn more about Hastings Crossing by visiting www.hxbia.ca

Visit www.destinationvancouver.com/love for vacation inspiration, special offers, and more.


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