Dating back to 1867, Gastown is Vancouver’s oldest neighborhood, established even before the city itself. Consider that in this same year, New York City saw the creation of the world’s first elevated railway. This speaks to how young Vancouver truly is.
In the mid-nineteenth century, “Gassy Jack” Deighton arrived with a barrel of whiskey on the south shore of Burrard Inlet. There he discovered a vast wilderness populated only by First Nations people and workers from a local lumber mill. When Gassy Jack established a saloon to satisfy the local thirst for whiskey, Gastown was born.
The neighborhood’s rough-and-tumble history saw its return during the Great Depression years. By the 1960s, Gastown was facing demolition. Luckily, a group of Vancouverites worked together to save this historic area, and now it is one of the most vibrant neighbourhoods in the city.
Gastown has seen many changes, but through it all, the cobblestone streets, distinctive architecture and character have remained. Bound by Water, Homer, Columbia, and Hastings Streets, the heart of Gastown boasts gorgeous views of snow-capped mountains and the Burrard Inlet.
A variety of restaurants, shops, and boutiques can be found in the area. Located near the ferry terminals, Gastown is easily accessible by foot. Kitschy souvenir stores are popular in the area, but for more adventurous shoppers there are numerous retail options.
There is no major grocery in Gastown, but certain food items can be purchased at local delis. Eat-in or eat-out, the Salty Tongue Urban Deli is the place to stock up on artisan breads, cheeses, and other deli items, including hot and cold beverages, from Americanos to chai apple cider (213 Carrall Street, 604-915-7258). For quality wine choices, try Steamworks Wine Thief (375 Water Street). Beer, liquor and wine can also be found at BC Liquor (555 W Hastings, 604 660-4574)
During the daytime, enjoy one of Gastown’s many quiet cafés or bustling bistros. Blakes Blood Alley Bistro offers local coffee, draft beer, wraps, sandwiches, and pastas, as well as wifi Internet access and a selection of new and classic videos. (221 Carrall St., 604-899-3354) Café Dolcino features all-day breakfast, homemade soups, panini sandwiches and ice cream (12 Powell Street, 604-801-5118)
For the evening hour, try Chill Winston, a restaurant and lounge with an expansive bar area and exposed brick walls, open kitchen, large patio, and extensive wine list. Trendy Flux Bistro features west-coast tapas style cuisine, offering large and small portion options for both appetizers and entrées (162 Water Street, 604-678-8800). For a blend of Latino and West Coast styles, check out Cobre (52 Powell Street, 604-669-2396).
Steamworks Brewing Company provides a wide range of beer options (the Gastown Brewing Company brews on site) in addition to a variety of classic grill options, including an array of wild BC salmon dishes. With its Parisian inspired Art Deco ambiance, Social At Le Magasin offers contemporary Canadian cuisine, seasonal menus, and organic ingredients, as well as a separate seafood and oyster bar in the downstairs space (332 Water Street, 604-669-4488).
Looking for something a bit more unique? While the Salt Tasting Room has no kitchen or hot food, this unusual spot specializes in “artesian cheese, small-batch cured meats, and great wines,” allowing guests to assemble their own “tasting plates,” with the selections changing daily. Note the location is off the beaten track, but still in the heart of the neighborhood in a historical alley that used to run behind a number of local butcher shops (45 Blood Alley, Vancouver, 604-633-1912)
Shopping for fashion and accessories is a blast in Gastown. 212 Boutique features the line’s NYC inspired fashion for men and women, as well as fashion by independent designers (454 West Cordova Street, 604-685-2426). Urbanity offers beautiful and unique knits (sweaters, blankets, coats, etc) from Oleana of Norway, handmade shoes, and accessories by local textile designers. (207 Abbott Street, Vancouver, 604-801-6262).
Featured in the New York Times Style section, Button Button sells buttons from all over the world, with choices from the extravagant to the practical. Check out Woo Vintage for hand selected vintage items (321 Cambie Street, Vancouver, 604-687.8200).
Obakki is an international design house emphasizing a sense of rustic luxury with its elegant but relaxed men’s and women’s collections (44 Water Street, 604-669-9727).
There are several unique galleries located in Gastown. The Jeffery Boone Gallery showcases the work of new and emerging artists with a focus on painting and photography (1 East Cordova Street, Vancouver, 604-838-6816).
Inuit Gallery of Vancouver
Since 1979, the Inuit Gallery of Vancouver Ltd has offered a museum-quality collection of masterwork Inuit and Northwest Coast art in the heart of Gastown.
206 Cambie Street
For truly unique home ware retail, try Industrial Artifacts Inc., which specializes in custom work, as well as the preservation, restoration, and transformation of industrial designs for the artistically inclined and environmentally conscious (49 Powell Street, 604-874-7797). Koolhaus Designs offers a wide range of home ware items, including furniture and home accessories (One Water Street, 604-875-9004).