Enjoy a mini vacation at these five Vancouver patios
Oh, Vancouver. You are so beautiful – and so boneheaded. I think about this every time someone asks for suggestions on where to go for a great patio meal with a mountain or ocean view. Sorry, it's not that easy.
For a city saturated in natural beauty and brimming with excellent dining options, the combination of both is actually exceedingly rare. It's sad but true that much of the prime waterfront real estate is wasted on horrible restaurants that serve barely edible food.
So what is an al fresco-loving diner to do? Day drink and set your sights lower. This opens up a whole new world of opportunity because patios really do encompass more than just dining. They're brief escapes, mini vacations, portals to an unstressed state of mind.
When I take a patio break, I slip out of work mode to seek sustenance for the soul. My favourite patios are the ones I can take friends from out of town and say, "Look, this is where I live. Isn't it fabulous!" We laugh, relax, nibble without great expectations and focus on soaking up each other's company. These are the places I go.
Lift Bar & Grill
333 Menchion Mews
Case in point: The food here is awful. Seriously, it's shockingly terrible. The last time I went, I had fried Humboldt squid that tasted as though it had been dredged through a salt lick. And yet, I keep going back. Why? Because when you are snuggled into a low-slung sofa on the upper deck, basking in the glow of the outdoor fire pit and squinting into the sun as it sets over Stanley Park, it feels like you're sailing away on your own private yacht. The vanishing glass walls and boats anchored below in Coal Harbour Marina help sustain the illusion. Bonus: low markups on a decent wine list and several sake options (which pair well with okay sushi rolls).
Cactus Club English Bay
1790 Beach Ave.
I am an unabashed fan of the Cactus Club Café. It is not just the best Vancouver-based chain restaurant, but is one of the better restaurants in Vancouver, period. You will not go wrong with the juicy Feenie burger, the tartly dressed rocket salad or the tamari-splashed tuna stack. And they taste even better when washed down with an ocean breeze and panoramic views of English Bay. This stunning, ground-level patio blends seamlessly into the seawall. With warm sand crunching under your flip-flops, it feels like you're right on the beach. The only drawback? The line-ups are staggeringly long and it doesn't take reservations.
Seasons in the Park
Queen Elizabeth Park, West 33rd Ave.
Of all the view-hogging restaurants in the Sequoia Company (which include Cardero's, The Sandbar and Teahouse in Stanley Park), this is the only one I would recommend for the food. The Mediterranean-inflected Seasons in the Park rises above the others mostly because it has an apple-wood-burning grill that sears good smoky chops. But its majestic skyline vista is truly the high point: towering above the verdant gardens of Queen Elizabeth Park, the enclosed-roof patio clad in timber, stone and crystal chandeliers offers a birds-eye view of the city and the North Shore Mountains beyond. It feels like a secluded castle in a Tuscan, mountaintop village.
Reflections: The Garden Terrace
Rosewood Hotel Georgia, 801 West Georgia St., fourth floor
There is no view here, none at all, beyond brick walls and all the beautiful people on display. And that's partly what makes it such a spectacularly swanky hideaway. Vancouver meets Miami at this clubby, urban oasis that is lush with foliage and twinkling with stringed lights. Last year's renovation added more comfortable lounge seating and a full-size bar. The charcuterie and sharing boards aren't bad, but the expertly crafted cocktails are terrific. Reflections was one of the first Vancouver bars to bring back adult-proof slushies. They will keep you nicely quenched when the action heats up.
The Galley Patio and Grill
Jericho Sailing Centre, 1300 Discovery St.
Who needs a membership to the tony Jericho Tennis Club when you have The Galley just downstream? Extremely casual and rugged, this second-floor pub perched over the public Jericho Sailing Centre is one of the city's most charming secrets. Feast your eyes on the staggeringly gorgeous view, which stretches to Bowen Island, while windsurfers paddle below you and volleyball players kick up the sand. The counter-service kitchen makes good burgers, fish tacos and oyster po'boys. The bar, which started serving local craft beer and wine long before locavore drinking went mainstream, has street cred.