No one’s really sure what to call the area around Parq, a complex with two hotels, a casino, a 30,000-square-foot sixth-floor park and eight restaurants and bars that opened next to Vancouver’s BC Place last fall. While Parq has branded the area the Entertainment District – a name more traditionally held by a seven-block stretch of Granville Street downtown that’s full of bars and nightclubs – for its gambling venues and close proximity to Rogers Arena and BC Place (when events are on, you can cross right into Gate G from the casino floor), Tourism Vancouver has no official name for this burgeoning neighbourhood and the City of Vancouver maps define it simply as Northeast False Creek.
Whatever you call it, the blocks bordering Smithe Street and Pacific Boulevard are becoming a destination in their own right. It was only about five years ago that the footprint of the multitower complex was a parking lot; today it’s surrounded by high-rise condos. The Vancouver Art Gallery has plans to relocate to a new building here – the first in Canada by the Pritzker Prize-winning Swiss architecture firm Herzog and de Meuron, designers of the Tate Modern in London and Beijing National Stadium – in 2021 or 2022.
Even better, Parq’s location is at the nexus of Chinatown, Gastown, Yaletown and downtown, putting neighbourhoods and attractions – even Granville Island, given that Parq is steps from the Plaza of Nations False Creek ferry dock – that are out of reach on foot from the waterfront hotels along Burrard Inlet.
With a spa, steakhouse, fine-dining Chinese restaurant and nearly 72,000-square-foot casino, it may be tempting to stay put at Parq. But given its location – and the two luxury hotels onsite, the Douglas and JW Marriott – it’s a great base for exploring the eastern side of the city. How to choose which of the two towers to stay in? A member of Marriott’s more original and locally inspired Autograph Collection, the Douglas offers a stylish sense of place themed around the West Coast’s native Douglas fir trees. From the nearly eight-metre-long glass-encased replica Douglas fir trunk that acts as the hotel’s check-in desk to a minibar stocked with custom Douglas fir-infused gin, made by nearby Yaletown Distilling Co., and chocolates from North Vancouver-based Thomas Haas, the 188-room property takes every opportunity to incorporate the best of the city into its nature-meets-edgy-urban vibe. With 329 rooms and suites, designed by Studio Munge in light airy colours, many with water views, JW Marriott is a good option for those with more traditionally luxurious tastes. Both from $279. 39 Smithe St., parqvancouver.com
You might think of Vancouver as first and foremost a seafood city. But Wildebeest executive chef Ian McHale brings a West Coast sensibility – read: fresh, seasonal, local – to his meat-centric menu. While whole animal cookery is the focus, dishes such as house-smoked duck carpaccio are as defined by their bright, balanced vegetal fixings (in this case, arugula, morel agrodolce, salty-creamy Cashel blue cheese, and, if you’re lucky, fresh figs dropped off from a backyard in Burnaby instead of the usual Santa Rosa plums) as by their central protein. While the few veg items are equally worthy, almost everything from the skillet cornbread to the devilled eggs gets seriously meated up with ingredients such as rendered foie gras and Wagyu fat. 120 West Hastings St., wildebeest.ca
It’s not every fast food joint that’s powered by a collective 100 years of serious culinary experience, but with its $120 seafood trays for two and unobstructed False Creek views, the newly opened Popina Canteen defies the traditional notion of fast food. Granville Island-based Popina aims to elevate cheeseburgers – by Robert Belcham, whose burgers at Campagnolo Upstairs and Monarch Burger are considered some of the best in town – and more with a dedication to quality ingredients. On the menu you’ll also find beautifully composed salads, toasts topped with olive-oil-poached albacore and pink shrimp salad, wines from Joie winery and house-made bottled cocktails. A collaboration between Belcham, Angus An (Maenam, Fat Mao), Joël Watanabe (Bao Bei, Kissa Tanto) and Hamid Salimian (culinary consultant for Earls, former executive chef at Diva at the Met), this parking lot shipping container restaurant is as relaxed and casual as they come – just don’t tell the food. Granville Island Ferry Dock, popinacanteen.com
Sprawled across 22,000 square feet and two levels of a 1930s heritage building, the recently opened Leisure Center expands the notion of a concept store into a full-blown lifestyle facility: In addition to artfully displayed collections by Balenciaga and Geoffrey B. Small among the designers, retail offerings include design-driven housewares and books, beauty and bath products, and art curated by Emily Carr University. There’s also seminar and event space downstairs, private shopping lounges, a kids’ “office” and a café featuring a menu of seasonal sandwiches and salads designed by chef Jefferson Alvarez of Cacao, with desserts by Buttermere Patisserie and Off On Wednesdays and tonic bar by New York’s Alchemist’s Kitchen. 950 Homer St., leisure-center.com
Browse handcrafted, locally made leather goods at Erin Templeton’s petite Chinatown showroom and studio, adjacent to the narrowest building in the world. A vintage buyer who studied shoemaking in London, B.C.-born Templeton uses recycled leather to handcraft many of her slouchy handbags and accessories. She also sells a handpicked collection of vintage clothes and jewelry as well as some of her own linen womenswear designs. 511 Carrall St., erintempleton.com
A Wok Around Chinatown
“Food is culture, culture is food,” says Bob Sung, a third-generation Chinese Vancouverite with deep roots in the food and hospitality business, as an introduction to his walking tour of Chinatown. Starting at Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, the four-hour experience explores the traditions of what has become one of the city’s biggest foodie destinations. Aside from the magnificent, tranquil garden grounds, points of interest include grocery stalls heaving with mangosteen and rambutans, traditional medicine and houseware shops, and, of course, food: from the famous apple tarts at New Town Bakery to barbecued pork and a dim sum lunch, Chinatown delicacies are central. $80 plus GST per person. awokaround.com
Granville Island Kayak Tour
Departing right from the Granville Island docks, there’s no better way to enjoy the calm waterways and unique attractions – floating houses, industrial silos transformed into murals by Brazilian street artist twins Octavio and Gustavo Pandolfo, the Martian-y “Time Top” under the Cambie Bridge – than by kayak. For some context with your paddle, join Ecomarine Paddlesport Centres’ group tour (about 2.5 hours; $69 plus GST per person), or rent a kayak from $39 and guide your own adventure. 1668 Duranleau St., ecomarine.com
The writer travelled as a guest of Parq Vancouver, Destination British Columbia and Tourism Vancouver. They did not review or approve the article.