When we think of Canada, a few things first pop into mind: Maple syrup, the Rocky Mountains, and the ever-charming Justin Trudeau. But other than being the world’s second largest country by total land area, there is more than meets the eye of this country. Enter Gastown, a little neighbourhood in the bustling West Coast seaport of Vancouver.
This is not your average hipster enclave – it’s the original settlement of what we know today as Vancouver, when a seaman from Yorkshire, John ‘Gassy Jack’ Deighton, opened the area’s first tavern in 1867. And today, Gastown is undergoing a renaissance of sorts. Upscale boutiques contrast with its cobblestone streets, and young millennials wielding the latest technology crowd around the steam-powered clock that sits in the heart of the neighbourhood.
Whether you’re visiting during the day or the evening, the streets of Gastown are unlike any other in Vancity. If you’re after the charming, quaint Victoria-era streets, go before sunset. Otherwise, the trees lining the pavements will be lit up with fairy lights that make the neighbourhood look oh-so-romantic.
Restaurants, bars, and breweries
The Flying Pig
Contrary to its name, you can order more than just pork at The Flying Pig. The Vancouver institution (it has three other locations) serves up seasonal Canadian fare straight from the farm or the sea. Situated along the corner of Water Street and Abbott Street, your plates will be flooded with tons of sunlight thanks to dramatic, floor-to-ceiling windows. A mezzanine level lets you entertain bigger groups in semi-privacy.
There’s a brunch, lunch, and dinner menu, but we recommend going for a full meal here—the Salt Spring Island Mussels and Frites which is a mainstay on both the lunch and dinner menus comes highly-recommended, with its daily rotation of broths.
The swanky Bauhaus Restaurant is a must-visit before it gets crowded. Owned by the German director Uwe Boll, it is set in an old Gastown bank building, and boasts an illustrious alumni including Stefan Hartmann of the one-Michelin-starred Hartmann Restaurant in Berlin. It’s also on the World’s 50 Best restaurants list as a restaurant to watch.
Just imagine the fresh produce from Vancouver that’s been given a German interpretation, like the wiener schnitzel or sauerbraten. At Bauhaus, you can opt for either the tasting menu with a wine pairing or go a la carte (we’ll probably go for the former).
Nestled within the confines of a 100-year-old building is the cosy restaurant/pub Pourhouse. As you sip on a glass of Old Fashioned lounging on antique furniture, you’ll feel transported back in time to an era where drinking is more than just a social activity—it’s a communal festivity. The wine list is specially curated for sharing, and the beers cover a range of tastes and palates. Lovers of caffeine will also appreciate the local roast that the baristas at Pourhouse craft on their handmade Synesso espresso machine.
In the district of Gastown lies a network of underground steam pipes–the same one that powers the whistling of the steam clock–that has been heating the core of the building housing the Steamworks Brewery for over a century. After acquiring the building two decades ago, the brewmaster was curious about the concept of steam-powered brewing, and the experiments that followed resulted in delightfully fresh and flavourful brews. 23 years later, Steamworks is still the only steam-powered brewery in Canada and has been a mecca for beer lovers from both locally and abroad ever since.
Kit and Ace
Kit and Ace is the next best thing to Lululemon, seeing as its founder was the former lead designer of the brand that revolutionised streetwear. The clothes here cater to those who are always on the move, especially for those who are often riding on two wheels. Everyday streetwear has been upgraded with features like water-repellency, moisture-wicking and quick-dry properties. Most importantly, it comes with reflective features that don’t look gaudy and unsightly, which would be essential for cyclists who want to prioritise style.
Six Hundred Four
For sneakerheads, it’s not all about the Louis Vuitton Arclights or the Off-White Nike’s. Over at Six Hundred Four (which is just a hop away from the Gastown Steam Clock), they partner with Vancouver-based artists to turn their paintings and art into limited-edition sneakers. Each painting will be printed onto 604 sneakers in four different designs, which averages it at 151 pairs per design. It’s also not just your everyday low-cut sneaker that’s on sale. There are high-cuts and slip-ons that are made in either canvas or full-leather. If you see a pair of sneakers that you want to cop but they’re not instock, Six Hundred Four does ship worldwide as well, saving you a great deal of a headache.
Sitting at the edge of Gastown is the Fairmont Waterfront, one of the most sustainable hotels in the city. On the third floor terrace is the hotel’s own herb garden and apiary, a mainstay since 1995 that contributes regularly to the dishes at ARC restaurant. There is also a bee nursery with over 250,000 bees that live in their own “pollinator hotel.” If you’re visiting during the colder seasons, you can warm up in the heated pool or whirlpool before breaking out a sweat at the gym that also has rowing machines and stair climbers.
St. Regis Hotel
Not to be confused with the larger luxury hotel chain that bears the same name, the St. Regis Hotel in Vancouver is a boutique hotel that’s a few streets away from Gastown (and right along Pacific Centre for you to do all your shopping). Established in 1913, it just underwent an extensive renovation in 2008 to rebrand itself as a New York-styled boutique hotel. There’s no hidden pretentiousness at the St. Regis. Each morning, you’re treated to a full American breakfast, and included in every room’s rate is Wifi, FIJI water, and passes to a nearby gym.
It’s not a trip to Gastown without a quick visit to the steam clock that sits in the centre of the neighbourhood. As one of the only few still-in-operation steam clocks in the world, this landmark can be spotted easily by either the steam billowing from its top or the hordes of tourists clamouring for a picture. Every quarter hour, the clock “whistles” a little, and every hour it’ll play a melody of toots, so get your camera phones ready for that.
It’s not a trip to Vancouver without seeing its vast mountainous landscape to the north. One of the best vantage points in the city is at the Vancouver Lookout, an observation deck that gives you a panoramic 360° view of the city. Just a note of caution for photographers: no tripods are allowed on the viewing deck!
Best time to visit
The ideal time to visit Gastown would be from July to September, during the wane of summer and right when the leaves start to change into a thousand different hues. Not to worry, as summer Vancouver averages 20℃, the complete opposite of what the season is for us in the tropics.
How to get there
Flying to Vancouver from Singapore would require at least one layover in a major Pacific Rim city (Hong Kong, Tokyo, Taipei). After arriving in Vancouver International Airport, it’s about a 20-minute drive to Gastown, or a 30-minute trip by the Canada Line to Waterfront Station.
(Hero photo: Josiah Neo)