I’ve always loved Gastown, even when it was seedy – maybe especially when it was seedy. My friends and I used to come downtown from Langley and sit for hours in the Talking Stick Cafe (now Cork &Fin) or La Luna (now Smart Mouth) with our sketchbooks and finish off the night at the Irish Heather (now l’Abattoir). Ah, we were always at the Heather, except when we were at the Cambie. In more recent years I have dearly loved and frequented all the cocktail bars that go so perfectly with brick and cobblestone and ghost writing and secret spaces and history in this town. Now we live here and we got married across the street because we love it so much. Of course I write about it often.
But while it has changing and growing, I’ve realized that I am really starting to like it as a community. The fact that people live here is probably missed by most of the photographers in front of the Gassy Jack statue and that’s okay – I love hearing all the different languages in the street while I’m walking my dog and I even love catching snippets from the tour buses going by under our window in the summer. I could not give a Vancouver recommendation to a tourist that didn’t involve a stop in Gastown, but I also love the locals and the pace of the neighbourhood.
Since we got Riley we’ve spent a lot more time hanging out in alleys. I’d already seen all the gritty things that New York writers put in their books to be shocking, but now I know the names of some of the people and I leave jackets and toques out on days it isn’t raining.
Recently I thought I should do more and I wanted to spend a night working in a soup kitchen so I signed up for the Union Gospel Mission’s volunteer information session. On my walk to the meeting in the DTES I passed several people who offered me drugs, and then a flurry of ERT lights in front of a meth lab that had blown. At one point I yawned, nothing remarkable here. From a nearby bus stop a woman standing in the pouring rain yelled, “hey that’s contagious!” I looked around for the onslaught of germs and it took me a moment to realize that she meant my yawn but when I found her face in the night she gave me the warmest smile I’d seen all day.
Unfortunately the UGM turned out to be entirely too religious for my taste so I’m looking around for some new opportunities (work and otherwise) but more and more I’ve been sticking close to home.
Gastown was built on a bar so it’s only fitting that so many of the best ones are here and we’re not in them as often as we used to be but still love l’Abattoir, Wildebeest, Alibi Room, Pourhouse, Clough Club, Boneta, the Diamond, Bambuddha and Cuchillo. The Irish Heather is still here, thank goodness, it’s across the street now. We even have a David’s Tea and our own East Van Roasters coffee roaster now while we still frequent Milano and Revolver for coffee. I am in Opus way too often for art supplies and then in Salmagundi West and MacLeod’s Books for wandering and art inspiration. My One Yoga studio is only a block away, as is Gastown Tattoo and have a dog park with a beautiful beach just on the other side of the tracks.
The Ballard neighbourhood is on the top of our list for when we move to Seattle and in many ways it reminds me of Gastown but I’m sure going to miss this when we’re gone.