A great gay destination with the largest gay community in all of Western Canada.
by Dick Dace
As a gay destination spot for a weekend getaway, Vancouver is perfect. It’s a wholly walkable outdoor city with a few hills and acres of green space, including a 13-mile-long boardwalk that wraps around the peninsula and provides picturesque water views and access to amazing beaches. Statistically, it rains more in Vancouver than in London, but that doesn’t stop Vancouverites from getting out and enjoying the city. And it didn’t stop us, either.
My traveling companions (Al, John, Jason, Michael) and I decided to visit Vancouver because (1) we had never been there, and (2) it is known to have the largest gay community in all of Western Canada, with a month-long Pride celebration culminating each August. It even has its own gay enclave, Davie Village, located in the trendy West End. Here, rainbow flags fly from street lights and the bus shelters and trash cans are painted pink.
When we arrived at the very international and gay Opus Hotel, where previous hotel guests have included Cher, Lady Gaga, and REM, we were greeted by handsome front desk manager Benjamin Best. Chatty, with twinkling blue eyes, perfect white teeth, and an aw shucks demeanor, he gave each of us a key to a room that perfectly matched the online profiles we had filled out prior to arrival. Benjamin whispered that he had given me the best room in the house—301, with access to a private terrace.
“I know you will love it,” he added.
And I did.
To get the lay of the land, we decided to take a 10-minute helicopter tour offered by Helijet to see the surrounding mountains, sea, and the amazing downtown skyline. It was the first helicopter flight for Michael, John, and Jason, who were excited and nervous. Buckled in, with headphones and microphones so we could hear and speak with the pilot, up we went—all of us scrambling to capture the breathtaking vistas with our cameras. When Jason turned in his seat to get a shot, his knee hit the door handle and the door opened. Although he managed to catch the door with both hands, he couldn’t secure the latch. With Michael frozen in shock, John and I reached over and together managed to lock the door shut. We all silently mouthed to each other not to say a word to the pilot. To say this was a bonding experience for the four of us is an understatement.
Needless to say, we needed a drink after that adventure, so we decided to try the bar at Wildebeest, a hot new restaurant in the area. There we ran into local gay TV host Sean Horlor who, at that very moment, was waiting to hear if his first feature film, Mill and the Mountain, had found distribution at the market in Cannes. After martinis, he joined us for dinner.
One of the many courses we enjoyed was beef marrow. Horlor showed us a local custom of enjoying the bone marrow with a shot of sherry, called a Bone Luge. One basically picks up the bone and holds it to his lips while a shot of sherry is slowly poured down the bone, creating a stream of deliciousness. John was the first in our group to try it, declaring he enjoyed its “buttery goodness,” as he sheepishly dabbed his lips. Horlor soon had all of us added to the guest list of several local gay clubs.
Walking around earlier that day, I had spied a gentleman getting a shave in the storefront window of Killjoy Barbers Cocktail Tavern. Haunted by all the movie scenes where a man has his throat slit with a straight razor, I remembered thinking I would need a drink before I could let someone shave me. Sure enough, on our way back to the hotel, we discovered that when the barber shop closes, owner and mixologist Jay Jones transforms Killjoy into a gin joint famous for gin-based cocktails made with local Long Table Distillery’s London Dry Gin. Then we swung by Numbers to check out the oldest gay-owned gay nightclub in Vancouver and its recently added $8 million light show.
The next morning we decided to take the rainbow-colored Aquabus ferry to Granville Island Market for breakfast. We were greeted by Liam Cason, an Aquabus pilot since the age of 14. Liam gave us a mini tour as we bobbed along the waters of the harbor for a closeup view of the city. He told us that if we really wanted to experience Granville Island, formerly an industrial complex, taking a culinary tour via Edible Canada was the way to go. Great idea, Liam!
At Edible Canada, we met owner Eric Pateman who arranged a tour for us with Jamie Wilson. Jamie walked us around the labyrinth of local and seasonal goods presided over by butchers, bakers, fishmongers, cheese specialists, chocolatiers, wine makers, and coffee roasters. At Oyamas Sausage we tasted buffalo
sausage, and at the 35-year-old Lee’s
Donuts, owner Betty Ann Lee served us her famous honey-glazed donuts
straight from the fryer—a treat so good, someone had two! Seafood City owner Brian Hamatake provided our best
taste of salmon yet—smoked with black
pepper and brown sugar. Before we could leave Granville Island, we had to try some poutine, the signature dish of
Vancouver. The poutine at Edible
Canada is a rich mixture of shredded duck leg, cheese curds, duck fat frites, two sunny-side-up free-range eggs, and Sea to Sky bacon salt. Just think of it as Canadian nachos with so many delicious calories that we had to burn them off with a bike tour.
Three years ago, Josh Bloomfield started Cycle City Tours to show off his city. He offered us several different tours: The Stanley, a tour of the thousand-acre park of temperate rainforest, old logging trails, and 900-year-old red cedar trees, home to hundreds of birds and mammals, including 14 bald eagles and two beavers who have built an impressive dam. We also saw The Art Wheelers, which showcases the city’s outdoor art, including the Olympic Cauldron at the Vancouver Convention Centre, the Freezing Water sculpture that looks like liquid silver, the photogenic A-maze-ing Laughter by Chinese artist Yue Minjun (created in response to the Tiananmen Square massacre), and the Inukshuk sculpture that was used as the logo for the 2010 Winter Olympics. New in 2013 was the Pride Tour, guided by Matt Oliver. We decided on a combination of the art and pride tours, which ended at the western end of Davie Street at English Beach, just in time for the best sunset in all of Vancouver.
English Beach is also home to one of the best restaurants in the city, Raincity Grill. With 26-year-old Nicolas Hipperson as the executive chef, Raincity Grill has become famous for its 100-Mile Menu, a feast of local produce from farms, waters, and wineries all within 100 miles of Vancouver—making this a true locavore restaurant. The menu included North Arm Farm beetroot salad, Saltspring Island honey mussels, B.C. wild salmon, and Farmhouse cheeses, all paired with local wines. For those in the know, Raincity Grill has a take-out window with only one item on the menu—Beer Battered Halibut Fish ’N’ Chips, perfect for a picnic on English Beach.
As we headed back to our hotel, we met Angus Praught, who has been promoting Vancouver as a gay-friendly destination since 1996. As he walked with us, Angus pointed out several gay clubs, PumpJack Pub (where the waiters and Levi/leather daddies hang out shirtless), and The Junction, which was hosting an awards show for local female impersonators. Over cocktails, Praught regaled us with tales of Vancouver’s gay heritage and invited us to return in August for Vancouver’s Gay Pride Festival and Parade, which draws more than 650,000 spectators from around the world.
Can you say plane reservations?
Dick Dace was the guest of:
• Destination British Columbia, hellobc.com
• Vancouver, Coast & Mountains Tourism Region, vcmbc.com
• Opus Hotel, opushotel.com
Dick Dace “does lunch for a living” as the principal of The Epicurean Publicist.