Out of Town
Vancouver, British Columbia
Andrew Collins | October 02, 2006
In Vancouver, one of the world's most stunning cities, you can kayak in English Bay in the morning before skiing down Grouse Mountain later that afternoon – indeed, few cities offer better access to the great outdoors. The city's glimmering, postmodern city center anchors a peninsula jutting into the rippling Strait of Georgia, its shoreline sculpted by bays and inlets. From just about anywhere on this peninsula, you're within walking distance of two beaches, leafy Stanley Park, the ultra-gay Davie Village district, and several similarly diverting neighborhoods. It's for all these reasons that Vancouver – which is also in a country that has legalized same-sex marriage – has emerged as one of the most wonderful gay destinations in the world.
One of the most beautiful cities in North America, Vancouver is a progressive, dynamic, and gay-popular vacation destination - Photo: John Sinal, courtesy of Tourism Vancouver
The Little Black Book
Bin 941 Tapas Parlour (941 Davie St., 604-683-1246)
Cafe Luxy (1235 Davie St., 604-669-5899)
Celebrities (1022 Davie St., 604-681-6180)
Delany's (1105 Denman St., 604-662-3344)
1181 (1181 Davie St., 604-687-3991)
Fahrenheit Hotel (1212 Granville St., 604-685-2615 or 888-685-2615)
Glowbal Grill & Satay Bar (1079 Mainland St., 604-602-0835)
Inn at False Creek (1335 Howe St., 800-663-8474)
Fountainhead Pub (1025 Davie St., 604-687-2222)
F212 Steam (1048 Davie St., 604-689-9719)
Hamburger Mary's (1202 Davie St., 604-687-1293)
Havana (1212 Commercial Dr., 604-253-9119)
Little Sister's Book and Art Emporium (1238 Davie St., 604-669-1753)
Melriches (1244 Davie St., 604-669-1753)
M2M Playspace (1210 Granville St., 604-684-6011)
Nelson House (977 Broughton St., 604-684-9793 or 866-684-9783)
Numbers (1042 Davie St., 604-685-4077)
O'Canada House (1114 Barclay St., 604-688-0555 or 877-688-1114)
Oasis (1240 Thurlow St., 604-685-1724)
The Odyssey (1251 Howe St., 604-689-5256)
Raincity Grill (1193 Denman St., 685-7337)
Opus Hotel (322 Davie St., 604-642-6787 or 866-642-6787)
Sandman Suites (1160 Davie St., 604-681-7263 or 800-726-3636)
Stella's Tap & Tapas Bar (1191 Commercial Dr., 604-254-2437)
Pumpjack (1167 Davie St., 604-685-3417)
Tourism Vancouver Tourist InfoCentre (604-683-2000)
Urban Fare (177 Davie St., 604-975-7550)
West End Guest House (1362 Haro St., 604-681-2889 or 888-546-3327)
Womyn's Ware (896 Commercial Dr., 604-254-2543)
For Americans, visiting Vancouver is quite easy. The city is just a three-hour drive north of Seattle, and it also has direct flights from numerous U.S. cities. Just keep in mind that in a couple of years, you will be required to show a valid passport when crossing the border (right now, technically, you can get by with a driver's license, but if you don't have a passport, you're likely to be pulled aside and questioned thoroughly). Also keep in mind that the U.S. dollar has become increasingly weak against the Canadian dollar in recent years (US$1 equaled CAN$1.11 as of mid-September 2006), so traveling to Vancouver isn't quite the bargain it was a couple of years ago. Still, overall, it's less expensive than New York, San Francisco, London, and many other places of comparable popularity.
Vancouver is a highly progressive place – feminists, lesbians, and gays play a prominent role in local politics, have helped rejuvenate several flagging neighborhoods, and support a compact but potent restaurant and club scene. The West End, which abuts Downtown and was a prostitution-ridden eyesore in the 1980s, is the city's main gay commercial and residential sector. You'll find most of the gay nightlife and social scene along a roughly eight-block stretch of Davie Street known as Davie Village. Farther north, Davie intersects with another lively strip of cool shops and restaurants, Denman Street. At this intersection, you're just steps from sparkling English Bay Beach, a fine spot to catch a few rays on a warm afternoon.
Davie Village is a terrific neighborhood for eating and bar-hopping. Bin 941 exemplifies the growing popularity of tapas-style restaurants in Vancouver. Try the mussels steamed with habanero chiles, kafir-lime leaf, and cypress-honey lager, and enjoy a local vintage from the fabulous wine list. The campy and affordable Cafe Luxy serves humongous portions of pasta, and nearby Hamburger Mary's is a fun, late-night bet for burgers, fries, and diner fare. Near where Davie meets Denman, you can sample inventive Pacific Northwestern cuisine at the Raincity Grill, where dishes like grilled bison strip loin with lentil-and-braised-rib ragout await you. Grab an espresso nearby at gay-popular Delany's or up the street at Melriches, which is just around the corner from the acclaimed queer book and gift shop, Little Sisters.
Later in the evening, check out Davie Street's gay bars, the most popular being Celebrities and the Odyssey, which both draw young, stylish crowds. Both spots pull their share of lesbians, but Celebrities is the more diverse of the two. The Odyssey has a festive patio and a great little dance floor. Other fun drinking spots along Davie include Oasis (an attractively decorated piano cabaret and restaurant), Pumpjack (a neighborhood pub with a leather-and-Levi's vibe), 1181 (an ultra-chichi martini lounge drawing a well-coiffed crowd), Fountainhead Pub (a fun sports bar with a great patio), and Numbers (a lovably dive-y cruise bar with three levels). If you're looking for action, drop by one of the city's popular bathhouses, F212 Steam or M2M Playspace. The latter is part of the saucy (but quite affordable) Fahrenheit Hotel, a men's sex-plex with private rooms and a steamy vibe (there are rooms on one floor that are geared more toward guests who want to keep their clothes on and get a good night's sleep).
There are several gay-friendly bed-and-breakfasts and hotels in the neighborhood, the upscale West End Guest House being among the best, with its beautifully decorated Edwardian rooms. Another luxurious B&B that's highly appealing is O'Canada House, whose rooms have spacious tile baths and TVs with VCRs. A bit less pricey but still with ample charm, handsome furnishings, friendly hosts, and a great location near Davie Village, Nelson House has six inviting guest rooms. You'll find 195 spacious, contemporary suites with full kitchens and moderate rates at the Sandman Suites, a popular full-service hotel right in the heart of Davie Village – amenities include the popular Moxie's Grill restaurant, a spa, and a fitness center. If you're on a budget, the Inn at False Creek Quality Hotel is a reputable and affordable chain option on the edge of Davie Village.
Just steps from the West End you'll discover the beautiful, rugged Stanley Park, which occupies a peninsula of more than 1,000 unspoiled acres of lush greenery, forests of cedar and Douglas fir, sandy beaches, and panoramic maritime vistas. From here it's a short drive to North Vancouver, home to Grouse Mountain ski area. For a great photo-op, stop by the nearby 450-foot-long Capilano Suspension Bridge, which swings gently (for the most part) 230 feet above the river below it.
Back in the city center, you'll find some of the city's best upscale shopping along Robson Street, and you can enjoy a more historic aspect of Vancouver by wandering through Gastown, the site of Canada's transcontinental railroad terminus. The neighborhood boomed throughout the late 1800s, foundered by the middle of this century, and became a model for urban restoration in the '60s and '70s. Today you can stroll along Gastown's main cobbled thoroughfare, Water Street, past dozens of somewhat touristy shops and restaurants.
Just a few blocks from Davie Village you'll find Yaletown, where Vancouver's fine-arts-and-fashion elite have converted dozens of early 20th-century warehouses into chic restaurants, galleries, and shops (including the stellar gourmet food market, Urban Fare, an excellent place to pick up picnic supplies). This hip district is also home to the city's coolest hotel, the Opus, which also happens to be one of North America's most gay-friendly addresses. This swank yet unpretentious property with 96 rooms and suites is a favorite haunt of visiting celebrities, who appreciate the super-efficient staff, boldly designed rooms, and cool lobby lounge. Don't miss the hotel's sensibly chic restaurant, Elixir, a postmodern vision of a Parisian bistro noted for its brunches (try the duck hash with poached eggs and sourdough bread) and superb contemporary cuisine, including a knockout pan-roasted halibut with wild mushrooms and truffle-marjoram sauce.
Another cool Yaletown address for sophisticated chow and memorable people-watching is Blue Water Cafe, whose specialties include a sampler of four ceviches with salmon, halibut, tuna, and scallops, and a wonderful entree of local sablefish caramelized with soy and sake. A block away, slick Glowbal Grill & Satay Bar can be forgiven for its slightly pretentious and gimmicky ambience, because this plays turns out delicious food, including tequila lamb satay with lime-mint glaze, and spaghetti with truffles and Kobe meatballs. From Yaletown, you can catch a water taxi to Granville Island, once the shipping and processing center for the city's logging industry, and now yet another successful urban renovation with a mammoth public market and many galleries and artists' studios.
It's a 15-minute drive east of the city center to Commercial Drive, a neighborhood that's been reborn in the past decade as the city's lesbian hub. Here you'll find several woman-owned shops, including Womyn's Ware, the definite source for women's sex toys, lube, and fetish wear. Most afternoons and evenings, you'll see cute dykes passing time at the neighborhood's several shabby-chic coffeehouses. This is also a great area for affordable, healthful cuisine. Excellent options include globally inspired Stella's Tap & Tapas Bar and Havana, a great source for delicious Latin-infused fare.
Finally, if you're looking for some outside fun on a sunny day, make the 20-minute drive to West Vancouver to Wreck Beach, which is right by the campus of the University of British Columbia. Not especially sandy or accessible (you must hike down a steep 100-foot trail), it's the city's only more-or-less sanctioned nude beach (at least the illegality of letting it all hang out is overlooked by authorities). The south end of Wreck Beach (to get there follow the signs for trail number 6) is predominantly gay, and depending on your vantage point, the views from this secluded swath of sand can be amazing, whether you're admiring nature – or naturists.
Andrew Collins is the author of 10 travel guides, including Fodor's Gay Guide to the USA.