Rainier Provisions deli and restaurant opened in Vancouver’s historic Gastown
area on 12 February, a crumbling old hotel building sprang back to life. It’s the
latest in a rash of recent openings in the wider Downtown Eastside, a district
with a Skid Row reputation that was once labelled Canada’s poorest postal code.
While the area’s revitalisation has been underway for several years, new
businesses like Rainier have quickened the pace of change.
in 1907, the old hotel site been home to a barbershop, a billiard room and – in
the 1970s – a nightclub. And while the newly exposed interior brick walls
reflect the building’s age, the blue and white mosaic floor has also been
restored to its original glory.
as disparate as its history, Rainier’s menu aims to satisfy the area’s
economically diverse clientele. Alongside gourmet coffees, artisan cheese,
lip-smacking craft beer, vegan and vegetarian options and a carvery station, all
meals cost 10 Canadian dollars or less. And, once a month, the Rainier will
serve free dinners to the residents living in social housing upstairs.
to owner Sean Heather, balancing the needs of the less affluent with the newer
residents increasingly colonising the area is part of doing business. “You
can’t just complain about the neighbours. You have to serve them as well – they
were usually here first,” he said.
an approach the Limerick-born Vancouverite – who also owns several other
Gastown eateries – developed after opening the nearby Irish Heather pub in 1996
– “long before it was cool to open down here”, he said with a chuckle.
then, neighbourhood revitalisation has gathered pace, especially after a former
department store on Cordova Street was transformed into swanky housing.
Hotspots springing up to serve the new residents include coffee shop Nelson the
Seagull, restaurants Wildebeest and Pidgin, and Save On Meats, an old butcher
shop with a legendary neon sign that now houses a popular diner.
while accusations of gentrification are routinely levelled at the area, Heather
said he sees things differently. “We’re not turning the neighbourhood into
something it wasn’t,” he said. “Hastings Street [the nearby thoroughfare] used
to be Vancouver’s main drag. So long as we don’t displace people who’ve been
living here for 30 or 40 years, we’re returning the area to what it used to
John Lee is the Vancouver Localite for BBC Travel