Come explore LGBTQ Vancouver and find some of the amazing restaurants, bars, and shopping centers that reside in this beautiful city in Canada.
It’s downright hot and sexy to drive a Lamborghini along the mountain-lined sea-to-sky highway, a cinematically gorgeous, coastal stretch connecting Vancouver, B.C. and the resort town of Whistler. Men and women of all ages do double takes as I whiz by. It’s an experience right out of a James Bond movie.
This drive is part of Scenic Rush (5775 Marine Drive. Tel: 604-926-5777. www.scenicrush.com), which offers drivers and passengers (romantic, platonic, or otherwise) an opportunity to get behind the wheel of four fast-and-furious vehicles to Whistler (7-8 hours/ $1,295 per driver) or the midway point of Squamish (3.5 hours/$495), plus a ride up the year-old Sea-to-Sky Gondola (36800 Hwy 99, Squamish. Tel: 604-892- 2550. www.seatoskygondola.com) for eye-popping views of glaciers, greenery, and the Howe Sound, plus hiking trails, a Sky Pilot suspension bridge, and alfresco dining. By the time we return to our starting point I’ll also try my hand at a Ferrari F430 Spider, Audi R8, and a Porsche 911 Turbo.
In 2015, Canada celebrates ten years of marriage equality, and I’m in BC driving these insane vehicles, among other activities, in search of amazing things to see, eat, and do for couples getting married, on a honeymoon, or simply visiting this beauteous region. Yes, singles too.
It’s my third year in a row visiting Vancouver, whose tourism numbers set new records lately, while its population also booms thanks to extreme livability. To get started with arrangements, Tourism Vancouver (www.tourismvancouver.com) produces an “Out In Vancouver” newsletter and website with plenty of LGBT-specific information, resources, and links. GayVan.com is also LGBT-focused, while free weekly The Georgia Straight (www.straight.com), website Vancity-buzz.com, and foodie-centric Vancouverfoodster.com are well worth a browse for current what’s ons.
The Davie Village gayborhood has seen some changes over the past few years: the addition of rainbow crosswalks across Bute and Davie Streets, while in June 2014 bear bar PumpJack (1167 Davie St. Tel: 604-685-3417. www.pumpjackpub.com) expanded next door to double its size, bringing in even more species (otters, cubs, even twinks) to dance and drink. Meanwhile, 1181 (1181 Davie St. Tel: 604- 787-7130. www.1181.ca) remains a favorite upmarket (and narrow) gay cocktail lounge thanks to tasty libations, slick décor, and shirtless bartenders.
When Vancouver’s 23-year-old The Odyssey nightclub shuttered its doors in 2010, there was much community dismay (you can still read lamentations on Yelp). However, July 2015’s Pride saw the opening of a completely reborn and relocated The Odyssey (686 W. Hastings St. Tel: 604-408- 8802. www.theodyssey.ca) downtown. At 5,000 square feet, The Odyssey 2.0 features the previous incarnation’s go-go boys and a shower to undulate beneath (yay hygiene!), plus several performance spaces. While now removed from Davie Village, it occupies a prime space next to the Four Seasons Hotel (791 W. Georgia St. Tel: 604-689-9333. www.fourseasons.com/vancouver) and Vancouver Art Gallery (750 Hornby St. Tel: 604-662-4700. www.vanartgallery.bc.ca).
Speaking of hotels, two of my personal favorites include the harborfront’s Fairmont Pacific Rim (1038 Canada Place. Tel: 604- 695-5300. www.fairmont.com/pacific-rim-vancouver) and, two blocks away, Fairmont Waterfront (900 Canada Place Way. Tel: 604- 691-1991. www.fairmont.com/waterfront-vancouver). The latter’s bar serves refreshing draft beer made with honey from Fairmont’s rooftop apiaries, and the former employs a fabulous sushi chef, Taka, at its in-house RawBar. If Taka’s on duty, definitely try his omakase!
If you’re more into boutiques, the excel- lent, gay-friendly The Loden (1177 Melville St. Tel: 60-669-5060. www.theloden.com) is just a five minute walk from the harbor, and OPUS Vancouver (322 Davie St. Tel: 604-642-6787. www.vancouver.opushotel.com) is mere steps from Davie Village and Vancouver’s best new craft coffee shop and bakery, Small Victory (1088 Homer St. Tel: 604-899- 8892. www.smallvictory.ca). No Wi-Fi, but the coffee and pastries are on par with Portland or San Francisco’s finest artisanal offerings. Both OPUS and Loden also offer perks like complimentary car service (within a reasonable distance) and the use of bicycles during daylight hours.
One of the world’s most bike-friendly cities, Vancouver is seeing more protected lanes installed (the goal is a network throughout the entire urban center), and a romantic ride along the harbor’s seawall and Stanley Park is a must (do note, you’re required to wear a helmet by law). My bike-rental go-to is Spokes (1798 West Georgia St. Tel: 604-688-5141. www.spokesbicyclerentals.com). It’s a well-oiled machine, guaranteed to always have bikes available (they stock about 700) with handsome staff to set you up even during peak times. For those preferring local knowledge and factoids interspersed with pedaling, gay-friendly Cycle City Tours (www.cyclevancouver.com/tours) offers a five-hour excursion ($55 per person) with stops at major sites including Stanley Park, Granville Island Public Market, and more.
Besides cycling and fitness, a common element that bonds many Vancouverites is food. I’ve rarely encountered a population where, almost consistently, so many locals can not only converse about restaurants with such gusto and knowledge, but have solid taste to boot. “Well, we don’t have a lot to do when it rains besides eat,” one friend half-jokingly explained.
The historic neighborhood of Gastown is a current epicenter for new, exciting dining venues. Named one of Vogue France’s “Top Ten Concept Stores in the World” and a fashionista’s dream, Secret Location (1 Water St. Tel: 604-605-0900. www.secretlocation.ca) is a by-appointment, ultraexclusive shop with stock sourced from up- and-coming designers at London’s, Milan’s, and Paris’ fashion weeks, which also boasts an adjacent, avant-garde molecular restaurant and cocktail lounge, called Tasting Room. In July 2015, Montgomery Lau, formerly of Jean-Georges Market at Shangri-La Hotel, took up residence and launched a brand-new menu of visually and texturally playful creations. Cocktails, by Italian mixologist Sergio, are also delicious and incorporate his own house-made Campari-style liquor and vermouth.