The Bon Vivant

The patio scene isn’t for everyone, including our man about town

Ryan Mitson Illustration

In many ways, I’ve always been hilariously unsuited to Vancouver, despite having lived here for the best part of 20 years. While I enjoy observing nature from the distant vantage point of a high-rise apartment, actually venturing into it makes me anxious and irritated. I look upon the lifestyle cults surrounding yoga, spinning and clamshell salads—ostensibly expressions of joyful living, yet deadly serious—as if they were the Republic of Gilead.

But what situates me permanently at the fringe of the party that is this city (this beautiful, very expensive party) is my habitual response to the arrival of summer. When everyone else rushes hysterically into the streets, as if drawn by the promise of eternal youth and free poké bowls, I draw the blinds and cower until nightfall.

I don’t want to be this person, but I have no choice: I’m a ginger.

For the benefit of those not familiar with the physiological plight of the tangerine-topped: In addition to being literal freaks of nature (we make up less than two per cent of the global population), we’re uncommonly sensitive to sunlight not only because we have the greatest susceptibility to sunburn and skin cancer, but because prolonged exposure (which is to say, roughly three minutes) makes us feel as if we’ve been set on fire.

This presents a unique conundrum with regard to the summertime consumption of adult beverages. Summer drinking, in populist terms, means a patio—which, to my sub-albino brethren and myself, may as well mean an open-air hot plate.

“I like sitting in dark places to drink, and I like working in dark places for drinking.”

Thus, I retreat into the sort of darkened indoor bars most associated with winter, when the local population seeks physical and emotional refuge from weeks-long downpours: Uva Wine & Cocktail Bar; the Cascade Room; the upstairs lounge at Hy’s Steakhouse, which actually feels subterranean, so successfully does it block out any sense of time and place.

“I like sitting in dark places to drink, and I like working in dark places for drinking,” says Sabrine Dhaliwal, bar manager at Uva. (Blond and fair-skinned, her preference is also partly borne of self-preservation.) Her workplace, she points out, is hardly among the most crepuscular in Vancouver—its French windows let in a decent amount of light—but it does seem to attract the sort of clientele who frequented her previous rooms, West and Rosewood Hotel Georgia’s Reflections. She recalls a regular at West telling her that “the dark bar is a dying breed in Vancouver. He would also go to the Gerard Lounge [in the Sutton Place Hotel] when it didn’t have windows. There are very few drinking dens in the city.”

“Dens” is an antique distinction that evokes the era in which these sorts of rooms originated, when imbibing something better than bottled beer or rotgut was a quiet, decorous activity favoured by small groups of people not wearing shorts. The sort of tie-loosening people from nearby office towers that bar manager Taylor Smith serves at Hy’s. “They’re in suits. Being out on a patio isn’t conducive to being in a suit,” he says. “They want a nice, strong drink after a hard day at work, and they want to sit in an air-conditioned room.”

Despite their increasing scarcity, Dhaliwal feels confident that the sort of rooms we favour will persevere. In fact, she says, “I think they’ll come back in vogue. You and I, we’re part of the population and that’s where we want to be. I think it’s very West Coast to say, ‘We have so little sunlight here all winter that we want the patios.’ Don’t get me wrong—the view is beautiful here, but we see it every day.”

—by Michael White

You may also like