The founders of Vancouver’s beloved and departed ‘nerd bar’ are behind an exciting new venture
Does your cat, dog, or parakeet need a little help from the great beyond? Or do you just need a fun new spot to grab a drink?
What looks like a pet psychic business in Gastown at 238 Abbott St is actually the clever cover for an upcoming new cocktail bar and restaurant from the creative minds that brought Vancouver its beloved—and departed—Storm Crow bars.
Arcana Spirit Lounge is designed with spirits in mind—both the liquid and the ghostly ones. Jessica Langer, the Chief Marketing Officer, tells V.I.A. in a phone interview that the concept has been in the works for about two years. In fact, the initial idea was to create a venue inspired by H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulu.
Ultimately, however, the plan evolved into a drinks destination based on “vintage spiritualism,” factoring in elements from a century ago that touch on the occult, seances, tarot, and the like.
Arcana is a participating venue for Vancouver Cocktail Week 2024
Gastown Cocktail Crawl
Presented by Flor de Caña Rum
Meeting point: L’Abattoir (217 Carrall Street)
Sunday, March 3 • 4-8 pm
With stops at: Pourhouse, Arcana Spirit Lounge and Clough Club
Follow the sweetly spiced flavours of Flor de Caña rum through the historic streets of Gastown. Kick off the evening at renowned L’Abattoir, where you will indulge in a signature cocktail paired with bites from one of Vancouver’s most revered kitchens. Continue the journey at Pourhouse, and enjoy another craft cocktail amid the venue’s retro charm. Vancouver’s newest speakeasy, Arcana Spirit Lounge, awaits as the third stop, offering a mystical ambience and connection with the spirits world. Conclude the night at the classic Clough Club with a final cocktail and snacks.
Arcana is wrapping up construction on Abbott Street in Gastown in the space that was previously The Hart, and, before that, The Revel Room
A speakeasy without a secret password
While Arcana is set up as a speakeasy, Langer explains that there is no secret password to get into the cocktail bar. “We wanted to do a speakeasy because they are a lot of fun,” she says, adding that they’re skipping a code word because they “want people to feel like they’re insiders” without that extra barrier of having to get the access info right.
Timing has been central to bringing Arcana to Vancouver. The Storm Crow crew, which continues to operate two Toronto ventures under its “alliance,” have had their eyes out for an ideal location. When the Gastown space that had previously been The Hart and The Revel Room became available, work on Arcana began in earnest.
“Gastown is a pretty cool, diverse neighbourhood,” says Langer, acknowledging its proximity to downtown and the area’s foot traffic – soon to be enhanced when a pedestrian-only zone is established next summer through a City of Vancouver pilot program.
“The city is spending a lot of time and resources on Gastown, and we wanted to be a part of that,” adds Langer. “We want to create some vitality, and bring more interest and fun into the area.”
Fortune tellers, tarot card readers, and the occasional seance
Fun is on the menu for certain at Arcana, which will have – not surprisingly – an immersive decor and even special features like in-person tarot card readings and the occasional seance. Arcana will also have an old-school Zoltar fortune-telling machine—just like the one that led to some time travel hijinks in the 80s comedy hit Big. The space, promises Langer, will have “some really cool, fun surprises and hidden stuff,” for guests to discover. “Not everything is going to be what it seems!”
The food and drink program promises some fun components. Head Chef Larcy Nugent is behind a menu of upscale comfort food with a French and Eastern European influence. To that end, expect dishes like a Croque Monsieur playfully dubbed on-theme as the “Croque Sorcier,” chili-lime prawns, and steak tartare, along with house-made kettle chips and dips, and several vegetarian and vegan options. Though the kitchen is not going to be gluten-free, there will be some gluten-friendly options for those with dietary intolerances.
Cocktails and mocktails inspired by the occult
Arcana’s head bartender hasn’t had to shift far geographically from his last post: Chad Rivard comes to the new project by way of The Diamond, which recently ended its storied run in the neighbourhood. Rivard’s involvement is a boon for Arcana, since this allows them to have “a bit of Gastown continuity and keep the community together,” as Langer puts it.
Rivard’s drinks menu will have cocktails named for tarot cards and designed to “capture the vibe” of their respective namesakes. One drink, called The Psychic Hotline, comes with a card with a number to contact for your own psychic reading.
Additionally, low- and zero-proof cocktails will have a lot of real estate on the Arcana bar menu, with an aim to appeal to those who enjoy a night out without the booze.
While Arcana is clearly positioned as a cocktail-forward hangout, the licence is food primary, which means that earlier in the evening, guests can certainly bring minors (accompanied by adults). The flexibility means Arcana could easily be a go-to for a family celebration, for example.
‘We’re hoping that Arcana is our triumphant return to the Vancouver scene’
Having a space that is accessible and immersive is crucial for the Storm Crow folks. PopCap co-founder and Storm Crow owner Jason Kapalka – the “creative engine behind the whole thing” says Langer – along with all of the management, are keen to bring something fresh and new to Vancouver.
Both of Storm Crow’s previous Vancouver ventures succumbed to economic pressures born of the times. The Storm Crow Tavern on Commercial Drive folded in April 2020, among the first venues in Vancouver to shutter as the pandemic paused life—and business—as we knew it. Its sibling, the Storm Crow Alehouse “nerd bar” on Broadway west of Granville Street, closed permanently in January 2022, in the aftermath of the pandemic’s early years and the Broadway Subway construction.
“We’ve been looking to re-establish – and maintain – a presence in Vancouver,” says Langer. “We love the city. It’s been really sad for us not to have a place here. We’re hoping that Arcana is our triumphant return to the Vancouver scene.”
Arcana Spirit Lounge is expected to open by early December. To receive notification to make reservations next month, guests are asked to sign up for Arcana’s online mailing list; those subscribers will be the first to be invited to book. A grand opening is expected to take place in January 2024. Follow @arcanaspiritlounge on Instagram for more information and updates.
—This story by Lindsay William-Ross originally appeared on Vancouver is Awesome