Heading to Vancouver? Add these Downtown Eastside finds to your list

Breakfast at the Acme Cafe

Downtown Vancouver's Eastside is a neighborhood most tourists avoid. Home to run-down and abandoned buildings, transient hotels, panhandlers and addicts, it's not an area that reflects the city's urban beauty in a way that a trip to Stanley Park or Granville Island might. That's why I was happy to make two new discoveries on a walk along West Hastings and Carrall Streets recently, just east of historic Gastown's popular Water Street. 

The Acme Cafe, 51 West Hastings Street, has the cozy feel of an early 1900s diner updated with 21st century riffs on traditional comfort food. It was cold and raining when my husband and I slid into a booth for breakfast. The "Fireball hot chocolate,'' spiked with cinnamon whisky, was tempting, but we stuck with the bottomless cups of $2 coffee and yogurt parfaits  layered with honey, homemade granola and fruit, cinnamon toast on the side.

The Acme, we learned, is housed in a restored 1907 building, part of the historic "Paris Block'' once occupied by Pierre Paris and Sons Shoes in 1919. The Paris family sold logging boots here when the Hastings Street and Gastown were working-class neighborhoods filled with diners, clothing and shoe shops, and markets. The Acme opened in April 2010 in a newly salvaged and restored part of the block, with the goal of creating a spot that might have been there in the area’s heyday.

Formica-topped booths and tables are spacious and comfortable for settling in and spreading out the papers. Lining a glass case near the register are homemade pastries, pies piled high with meringue and rows of colorful Pop Shoppe sodas in thow-back flavors such as black cherry, lime, orange and cream soda. On the menu are mac and cheese, meatloaf, chicken pot pies and a few surprises such as lemon prawns and wild boar sausage & turkey cassoulet. 

I noticed an effort on the part of the employees to be sensitive to neighborhood residents. It's not unusual to see "Restrooms for Customers Only'' signs posted in Vancouver restaurants, but when man wandered into the Acme and asked if he could the men's room, a waitress motioned him to go ahead. It wasn't a busy time, and maybe this isn't normal policy, but it was a kind gesture that said to me the Acme makes an effort to bring a social conscience to neighborhood gentrification.

The Acme is open daily, 8 a.m. -9 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m.- 9 p.m. weekends and holidays. Phone: 1 604-569-1022

Shelley Bolton of East Van Rosters

Around the corner at 319 Carroll, East Van Roasters is a cafe with a cause. Pop in here for a cup of Mayan-spiced drinking chocolate or a honey-caramel brownie and know your purchase goes to help train, employ and provide social services to women recovering from addictions. In a space occupied by a former pub on the ground floor of the Rainier Hotel, a women's supportive housing project run by the Portland Hotel Society, Shelley Bolton, the agency's social enterprise director, leads a team creating organic and ethically-sourced  ‘bean-to-bar’ chocolate and coffee roasted and prepared on site. 

The work is labor-intensive on purpose. Without lots of expensive equipment, doing things by hand is the only way to create fresh, high-end chocolate on a small scale, and it creates jobs. On the day I visited, one woman sat by the roaster winnowing or shelling roasted cacao beans by hand. Others wrapped thin squares of chocolate in foil or hand-rolled truffles in cocoa powder. Chocolate-making happens once a week in a small glassed-in kitchen visible to anyone who walks in to buy a few bars, or relax at one of the wooden cafe tables over an espresso or hot chocolate.  

Hand-rolled truffles at East Van Rosters 

Why chocolate-making as a social enterprise? "It's dignified employment,'' says Bolton. It's something people can feel proud to come in here and do everyday,'' knowing that what they produce sells out every week. High-end chefs and restaurants, including the the Four Seasons Vancouver, are among their customers. "If you give a person dignity and meaningful employment,'' says Bolton, "they will heal themselves.'' 

East Van Roasters is open Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m.- 5 p.m. Phone: 604-629-7562

Vancouver deals

Often the best deals on "travel packages'' are often the ones you put together yourself. Case in point: I booked my recent late-March overnight in Vancouver, B.C. for two, including a room in a  four-star hotel and round-trip transportation on Amtrak from Seattle for under $200, including taxes.

Here's How:

This was a quick business trip for me, but I took my husband along, so we were able to take advantage of a discount code (V530), provided earlier this year on coupons distributed by PCC Natural Markets, to book the two-for-one Amtrak tickets ($80 for two). The offer is good through April 30 on any Amtrak Cascades runs between Vancouver, B.C. and Eugene, Oregon. 

Then I used Priceline.com to bid on a four-star downtown hotel. Checking the website Bidding for Travel, I saw a few people reported snagging rooms for $76 at the downtown Marriott Pinnacle and the Renaissance Vancouver Harbourside. Both are excellent Marriott hotels in the heart of downtown, so I knew I'd be satisfied with either. I put in a first bid of $76 (not sure why $75 wasn't cutting it) and scored a room at the Marriott Pinnacle for a total of $96.15, including taxes and fees. This compared to a rate of $189 (Canadian) or $170 in U.S. dollars, plus taxes, posted on the hotel's website for the same date. 

Remember, the key successful bidding on Priceline is to 1) Pick your star level. 2) Pick the exact area of town where you want to stay- in my case, downtown. 3) Realize that once your bid is accepted, your credit card is charged and payments are nonrefundable.

Our room was on the 17th floor and available for a requested early check-in at noon. Total cost of our trip for two, including transportation and all taxes: $176.15 (Had I wanted to stay longer, I had the option of booking additional nights for the same price).

Was there a catch? Just one - the cost of overnight parking at the Marriott - which we avoided by taking the train, and using public transportation in Vancouver. We used the Sky Train (There's a stop right across the street from the train station) to get to and from downtown and buses to get around. Info on routes, tickets and day passes (convenient if you're doing a lot of touring) is at Trans Link.

One more bonus: The rising value of the U.S. dollar means it's a good time for Americans to visit Vancouver.  One U.S. dollar is worth $1.11 Canadian at current exchange rates.

1 comment:

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