Thursday, February 24, 2011

Free Fred Herzog photography exhibits at the Equinox Gallery

Vancouver in 1959. Photo by Fred Herzog/
Coal Harbour circa 1959 - photo by Fred Herzog

It's hard to believe that's what Coal Harbour looked like in 1959.

It almost looks fake, but it's not. I mean, heck! Did Georgia Street really look like Kingsway back then?

The photo is Fred Herzog's. It's one of the many Herzog photos featured at the Equinox Gallery on South Granville. Herzog's work is featured in two exhibits at the gallery: Reading Pictures and Early Colour Photographs - the latter of which features Vancouver.

Granville Street circa 1959 - photo by Fred Herzog

But the photos capture why I love Fred Herzog. He candidly captured Vancouver's past in colour when the rest of the world was shooting black and white. He brings to life lost eras of Vancouver's past and makes me nostalgic for a time I never knew. There's no such thing as a time machine, but this is the next closest thing.

I figure I'd throw this shout out to the Equinox because it's one of the many private galleries open to the public on South Granville. It's completely free to view the galleries. While the Equinox often features Fred Herzog's photography, these two exhibits end next weekend on March 5th, so if you're looking for something to do this weekend and you're even remotely interested in Vancouver history, put the Equinox Gallery on your agenda.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Love letter to Commercial Drive

Commercial Drive has always been one of my favourite Vancouver neighbourhoods, if not because of its distinct demographic diversity and its vibrant spirit culturally. I mean, it always feels more like Montreal than Vancouver. Being one of the oldest neighbourhoods in Vancouver with several significant waves of immigration will do that, I suppose. But I just like being there.

My love for the Drive started early. I have memories of being a kid and early teen, wandering up and down Commercial with my parents. We used to come here on Sunday afternoons just to meander around without aim. My dad loved dragging us into the Italian grocery stores and delis just to look at the different Italian ingredients. My mom, sister and I would then drag him into Beckwoman's and other "hippy stores" (as we called them). I'd often end up with a silver ring to add to my bohemian jewellery collection. Hey, it was 1994. That was back when Magpie Magazines was a key fixture, back when bocce-playing Italian men outnumbered the hipsters. Oh, who am I kidding.

I remember though, eating a pasta lunch with my family at this Italian restaurant in the early 90's - whatever it was called - in the space that became the WaaZuBee Cafe. I always wondered what restaurant that was, but it was my sister who figured it out last September when we were sitting down at WaaZuBee, and she pointed out an old Italian landscape painted onto the wall that was partially painted over. The painting was a relic from that Italian restaurant. It's not every day you can use the word palimpsest in its right context, but...

I probably only visited the WaaZuBee Cafe a handful of times in my life. First time was in 2000 or so, with a group of friends during the Parade of Lost Souls. I distinctly remember somebody dressed as a tree - head full of (real) branches and all - having a drink at the bar. I think I returned in 2007 to catch up with a long lost friend, but I hadn't returned again until this past September. When I arrived, I was surprised at how miserable the space had become. I remember it being a sort of hip alternative cocktail bar and late night eats joint. This time, it was tired, just begging for a Restaurant Makeover. Worse yet, it was a Friday night and it was dead. It's therefore no surprise that the WaaZuBee Cafe closed its doors soon after.

But another thing about the WaaZuBee Cafe was that their sister restaurant, Subeez, used to be my go-to brunch place and late night food haunt when I lived in Yaletown. And just the other week, I went to Cafe Deux Soleils for the first time. (I know!) And perhaps not coincidentally, but Cafe Deux Soleils reminded me a lot of Subeez. I don't quite know what I thought it would be - perhaps a perpetual reggae joint? Something more akin to the Naam? I'm not sure. But the bad art, the cavernous space, the ad hoc tables, and the electronic music blaring at 8am? It was like being back at Subeez, but on the Drive. So I guess it's timely.

Well these days when I visit the Drive, it's not because I'm there to aimlessly meander, it's because I'm visiting people, seeking an Americano & muffin, dinner ingredients, or brunch.

Favourite brunch is Bandidas Taqueria, up by 12th. You're lucky enough if you get a table on weekends without having to wait for 20 minutes. But the wait is, I think, worth it. The food's all vegetarian, sustainable, and damn tasty. 

That there above was my brunch... the Ronny Russell baked burrito, with roasted yams and onions, fresh guacamole, black beans, green salsa, purple cabbage and pumpkin seeds. That's the first time I had one of their baked burritos, and according to the server, that's the most popular item on their menu. I can understand why.

Usually, however, I'll order something off their actual brunch menu, like the Alan's Breakfast. It's like huevos rancheros in a salad:

In the Americano & muffin department, Prado has sort of won out, if not simply because of their cranberry, sweet ginger, and oatmeal muffins. I used to be sceptical of the place at first, deeming it too pretentious with its contrived minimalism. "Ohhh, let's all hangout in a BLANK CANVAS and look cool."

The reality is, the space works. It works a hell of a lot better than its previous occupant - a questionable Greek restaurant where the windows were steamed up and covered in plants.

The muffins are great at Prado. The Americanos are fine by me, but better yet, it's the people. The people are real, the staff are sweet, and the place works together to function as a community hub. It's just a friendly place to be, as far as coffee shops go. I used to be sceptical, but now I'm a fan. I mean, hey! People actually smile at one another there!

And I guess that's why I like Commercial Drive, why I like being there. It functions as a community hub - as a friendly place - a real, natural community that thrives and continues to thrive there in the face of soaring real estate and low wages and condo tower development. In a city where communities are often planned and fabricated to be marketed to a particular lifestyle, Commercial Drive is real, warts and all, and I like it for that.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Wine Tasting at Marquis Wine Cellars

I just came back from the a wine tasting at Marquis Wine Cellars.

"Marquis Wine Cellars?"

You know, that wine shop on Davie Street at Burrard, next to Celebrities.

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Yup, you know the one.

Well, they threw the invite out on Twitter about a week ago (maybe longer - I only noticed it last week), advertising a blogger event.

"I'm a blogger!" I earnestly thought. So I RSVP'ed, and voila! I'm on the guest list for a social media wine tasting event amongst the city's foodies, sommeliers, bloggers, and Twitter hounds. Wine served by Marquis, cheese served by Benton Brothers Fine Cheeses, and scrumptious morsels of heavenly delight by Louis Gervais Fine Foods and Catering.

What a fine evening! Got to see a lot of familiar Twitter/Blogger faces, in addition to putting some faces to names (and real names to Twitter handles) - ha!

But the best part, of course, was the opportunity to taste an assortment of fine wines from around the world (Australia, Italy, Spain, and France, to name a few), high end artisan cheeses - both local and global, and an assortment of gourmet bite-sized treats (proscutto-wrapped prawns? Hi!) Needless to say, it was my kind of evening!

The event itself was held in Marquis' back room (as opposed to the store front where customers were shopping as we tasted the treats in the back). The room itself was rather small considering the large turnout. As a result, I found it rather hazardous to carry a wine glass and a plate of food in one hand while also snapping photos in another, and, if inclined, taking down notes. The reality was that it was either one or another. I chose, for the most part, to eat and drink.

Strangely, however, I managed to juggle my camera in such a way that I was able to snap a few shots. How they actually turned out the way they did? I don't know. Nevertheless, it'll give you a taste of my lovely Wednesday evening:

An assortment of cheese - all delicious!

Although this Stilton (from the oldest Stilton farm in England) was amazing!

The P'tit Basque was a lovely firm sheep's milk cheese, nutty like Manchego

Everyone loved this Pinos Gris

I was rather taken by this Barossa shiraz known as Spinifex - Bete Noir

And this? This was a scrumptious roast beef & Yorkshire pudding treat
This was my favourite of the night - a Sauvignon Blanc-ish wine of the Loire. Very smoky with distinct mineral flavours.  
Beautiful, huh? Believe it or not, these were beets!

But perhaps my most unexpected discovery was Marquis' curtain. It's covered with adorable Vancouver cliches... with wine!!! (I love this!)

Even the orca spouts wine!

The Benton Brothers are real people! Thank you Andrew and Jonah for the cheese!

And Kevin McKinnon, the manager of Marquis, humoured me throughout the night whenever I requested more wine (and when I took his photo). Thank you!

So cheers to Marquis Wine Cellars, Benton Brothers Fine Cheese, and Louis Gervais Fine Foods and Catering for your generosity and for hosting such a fantastic night for all of us!