Monday, April 26, 2010

R.I.P. Sophia Books & Elfsar Comics

It was the Granville Book Co. a few years ago.

Then it was Duthies.

Now it's Sophia Books.

Sophia Books goddammit!

The news spread around Twitter earlier this morning that beloved independent bookstore Sophia Books was finally closing its doors due to Vancouver's obnoxious rent rates. The Georgia Straight's now reporting that the owners are shutting down their retail business but will still pursue mail orders. However, Vancouver's losing a gem of a literary retail space, especially since it catered to a unique niche of foreign language books, import magazines, and art books.

Man, what a heartbreaker!

One of my favourite activities was to head down to Gastown and escape into their shop to just browse without any sense of purpose. Whether it was attempting to tackle Proust en fran├žais (and fail miserably), or simply peek at what Italian Vogue considered relevant, or heck - I lie. You'd often find me seeking cutesy Japanese "how to make felt animals" books or skimming through the graphic novels. And I'd often come back with a bag full of goodies. I really, honestly, thought they'd be able to stay afloat due to their unique market, but even that doesn't seem to do it anymore.

Book stores like Sophia added to downtown Vancouver's "spice" - its eccentricity. Shops like Sophia make downtown Vancouver interesting. However, every year we see more and more of these independent businesses close their door for another generic gentrified chain business to open in its place. If it sounds like I'm bitter, it's because I partially am. It's with sincere sadness to see it closing its doors. Apparently as of this very second they're having a 40% off *everything* sale.


Oh, and get this. As I'm composing this little post, news is spreading on Twitter that Yaletown-based Elfsar Comics is closing. Is this some sort of cruel theme for the week? What next? No, I don't even want to joke about it. Sheesh! But seriously, what do you think's going to open up in that space? A yoga studio, doggy boutique, or a hair salon?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

My new favourite coffee shop

I've long neglected the Agro Cafe on Davie and Hamilton out of pure ignorance. It's only been a recent discovery of mine, but a place I've been going back to time and time again since March.

Agro Cafe, Yaletown
While sipping on my Americano one groggy Saturday afternoon, I called it my oasis - a retreat from Yaletown. If there's any one coffee shop that sort of defies the Yaletown vibe, this is it.

For more details, check out the little review I wrote on Yelp, here. Biggest irony? I completely blank out on the coffee. Regardless, it's good stuff.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Cherry blossom rain

We've been so fortunate that our cherry blossom season started in mid-February (during the Olympics) and has continued full on until April. However it seems like the last few days have given us cherry blossom rain. Park your car for a few hours and when you come back, it looks as through somebody has thrown a wedding.

And no, that's not my car. ;)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

8:30 sunset

Always a sign that summer's around the corner...

Monday, April 12, 2010

McDonald Beach

I have this long lost memory of being a little girl and my parents driving me out to McDonald Beach to have a picnic. The last time I visited McDonald Beach, it was probably in the early 80's. The memory's fuzzy. It was a community picnic or an Easter egg hunt, I think. I must have been no older than four.

Skip ahead 26 years.

After a particularly eventful weekend, Sunday was our chance to chill, relax, and recover. We found ourselves going out for a leisurely drive, meandering through the East Van side streets, admiring the cherry blossoms and the houses and the views of the North Shore mountains. Super chill.

I was seeking inspiration for an outing, taking W 16th to Fraser, then down Fraser to 33rd, then up along Kingsway, then down Victoria, and eventually back west along W 49th. Queen Elizabeth Park? Trout Lake? Punjabi Market? It was after 6pm. Josh suggested we end at Jericho to catch the sunset. At that point we were closer to Kerrisdale. I had another idea. I decided to drive to the airport instead.

McDonald Beach (labeled "Woods Island Park" on Google Maps) is a Richmond city park tucked away in the north-west corner of Sea Island, just north of the Vancouver Airport at the end of McDonald Road.

View Larger Map

A tad off the beaten path would be an understatement, although it's easy to get to with a car. It's part boat launch, part off-leash dog park, part sandy beach, and part estuary forest. It sits hidden from civilization on the north arm of the Fraser River, across from Vancouver's Fraser River Park. Prior to colonization, it was the heart of the largest Musqueam Nation village.

Most Vancouverites don't even know McDonald Beach exists, or that a significant chunk of Sea Island was once known as Eburne, and sustained a proper community until the development of the Vancouver Airport drove them into exile.

After finding the correct road (drive towards YVR, exit on Templeton Street, and hook up to Ferguson Road which takes you to McDonald), we soon arrived at McDonald Beach, and it was really like going back in time to Richmond of my little girl memories: the smell of the Fraser and the cottonwoods. The sounds of the boats and birds. Dogs running through the fields. The smoky smell of the air and the earthy smell of the sand. Rogue logs and yellow Scotch broom. Airplanes taking off and distant views of the Lions.

We strolled up and down along the river, enjoying the tranquility and the rediscovery of this seemingly hidden park which, despite being seconds away from the airport, seemed to be far away from Vancouver as we knew it.

Next stop? Iona Park. To be continued.

Monday, April 5, 2010

A taste of Salt


What could be simpler?

Why hadn't I been sooner?

Strangely, despite my years of making an exclusive diet out of Oyama sausage, French cheese, and red wine, it was my first time to Salt Tasting Room last Wednesday evening.


I swear.

Despite Salt being a pioneer on the Vancouver culinary scene (the first, from my recollection, for making charcuterie the only item on the menu), I never once made it there. It was always on my list of things to do, but I always somehow ended up everywhere else.

So about 5 or 6 years late, here I am. Or shall I say, there I was. We arrived in Gastown on the corner of Abbott and Trounce Alley, and walked along the infamous "Blood Alley" (named after the former slaughterhouses of the 19th century) amidst the garbage bins and rats. For a Gastown alley, this one's well lit and well maintained.

Salt was easy to spot - a beacon of friendly warm light inviting us in from the darkness.

The secret to Salt is that you don't go for dinner - you go for lounging. You for snacking on a selection of tasty tidbits like corned beef, cornichons, Basque olives, brie, Similkameen honeycomb, manchego, sweet date & walnut bread, fennel salami, and spicy wild boar. Ideally you sit at a long table with your friends over delicious bottles of Pinot Noir. And don't go on a completely empty stomach  - or if you do, do so at your own risk! ;)