Out of Town - Celebrating the Winter Olympics and WinterPride in Vancouver and Whistler
British Columbia’s star city, Vancouver, and most famous ski town, Whistler, are hosting the Winter Olympics and Paralympics in early 2010, and from a GLBT perspective this is an unprecedented Olympic event. For the first time there will be a GLBT pavilion, called PRIDE House, set up throughout both sets of games, with the main base in Whistler and a satellite branch in Vancouver. Furthermore, the day after the Olympics closing ceremony, Whistler kicks off its 18th Annual WinterPride gay ski week. It’s a very exciting time to experience these two wonderfully progressive and dramatically scenic destinations.
What to See and Do in Vancouver
In Vancouver, one of the world’s most stunning cities, you can kayak in English Bay in the morning before skiing down Grouse Mountain later that afternoon — indeed, few cities offer better access to the great outdoors. The city’s glimmering, postmodern city center anchors a peninsula jutting into the rippling Strait of Georgia, its shoreline sculpted by bays and inlets. From just about anywhere on this peninsula, you’re within walking distance of two beaches, leafy Stanley Park, the ultra-gay Davie Village district, and several similarly diverting neighborhoods. It’s for all these reasons that winter visitors to Vancouver will find plenty to keep them busy.
Vancouver is a highly progressive place — feminists, lesbians and gays play a prominent role in local politics, have helped rejuvenate flagging neighborhoods, and support a compact but potent restaurant and club scene. The West End, which abuts downtown, is the city’s main gay commercial and residential sector. You’ll find most of the gay nightlife and social scene along a roughly eight-block stretch of Davie Street known as Davie Village. Farther north, Davie intersects with another lively strip of cool shops and restaurants, Denman Street. At this intersection, you’re just steps from sparkling English Bay Beach, a fine spot to catch a few rays on a warm afternoon.
Davie Village is a terrific neighborhood for eating and barhopping. Bin 941 exemplifies the growing popularity of tapas restaurants in Vancouver. Try the mussels steamed with habanero chilies, kafir-lime leaf, and cypress-honey lager, and enjoy a local vintage from the fabulous wine list. The campy and affordable Hamburger Mary’s is a fun, late-night bet for burgers, fries and diner fare. Near where Davie meets Denman, you can sample inventive Pacific Northwestern cuisine at the Raincity Grill where dishes like grilled bison strip loin with lentil-and-braised-rib ragout await you. Grab an espresso nearby at gay-popular Delany’s or up the street at Melriches, which is just around the corner from the acclaimed queer book and gift shop, Little Sisters.
Later in the evening, check out Davie Street’s gay bars, the most popular being Celebrities and the Odyssey, which both draw young, stylish crowds. Both spots pull their share of lesbians, but Celebrities is the more diverse of the two. The Odyssey has a festive patio and a great little dance floor. Other fun drinking spots along Davie include Oasis (an attractively decorated piano cabaret and restaurant), Pumpjack (a neighborhood pub with a leather-and-Levi’s vibe), 1181 (an ultra-chichi martini lounge drawing a well-coiffed crowd), Fountainhead Pub (a casual bar with a great patio), Score (the neighborhood gay sports bar), and Numbers (a lovably dive-y cruise bar with three levels).
Just steps from the West End you’ll discover the beautiful, rugged Stanley Park, which occupies a peninsula of more than 1,000 unspoiled acres of lush greenery, forests of cedar and Douglas fir, sandy beaches, and panoramic maritime vistas. From here it’s a short drive to North Vancouver, home to Grouse Mountain ski area. For a great photo-op, stop by the nearby 450-foot-long Capilano Suspension Bridge, which swings gently (for the most part) 230 feet above the river below it.
Back in the city center, you’ll find some of the city’s best upscale shopping along Robson Street, and you can enjoy a more historic aspect of Vancouver by wandering through Gastown, the site of Canada’s transcontinental railroad terminus. Today you can stroll along Gastown’s main cobbled thoroughfare, Water Street, past dozens of somewhat touristy shops and restaurants. A culinary highlight in Gastown, Salt Tasting Room lets guests create their own charcuterie-and-cheese platters, with an emphasis on regional artisan purveyors (as well as fine BC wines). Not far from Gastown, also check out romantic Chambar, which specializes in creative Belgian fare.
Walk a several blocks south, not far from BC Place Stadium (a major venue in the Olympics), and you’ll find Yaletown, where Vancouver’s fine-arts-and-fashion elite has converted dozens of early 20th-century warehouses into chic restaurants, galleries, and shops (including the stellar gourmet food market, Urban Fare, an excellent place to pick up picnic supplies). Yaletown is also where you can catch a water taxi to Granville Island, a former shipping and processing center for the city’s logging industry that’s been converted to a mammoth public market and many galleries and artists’ studios.
Yaletown abounds with sophisticated restaurants and memorable people watching. There’s Blue Water Cafe, whose specialties include a sampler of four ceviches with salmon, halibut, tuna, and scallops, and a wonderful entree of local sablefish caramelized with soy and sake. A block away, slick Glowbal Grill & Satay Bar turns out delicious food, including tequila lamb satay with lime-mint glaze. This is the flagship of the white-hot Glowbal restaurant group, which includes the acclaimed Yaletown newcomer Society, with its cheeky take on mod comfort food. Don’t miss the very grown-up milkshakes (like one with Nutella, frangelico, and baileys), or the rich lobster gnocchi with a parmesan crust.
A downtown Glowbal eatery that’s de rigueur for fans of seafood, the swanky Coast Restaurant is one of Vancouver’s definitive see-and-be-seen hangouts. From incomparable Dungeness crab cakes to smoked salmon flatbread with dill-crème fraiche and capers. Inside the gay-friendly, discreetly upscale Metropolitan Hotel, you can savor first-rate Pacific Northwest cuisine, including local bay scallops with porcini risotto, and Pemberton Valley beef strip-loin and short ribs with lump crabmeat and bordelaise sauce. With its grand, old-world setting and beautifully interpreted classic Continental cuisine, Bacchus is a lovely place to share a glass of wine by a roaring fire, or feast on Dover sole or slow-braised veal cheeks.
It’s a 15-minute drive east of the city center to Commercial Drive, a neighborhood that’s been reborn in the past decade as the city’s lesbian hub. Here you’ll find several woman-owned shops, including Womyn’s Ware, the definite source for women’s sex toys, lube, and fetish wear. Most afternoons and evenings, you’ll see cute dykes passing time at the neighborhood’s several shabby-chic coffeehouses. This is also a great area for affordable, healthful cuisine. Excellent options include globally inspired Stella’s Tap & Tapas Bar and Havana, a great source for delicious Latin-infused fare.
What to See and Do in Whistler
The town of Whistler is home to one of the world’s largest ski areas, the twin mountains (connected by a dramatic aerial tram) of Blackcomb and Whistler. During the Olympics, only about 5 percent of resort’s ski runs will be in use for competitions, meaning this is an excellent time to ski the rest of the mountain. Between the Olympics and Paralympics, from March 1 to March 8, thousands of participants will attend the town’s fantastic WinterPride, which has as many activities for nonskiers as for skiing and snowboarding enthusiasts. There’s cooking classes, zip-lining tours, parties and events at the LGBT PRIDE House Pavilion.
You’ll find several superb restaurants in this upscale resort, where most of the dining, shopping, and lodging is set around an attractive central village. Don’t miss the exceptional, creative cuisine served at Bearfoot Bistro, one of the town’s top eateries — there’s also a chic champagne bar. Try Bearfoot’s nightly five-course tasting menu — favorites here include venison loin with sunchoke-vanilla puree, and local lingcod with crispy squid “frites.” Other romantic, gay-friendly dining options of note include the elegant Wine Room at the classic Fairmont Chateau Whistler resort, and the farm-to-table-inspired cuisine of Araxi.
Tandoori is a regular supporter of WinterPride and always a reliable bet for artful Indian cuisine. Head to Monk’s Grill, at the foot of Blackcomb Mountain, for apres-ski fun or, later in the evening, some of the finest steaks in town - this is one of the more gay-popular hangouts in Whistler, as is down-home Dusty’s Bar and BBQ in the resort’s Creekside village. For nightly revelry, a super-friendly staff, and some of the hottest people watching in Whistler, drop by Garibaldi Life Co. (GLC), with its huge fireplaces and expansive patios facing the mountain. The GLC is just steps from the Whistler Village Gondola. After a day tackling the resort’s internationally acclaimed ski runs, this is the perfect place to finish the day.
The Little Black Book
Bin 941 www.bin941.com
Blue Water Cafe www.bluewatercafe.net
Glowbal Grill & Satay Bar www.glowbalgrill.com
Fountainhead Pub www.thefountainheadpub.com
Hamburger Mary’s www.hamburgermarys.ca
Little Sister’s www.littlesistersbookstore.com
The Odyssey www.theodysseynightclub.com
Raincity Grill www.raincitygrill.com
Salt Tasting Room www.salttastingroom.com
Stella’s Tap & Tapas Bar www.stellasbeer.com
Tourism Vancouver www.tourismvancouver.com
Urban Fare www.urbanfare.com
Womyn’s Ware www.womynsware.com).
Bearfoot Bistro www.bearfootbistro.com
Dusty’s Bar & BBQ www.whistlerblackcomb.com
Garibaldi Lift Co. www.whistlerblackcomb.com
Monk’s Grill www.monksgrill.com
Tourism Whistler www.whistler.com
Whistler WinterPride www.gaywhistler.com
The Wine Room www.fairmont.com/whistler
Andrew Collins covers gay travel for the New York Times-owned website About.com and is the author of Fodor’s Gay Guide to the USA. He can be reached at OutofTown@qsyndicate.com.