Talk about a great place to watch the game! The first time I poked my head into Local Public Eatery, I felt as if I had entered the stands of GM Place while the Canucks were playing. The room was packed with fans. Nachos and beer were everywhere. Some quick action on the ice, and the crowd roared. The open layout of the restaurant made it feel as if everyone there was in it together, and the big, flatscreen TVs at every turn gave that 360-degree feeling of actually being at the game. And the noise! The shout-to-be-heard din wasn’t far off from that of a nightclub.
I was on my way somewhere else that night, but the upbeat atmosphere made me return for dinner another day.
Local Public Eatery opened last November in the old Malone’s space across from Kits Beach. All summer, I watched as the heritage building was renovated and thought what a waste it was that the new restaurant was missing Vancouver’s tiny window of warm weather. But now I get it. It’s not just about the patio; this place is as much about hanging out inside as it is about the beachside front yard.
The Joey Restaurant Group owns Local Public Eatery and has set out to make it a neighbourhood watering hole. A black-and-white satellite photo of Kitsilano covers the back wall of the restaurant. On the reverse side of the menu, a map plots out the area’s hot spots, from Kits Beach to False Creek and its “Year-After-2009-Worldwide-Athletic-Competition-With-Flamey-Thing Village”. At the restaurant’s entrance, a wall of clocks fashioned from cross sections of beer kegs greets patrons, showing the time at Kits Beach, Bondi Beach, Waikiki Beach, and South Beach. In case you needed a reminder, it’s always 5 o’clock somewhere.
There’s a correspondingly broad selection of drinks: martinis, tequilas, shooters, and 16 beers on tap (sleeves average $5.50, pitchers $16), with international picks like Sapporo and Brooklyn Brewery Lager present alongside local favourites. Wine comes by the bottle or glass, most intriguingly “the famous $4 glass of wine”, a six-ounce pour of red or white. “We aren’t going to tell you what it is, what the grape is, or where it’s from,” says the menu. “Just keep your expectations high and your wallet full.”
I’m tempted to try it, but in the end I go for a beer, because I’ve never seen any wines that claim to pair well with nachos. That’s what my husband and I have ordered, since this seems to be the place for it and he’s been reminiscing about his younger “nacho connoisseur” days. The menu is straightforward sports-bar fare: burgers, calamari, wings, et cetera. But Joey Restaurant chain executive chef Chris Mills also fancies up some standards, like a club sandwich made with seared ahi tuna.
I order a burger with Salt Spring Island goat cheese and mushrooms ($15), which arrives on a nice brioche bun. It’s reasonably good, and the little bucket of yam fries is nice. I’ve added a side of truffle mayonnaise, which is delish. But I’ll tell you, don’t even think about alternating bites of truffled yam fries with nachos. There’s a reason the French haven’t put the two flavours together.
Hubby’s “fully loaded” nachos ($15) aren’t his ideal, since there’s no salsa or sour cream for dipping. Those are drizzled on top of the tortilla chips already, along with spoonfuls of black refried beans (which I don’t entirely love here), bits of pulled chicken, jack cheese, jalapeños, and more. We both love the guacamole, however ($5 extra), which our server mashes up at the table. Starting with a little bowl of perfectly ripe avocado chunks, a pinch of salt, and a dash of olive oil, she adds finely chopped jalapeños and cilantro to our taste. This customized service makes the guacamole fun, fresh, and delicious.
Speaking of service, ours is topnotch. I hadn’t expected much: female servers at sports bars and chain restaurants have a reputation for pleasing men, not women. But our server is friendly (but not too friendly), cheerfully answers all of our questions, and promptly delivers everything we ask for, including extra napkins and lime wedges. We can’t help but see the irony as we compare this to our experience the night before at the nearby Refuel. Robert Belcham’s celebrated Fuel has been rebranded as a more casual neighbourhood gathering spot, and we had gone expecting good service. But although the food was on another level entirely from that of this place, the slow, indifferent service dampened the whole evening.
Ultimately, Local Public Eatery’s atmosphere will keep people coming back. The room just has a great vibe. It’s stylish and comfortable, open and social. Right now, part of the patio is covered and heated, expanding the restaurant seamlessly. But just wait until summer, when the patio’s fully open. Game on, indeed.