Vancouver has a reputation for being a difficult place to make friends. A 2014 Mayor’s Engaged City Task Force report acknowledges this, noting that “our neighbourhood connections are cordial but weak.” Interestingly, one of its recommendations is to use food to bring people together.
While it’s true that Vancouverites can sometimes be standoffish, there are plenty of opportunities to socialize over food and drink—and here’s where to find them.
Communal tables, such as the ones at Mamie Taylor’s (251 East Georgia Street), help to break the ice. Over the phone, co-owner Simon Kaulback explains that he and his partners deliberately installed them to get guests interacting. “People sit awkwardly next to one another at first, but eventually they start to make friends and engage with the people next to them,” he says. He adds that those who visit the restaurant return a little more prepared to be social the next time. Sometimes he’ll act as a go-between, introducing people to one another for those too shy to do so themselves.
The Union (219 Union Street) is another restaurant with communal tables that get people chatting with strangers. The restaurant previously hosted popular Be My Amigo mixers (events geared to making new pals), which gave it a reputation for being a social spot. As a matter of course, says GM Isabelle Grue Lee during a phone chat, staff will try to seat people close together and will try to start conversations between groups to break the ice. Other places in the city with communal tables include the Alibi Room, Heirloom Vegetarian, the Refinery, the Oakwood Canadian Bistro, Wildebeest, and YEW Seafood + Bar.
Yaletown’s West Oak (1035 Mainland Street) is another restaurant that maintains a social atmosphere. That’s partly due to its Champagne lounge, Pierre’s, in the back, and the restaurant’s Friday and Saturday shuttle service to its sister nightclub, twelvewest (1219 Granville Street). Over the phone, general manager Michael Gayman says strangers often meet at the restaurant and then hang out at the lounge or the club later on.
A shared interest in music or games also helps to connect people. The basement of Calabash (428 Carrall Street) features DJs and reggae, and hip-hop artists get people dancing and mingling. The Storm Crow Tavern (1305 Commercial Drive) offers a selection of board games, such as Cards Against Humanity and Mastermind, as another interactive, fun way to bond with potential new friends.
Quiz nights are another great way to bring people together. Darby’s Public House (2001 Macdonald Street) hosts its on Thursdays from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m., with prizes like pitchers of beer for the winning teams. And if you don’t have a team, don’t worry. “There are people that come as singles, and join smaller teams, and get to know people that way,” explains general manager Brendan Bonfield during a phone interview. Weekly quiz nights also happen at the Cove Neighbourhood Pub in Kitsilano (Mondays) and the Lamplighter Public House in Gastown (Tuesdays).
Foodies can find others equally obsessed with pork belly and cauliflower at special events organized by many restaurants. For example, Edible Canada (1551 Johnston Street) hosts a long-table Coast to Coast Market Dinner series with guest chefs; the next one is April 1 with Ontario chef and cookbook author Jeff Crump. Events coordinator Jessica Blachut says these dinners get really lively—the Yukon-themed one involved passing around a microphone so people could attempt moose-calling. “It was pretty hysterical, and you can’t do that if you’re feeling uncomfortable surrounded by strangers,” she says by phone.
Long-table dinners also occur at the Irish Heather, Nomad, and Luke’s Corner Bar & Kitchen. Megan Anahaw, general manager at Luke’s (2996 Granville Street), explains by phone that they do beer pairing events featuring a brewery, which gives people a shared conversation topic (i.e., “I love this drink too”). Plus, the chef and liquor-company reps speak to the group and answer questions, which builds interaction into the evening.
Bonding over beer is something that Dustin Sepkowski, operations manager at 33 Acres Brewing Co. (15 West 8th Avenue), believes in as well. When he moved here a dozen years ago, he says, “I found it not the most social place. It was hard to break in.” But he feels that craft-brewing places like 33 Acres are helping to change the city’s frostiness. “I think it’s given people that catalyst. It’s started a conversation about the beer. It’s something people can relate to each other with.
“We have lineups out the door of people who want to hang out, be inspired by one another, and enjoy great beer,” he says.
Perhaps the task force is right: food and drink really are natural social conduits.