Gastown is a prime neighbourhood for people-watching, from tourists searching for the steam clock to hipsters shopping for their next ironic outfit. The best vantage point for crowd-gazing is a sidewalk patio. With its heritage architecture, Gastown is particularly picturesque in the summer.
At the western entrance to Gastown are two of the most scenic patios—Rogue Kitchen & Wetbar (601 West Cordova Street) and Steamworks (375 Water Street). Nearly adjacent but separated by a parking lot, the restaurants are under the same ownership, and both patios offer views of the harbour and the North Shore, as well as sidewalk traffic. Of the two, Rogue is sleeker, with bold yellow umbrellas and planters as design accents. During the week, both patios are packed with a downtown business clientele that comes for the extensive drink and food menus. Go for the grilled lingcod with fingerling potatoes and braised kale or the Thai beef salad at Rogue, along with a beer like Central City Red Racer IPA from one of the 30 taps. Steamworks offers twists on pub classics, like an Indian-spiced lamb burger, as well as in-house brews such as the Jasmine IPA.
Chill Winston (3 Alexander Street) is best known for its sizable patio, which dominates Maple Tree Square. “It’s a meeting place in the neighbourhood, since it’s so large and central. You’re bound to know someone on the patio,” says co-owner Jordan Stewart during an in-person chat. Less known are the restaurant’s partnerships with Gelderman Farms in Abbotsford, and Earthwise Garden and Farm in Delta. For example, Earthwise’s produce appears on a platter of fresh, handpicked grilled and raw veggies, and a smoked bison tri-tip salad. Sip a refreshing tea cocktail, like the Anthea—which features Earl Grey, lemon, Hendrick’s gin, and crème de cacao—as you soak up the sun.
Also facing Maple Tree Square is the charming patio of Six Acres (203 Carrall Street), with its rustic wooden-bench seating. “I would say one of the features is the joy of being able to stare at the view, which is Gassy Jack’s behind,” jokes GM Colette Griffiths during a phone interview. Her favourite patio dishes are the roasted beet salad with feta, pistachios, mint, frisée, and a sherry vinaigrette, and the cauliflower-and-mushroom veggie burger with aged Cheddar and caramelized onion. Drinkwise, you can choose from one of the nine rotating beers on tap, such as Brassneck’s Passive Aggressive Pale Ale and Four Winds’ Juxtapose Brett IPA.
Other restaurants with notable streetside patios are concentrated along Water Street, including Carolina barbecue joint Peckinpah (2 Water Street), casual bistro the Flying Pig (102 Water Street), the Lamplighter Public House (92 Water Street), and the long-running Water St. Cafe (300 Water Street).
You’ll find the patio for the Charles Bar (136 West Cordova Street) next to the original iconic W of the Woodward’s Building (now displayed at ground level). It’s a relaxing space with stylish wooden booths and high-top seating and, best of all, plenty of rays on a sunny day. “Right now, the sun hits around noon, and it doesn’t leave until 7 o’clock at night,” says day manager Chelsea Harding over the phone. The wings (Frank’s RedHot, lemon pepper, or sriracha salted) are a popular option, as are the Cobb and kale caesar salads. House-made sangria is a thirst-quenching concoction that includes triple sec, peach schnapps, and pineapple and orange juice.
Down the street is the Cambie Pub (300 Cambie Street), with a patio that’s always buzzing. The eclectic, lively patrons choose it for its unpretentious décor and cheap drinks and food. Expect casual favourites like poutine and beer-battered fish ’n’ chips, daily drink specials, and shot options galore, like the King Kong with Crown Royal whisky and banana liqueur. It certainly isn’t fancy, but it does the trick for no-fuss chilling outside.
For an escape from Gastown’s busyness, the new Tacofino Taco Bar (15 West Cordova Street; enter through Blood Alley Square) has a lovely 20-seat patio. Over the phone, manager Matt Fidler recommends munching on nachos with salsa fresca and chipotle sour cream, as well as the grilled skirt steak taco with pickled chayote and pineapple. Add a margarita, and you’ll be set. Enjoy a perfect Gastown moment by taking in the twinkly white lights strung above, an ivy-covered wall, and views of the surrounding brick buildings and period lampposts.