Where to drink craft beer without TV distraction in Vancouver

The craft-brewing movement, from the drinker’s side of the bar anyway, is all about tasting fine beers in good company in places where you can natter freely without annoying distractions. That includes TV screens flickering within your field of vision, usually showing sports that nobody is watching. It wouldn’t be an issue if they were only turned on for big games or if one area of the premises were flicker-free, but that’s rarely the case. The screens are conversation killers, not creators.

Thankfully, change is in the air. A handful of newer, smaller drinking places in East Vancouver have switched off the box or dared to go screen-free. At the forefront of this more traditional attitude to conviviality is Brassneck (2148 Main Street). The brewery—which opened last fall—has a small tasting room where the beers are as fresh as you can get and the taps are in constant rotation.

“The way the room’s set up there are communal tables, and we have people from all different walks of life sitting together in a compact space,” says co-owner Nigel Springthorpe. “They like to share their thoughts on the different beers. When we first built the room I was concerned that Vancouverites wouldn’t like to be at such close quarters to their fellows, but they’re fine with it.”

The wedge-shaped room has a stripped-down, funky postindustrial look, with a concrete floor and ceiling, and walls made of pieces of wood placed horizontally in a haphazard way. A window offers a peek at the gleaming steel storage vessels of the brewery’s innards, and a chalkboard over the bar announces what’s on tap, usually eight to 10 brews. The best bet is to order the flight—or paddle—of four six-ounce taster glasses. To accompany the drinks, you can munch on a range of pepperoni-style sausages, plus there’s a different food truck parked outside every evening.

Brassneck itself is the only place you can get these delicious ales. “We’re not putting our beer into kegs or bottles, and don’t foresee doing that,” Springthorpe says. “We just sell beer for growlers [1.89-litre containers] in the shop at the front and to customers in the tasting room. Coming up on tap for late April, we’ve got our barrel-aged Inertia Imperial Stout, a single-hop single-malt double IPA called One-Trick Pony, and Stockholm Syndrome, a saison that’s conditioned with a special bacteria called Brettanomyces, or Brett.”

Make that Bretagne. Step into Bistro Wagon Rouge (1869 Powell Street) and you could be in the small, zinc-bar bistro of any northern French seaport. Only the large photos of Vancouver’s dockland of yesteryear remind you that this was once the much-loved Docker’s Diner, but the community spirit remains.

The food is unfussy and delicious, and there are two local craft brews on rotation, plus bottles of Gavroche, a bière de garde, a strong pale ale from northern France brewed by St-Sylvestre. For a taste of something completely different, there’s the Duchesse de Bourgogne, a tart dark Flemish red sour ale. The French cheese plate makes an ideal pairing, served with orange and fig marmalade.

Tangent Café (2095 Commercial Drive), in the mould of a European café, is far more than a coffee shop. “When we started, our goal was to create a real neighbourhood place,” says Nate Coli, co-owner with his wife, head chef Linda Coli. “One thing that helps people meet each other, particularly when sitting at the bar, is that we don’t have TVs for people to just stare at and zone out in front of.” The two screens behind the bar are only on for major games and sporting events such as the Winter Olympics.

The café/pub/bistro has an artsy feel that’s been curiously lacking on the Drive in recent years. The décor is simple, with work by local artists hanging on the wall, and every Sunday afternoon and Thursday evening topnotch jazz artists play on a small stage backed by a full-length window that fronts the Drive. It’s a great place to chill and listen to music against a visual backdrop of passing cars, bikes, and couples. This June, it will be a venue for the TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival.

The list of craft brews displayed behind the bar will get the taste buds dancing. Choose four beers for your flight and, to get down and oinky, order the truffle-oil fries dusted with Parmesan and parsley flakes. “We now have 14 taps,” Coli says. “There’s a core lineup of about six local beers, but we also bring in others from the U.S., typically the Northwest, and we’re starting to import some draft from Belgium.”

Craft beers bring people together. If you’re looking for quality brews to fuel a chat—without digital distraction—check out the fresh batch of establishments that may be changing how we drink in Vancouver.




Apr 23, 2014 at 2:55pm

Are people really that distracted by televisions in bars? As long as the sound is muted, it seems to me that pretty much everyone just doesn't pay attention to them. I'm not really interested in sports so they've never been a 'conversation killer' to me. I've never heard anyone complain about TVs in bars (and most people I know don't care about sports) so I get the feeling that this affects only a very small number of people.


Apr 23, 2014 at 2:55pm

If anything, loud music is what kills conversations in bars.


Apr 23, 2014 at 4:14pm

I would say yes, I am definitely distracted by flickering TVs in bars and restaurants and I welcome these establishments.


Apr 23, 2014 at 5:51pm

I've lived without a TV in my home for over 10 years—they're a ridiculous distraction. the mere fact that they're in bars is not the thing that makes them a real eyesore, its the fact that is is often difficult to find a spot where you *can't* see a screen should you not desire to.


Apr 23, 2014 at 9:14pm

It's hard to believe that this article doesn't mention The Irish Heather, which has always been screenless. That is one of the key aspects that has made it unique and special over the years. By the way, having no TVs is the norm in Ireland (perhaps everywhere else in Europe too) except for sports bars where you can go if you want to cheer on your team. But otherwise, you go to a pub to have a pint, chat, and hopefully listen to some live music. And you know what? That's the way it should be.


Apr 24, 2014 at 2:34pm

Nothing wrong with profiling the new folks but what about those who have been providing a great atmosphere for years? I don't want TV at home so I really don't want it when I go out. Thank goodness for spots like The Alibi Room and The Whip.


Apr 24, 2014 at 2:58pm

So there are only three places in Vancouver to enjoy beer without TV?

Gary L

Apr 24, 2014 at 3:10pm

Thank goodness someone running a pub or cafe recognizes that not all patrons want TV or sports or loud music. I'd love to go to an affordable pub/cafe in Kits and not have to yell to be heard, and to hear my companion without straining my ears. And to leave later without a noise-headache. Peace and quiet, please.


Apr 24, 2014 at 9:00pm

Everclear + Grape Koolaid will always be my drink of choice.
A pity nowhere in this hick town sells it.
And if you have enough of it, you don't give a fuck about TV, no TV, clothes, no clothes, law, no law....it's fucking amazing stuff, I tells ya!


Apr 25, 2014 at 6:21am

Ahhh yes this is a movement I can get behind. I'd actually like to take it back about 20 years. A couple pay phones in the bar, no cell phones allowed, no flatscreens and no shitty pop music or thug rap. Best of all people mingling and enjoying themselves all while paying under 5 bucks for a drink of any kind.