When discussing The Watson, managing partner Michael Gayman gets almost as excited about the team—Sean Raven, Adam Coppell, and Jordan Coelho—behind the restaurant as he does about the Main Street neighbourhood that it calls home. Finding the sweet spot between the area’s high-end Michelin-starred magnets and post-hipster watering holes, the Watson looks amazing, all large-screen mirrors, towering commissioned art pieces, and elegant chandeliers.
As for the target audience, start with card-carrying members of the cocktail nation. Come prepared to share small plates like the bison meatballs, applewood smoked olives, and gin-cured halibut, but don’t even think about letting anyone near your drinks. Those include knockouts like the Trade Route (turmeric-infused Flor de Cana 4-year-old, Giffard Banane du Brésil, vanilla, and lime), Pinch Hitter (Diplomático Planas, East India solera sherry, pineapple IPA cordial, lemon, and egg white), and Red Dress (carified Buffalo Trace, Calvados, apple cordial, lemon, and red wine).
Here, Gayman talks about The Watson’s place in the Vancouver restaurant scene, attention to detail, and love of ever-cool Mount Pleasant.
“I’ve lived two blocks away from The Watson for something like nine years, so I’ve been wanting to do something on Main Street forever. The guys that have partnered with me have worked with me, or for me, for a while. Sean, our director of operations, was my GM at Hook in English Bay and GM at Bartholomew in Yaletown. Jordan, our bar manager at The Watson, worked at Bartholomew with me for about three years. Our chef Adam I’ve worked with a couple of times over the years and he’s partnered with us as well. The four of us are in this together and kind of overseeing The Watson and Bartholomew.”
“Like I said, I’d been wanting to do something on Main Street for quite a while. Living in the neighbourhood, we’ve kind of watched how it’s changed over the years—it felt like it was missing a bar like The Watson. Something that wasn’t super-high-end, but also not super-casual as well. A place that complemented some of the restaurants that have been coming in lately as the scene has developed in Mount Pleasant. We just wanted to open up a good bar—the kind of place that I’d want to go to in the neighbourhood.”
“We definitely wanted to be a little bit cocktail-focussed. With the food program we wanted it to be solid but approachable. Not in the fine-dining realm where you're coming in for special occasions—more just simple dishes well done that people feel like they can eat casually. For the feel of the room, I’m fortunate to have a very talented younger sister [Erica Colpitts] who’s an interior designer. This is the fourth place that we’ve built together now. We just wanted the room to feel comfortable but well done, with an attention to detail. Vibe and atmosphere are really important to us.
We wanted the decor to have some subtle ties to Dr. Watson from Sherlock Holmes, but not have that be a theme. First of all, we back onto Watson Street, which is a laneway but actually has a street name—it’s one of the only laneways in Vancouver that actually has residential houses with addresses, so the street is unique.
While looking into things, we happened to stumble onto the fact that Dr. Watson in the Sherlock Holmes books actually studied medicine at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital. Our other location, Bartholomew, is actually named after St. Bartholomew, who’s the patron saint of butchers, and that kind of tied into our theme of house-made charcuterie. So that made for a fun tie-in with our sister restaurant.
The decor has subtle nods to the Victorian era when Sherlock Holmes took place. That’s there in the artwork—things that tie into what an old study would feel like. There are portraits and still lifes done with a more modern twist. One thing that we were trying to go for with the feel was a classic bar, and the name The Watson kind of felt like it tied in with that—like an establishment that’s been in the same place for a long time.”
“Bartholomew has done very well, but it’s a small place, so I really wanted a place where everyone that I’m working with could grow. All of us were ready for that. It was a challenge, opening up and keeping an eye on another business so you weren’t neglecting it.”
“The biggest challenge we ran into was our liquor license. We took over the existing one from Kind Cafe, which only went to 10pm. Getting approval from the Province to extend the hours was a bit of a lengthy process, so we had to operate with reduced hours our first few months. We finally just got it extended about a month ago, so it was a bit of a painful process, for sure. We want to be a later-night spot, and weren’t able to do that for our first few months.
On the stereo
“We definitely mix it up. The most important thing is that we have good energy—you’ll hear a lot of soul and funk, leaning it towards a bit of house later on in the night.”
Open for business
“It’s been a successful opening, and people have seemed to like it right away which is nice. The couple of months were crazy, which is nothing to complain about for sure. We’ve been really steady overall and receiving a nice response from the neighbourhood, which is pretty good. A lot of folks have told us how much they needed a place like The Watson, which has been reassuring. You’ve always got to build things up over time, but we’re pretty happy with the start, for sure.”
Where: 3080 Main Street