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As much as the U.S. has—sometimes deservedly—become something of a punching bag for those living in less, um, polarized places, here’s something there’s no denying: America does a lot of things right, especially when it comes to its neighbourhood bars. Colin Canning had that driven home years ago while traversing the States as part of a pilgrimage that didn’t totally work out the way he expected. His realization would eventually lead to—with input from his partners Michael Sanderson and Alex Dulong—the creation of It’s Okay on East Hastings just past Nanaimo. Canning was happy to field (get it) some questions for No Reservations, a new column where we look at how your new favourite spot got from initial idea to opening day.
"We’ve all been in the business for a while and had always thought about doing our own thing, but one night during COVID we were out late drinking beer in a park, cause it’s all we could do, and we were like fuck it, let’s open a bar. We named it right there on the spot, then Mike called his wife and asked her to register the name and the url. Pretty sure she had no idea what was happening and thought we were crazy, but here we are."
"About 10 years ago I decided that I wanted to go to all 30 major league baseball stadiums for dumb, expensive reason. I realized in those travels—I’d be in Cincinnati or Pittsburgh or something—that I enjoyed going to the bars around the stadiums more than the games. So we took a lot of our inspiration from small American bars. The funny thing was that I thought I was a baseball fan, and I realized I was a bar fan.
On the flipside my partner Alex is from Ontario, and he references a lot of small-town Ontario bars that are super-cool. My third partner Michael is from Australia, and although I’ve never experienced it, Australian pub culture sounds pretty close to American bars, so there’s a bit of that in there as well.
None of us are originally from Vancouver, and have travelled a bunch, so it’s kind of a culmination of our favourite aspects of places we’ve drunk at. We were super inspired by East Coast bars, in cities like Toronto, Montreal, New York and Philadelphia. Just little neighbourhood spots you’ve never heard of, but are perfect once you’re inside. Unpretentious and approachable."
"Well first off, as we all know, Vancouver is expensive. So even a small bar was a huge plunge for us, we’re pretty average people. But we’ve had so much support along the way, from our partners, friends, family, to our employers who let us do this on the side."
"For us it was finding a space. We knew we wanted something small, and we knew we wanted to be in East Van. It was like a three year process of searching listings seven days a week, until something came up. After that, it was the renovations. The three of us (Colin, Mike, Alex) did it ourselves. To be honest with your, there were days where we wanted to hurt each other. And then were days where we just had the best time laughing, listening to music, and finishing up with beers. Dump runs in the rain are a friendship tester."
On the stereo
"One of the things that I’ve noticed in bars is that they usually have playlists. We have playlists, but we also want to be an album bar. So you might get David Bowie one day, and A Tribe Called Quest the next—really good albums, and really good music from any era."
Open for business
"So far it’s been great. It’s been really well received, and it’s a really heartwarming feeling to watch other people enjoy it. There’s this inherent vulnerability that goes along with opening a bar or restaurant, because they’re such public spaces and everyone is going to have an opinion on something you’ve worked really hard on. We were just hoping for people to give it a try, and that’s what happened, so we couldn’t be happier."
It's Okay is located at 2481 East Hastings.