For the Georgia Straight’s 20th annual Best of Vancouver issue, our editorial team offers their insights into the irreverent details that make our city great. Here’s our contributors’ picks for Best of Vancouver 2015.
Best wizard hangout
Got crazy flipper fingers, not to mention a mountain of quarters that have been useless ever since payphones went extinct? There’s no better place to embrace your inner Tommy than the pinball paradise that is the Pop-Up Vintage Arcade (1146 Union Street). An offshoot of the Landyachtz Longboards store in Strathcona, the temporary space features classic Williams machines (The Addams Family, White Water) as well as newer tables guaranteed to thrill the most old-school of enthusiasts. (Don’t miss The Wizard of Oz by upstart Jersey Jack Pinball.) For those who remember when you had to go to Circuit Circus to play video games, there are also vintage Ms. Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, and Galaga machines. The best thing about the Pop-Up Vintage Arcade is, of course, that you’ve finally got an excuse to shut down the PlayStation, put away the Doritos, and leave the house, something that you probably haven’t done since discovering Grand Theft Auto V in the $9.99 discount basket at Shoppers Drug Mart. Although it was originally scheduled to close in October, the shop says it will now “stick around for a while. It’s proved popular.”
Best war party
Richmond Indoor Paintball
6631 Westminster Highway
If Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket drove anything home—besides the fact that soap can be a scarily effective weapon—it’s that war is hell. The best compliment one can pay Richmond Indoor Paintball, then, is that its battle area is hellishly realistic. Billing itself as the best thing this side of Call of Duty, the indoor paintball field comes complete with derelict cars, stacks of oil drums and tires for cover, and a half-dozen abandoned-looking buildings with multiple entrances, staircases, and American Sniper–friendly windows. Think burned-out Baghdad during the George W. Bush years and you start to get the idea. Warriors range from newbies renting gear on their first tour of duty to returning veterans packing top-of-the-line Planet Eclipse Geo CS1 paintball guns. Duck and cover—and remember that they aren’t welts, they’re battle scars that even Full Metal Jacket’s Pte. J. T. “Joker” Davis would appreciate.
Best place to exercise naked
The Wreck Beach Preservation Society gives Vancouverites a chance to let it all hang out once a year during the Bare Buns Run, a five-kilometre jog along the beach. (There’s even an area dedicated to “slowpokes”.) Of course, if you don’t want to wait for the annual fundraiser, you can enjoy a walk along the beach or a solo yoga sesh year-round at the popular clothing-optional spot near UBC.
Best impresario of community engagement
Through SFU’s Vancity Office of Community Engagement, Am Johal and his team book 100 events a year, attracting more than 8,000 people to public talks, screenings, and discussions. Johal has a knack for inviting speakers who fit in with the spirit of the Downtown Eastside, whether it’s brazenly imaginative community activists or daringly progressive thinkers on a wide range of issues. SFU likes to brand itself as the public square of British Columbia, and at SFU Woodward’s it’s a case of mission accomplished.
Best live show with a view
Kitsilano Showboat celebrated its 80th anniversary this summer, and there’s still no better place to watch the sun go down over the ocean while enjoying free live entertainment. There’s community spirit both on the Mississippi riverboat–style stage overlooking Kitsilano Pool—where acts range from grade-school tap dancers to big bands—and in the stands, where onlookers wander over from Kits Beach and kids dance out their energy. “Captain Bea” Leinbach had been a fixture at performances since 1948, when she took over Showboat’s management; she passed away last October at the age of 93, but dedicated volunteers, including her son, Barry Leinbach, have made sure that the show goes on.
Best aquatic tour of the suburbs
Paddlewheeler Riverboat Tours
788 Quayside Drive, New Westminster
Vancouverites often shudder at the thought of living in the suburbs, envisioning only highways and strip malls. We forget, however, that a river runs through them—and the Mighty Fraser is actually quite pretty. Embarking from River Market at New Westminster, a Paddlewheeler Riverboat Tours cruise offers an entirely new perspective of Surrey, Port Coquitlam, and beyond. Various sightseeing cruises run to Steveston, Fort Langley, Pitt Lake, or just upriver and under the newly completed 10-lane Port Mann Bridge. Now, if you could only commute downtown by speedboat…
Best example of triumph over adversity
Despite having only one finger he can type with, Bayan Azizi, who was diagnosed with a brain-stem tumour when he was a child, chronicled his struggles in Me, Myself and My Brain Stem Tumour: Memoirs of a Pediatric Cancer Survivor. It was published by Everywhere Now Press and launched on April 30 of this year. It took the North Vancouver man three years to complete the book. When asked what he’ll do next, Azizi told the Straight he’s thinking of writing fiction.
Best community service by a pharmacy
Vancouver pharmacist Ahmad Wali, owner of Roots Pharmacy on West Broadway, offers a valuable service to the community, one that goes beyond filling a prescription. Upon request by a family doctor or a psychiatrist, Wali will visit a patient’s home to witness the application/consumption of the person’s medication. It’s a free service. In a phone interview with the Straight, Wali said: “We want to do it because we want to make sure that the individuals don’t fall through the cracks.”
Best place to pretend you’re not a landlubber
The Richmond Maritime Festival
The setting at this national historic site in Steveston is enough to convince you that you’ve gone back in time to our seafaring past: old boats line the dock (and you’re welcome to climb aboard), shipbuilding sheds look straight out of the turn of the last century, and perfectly preserved stilt houses line an old-fashioned boardwalk. The activities at this quaint summer fest fit in with the vintage vibe: kids can use real hammers and nails to craft wooden sailboats, or you can try your hand at making sailors’ valentines out of shells or weaving a Welsh coracle. Art is literally everywhere, from handpainted windsocks to origami cranes. And don’t be surprised if you see a pirate or two float up on a ridiculously miniature brig—complete with shooting cannons. Arrrrgh!
Best place to eat yourself silly and then walk the Seawall to wear it off
Food Cart Fest
215 West 1st Avenue
Why trek around the city searching for the best food trucks when, every Sunday all summer long, they converge on a single parking lot, set on a scenic part of False Creek. Pikers who gorge themselves at the first stop will be sorry; the key is to strategize. First of all, come hungry—as in, you may want to skip breakfast. Or dinner the night before. Start off with something light, like a kale salad and a fresh-squeezed juice (gotta cleanse that palate), working your way up to a globe-hopping array of mini main courses such as a salsa-soaked Salvadoran pupusa followed by naan with a chicken-tikka kebab; end with a scoop of homemade ice cream, or if you’re too stuffed, a fresh-berry artisan popsicle sold right off a bicycle cart. Take a break at the licensed, live-music patio or play a round of Ping-Pong. You won’t need so much as a waffa-thin mint for the rest of the day.
Best reason to ride the rails
Stanley Park Miniature Train
There has been no shortage of bizarre ideas proposed for Stanley Park over the years. Proving that sometimes the city gets it right, civic o0.fficials have thought better of an electric tram around the seawall, a tunnel through Siwash Rock, and a half-acre, $600,000 artificial island in the middle of Lost Lagoon to house Theatre Under the Stars. One idea that did get the green light was the Stanley Park Miniature Train, which first landed on the drawing board after 1962’s Typhoon Freda ripped through the city’s biggest urban forest. Looking at a clearing of Mother Nature’s making, park deputy supervisor Bill Livingstone suggested the construction of a two-kilometre train track. Today, 200,000 park visitors ride the miniature rails each year, in cars attached to a replica of the Canadian Pacific Railway’s Engine #374. Savvy trainspotters know that Engine #374 pulled Canada’s first transcontinental passenger train in the late 1880s. And devoted mini-railway riders know that the most magical times to board are Halloween and Christmas, when one of the park’s best attractions comes alive with elaborate displays. This year’s Halloween theme is horror-film classics, which sounds 100 percent less horrible than when the city decided to import a dozen non-native grey squirrels from Pennsylvania in 1910 and forgot to purchase squirrel condoms.
Best walk for hardcore dead-heads
There’s an old saying that goes something like this: “Every day above ground is a good day.” What better way to appreciate this than attending All Souls at Mountain View Cemetery, now in its 11th year. The event is billed as “A Night for Honouring the Dead”, which should be your tip-off that no one will be re-creating the best parts of The Return of the Living Dead, Creepshow, or Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things. Instead, All Souls—headed by Public Dreams alumna Paula Jardine and visual and celebration artist Marina Szijarto—gives Vancouverites the opportunity to reflect on the past. A non-denominational sacred event, the night promises people “an opportunity to remember their dead, whether interred at Mountain View Cemetery or not, in a gentle atmosphere of contemplative beauty”, complete with music, art, and memorial making. As the great poet and prophet Nick Cave once observed, “Sooner or later, we all gotta die.” You can take baby steps towards appreciating that by heading to All Souls at Mountain View Cemetery from 6 to 10 p.m. on October 24. And please, leave the Walking Dead hoodie, baseball cap, and backpack at home.
It’s a toss-up between the Olympic Village and New West’s downtown waterfront. Vancouverites will say nothing can match the view of downtown from behind Creekside Community Centre or Myfanwy MacLeod’s five-metre-tall sculptures of sparrows in the village. Fans of the New West waterfront will counter that no dining options in the Olympic Village can compare to Wild Rice Market Bistro. Why not visit both and come to your own conclusions?
Best use of soccer as a force of niceness
The Harry Manson Legacy soccer tournament, on October 17, takes place at the John Braithwaite Recreation Centre in North Vancouver. The inaugural five-a-side, coed, one-day tournament is intended to “bring First Nation and non-First Nation communities together through soccer”, according to founder Robert Janning. Harry Manson was an aboriginal soccer player on Vancouver Island near the turn of the past century, and one team entered has members from the Tsleil-Waututh, Squamish, and Musqueam First Nations. Two other teams have competed in the Vancouver Street Soccer League and the Homeless World Cup.
Best thrifting area
“Thrifting”, or searching through thrift stores for items of value, is an easy habit to indulge if you frequent East Hastings Street between Commercial Drive and the Heights district in Burnaby. From the Salvation Army Thrift Store at the corner of Gilmore Avenue to the new Vancouver General Hospital Thrift Shop near Kamloops Street to the Value Village just past Victoria Drive and its neighbour one block west, the spacious St. Vincent De Paul Thrift Store, thrifters have their hands, and bags, full. In between, a semiregular (weather permitting) Saturday sidewalk estate sale takes place at the corner of Garden Drive.