“When are we gonna go to the poool, Daaaad?”
We’ve been at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver for exactly four minutes and the badgering from Lily, my four-year-old, has already begun. My wife, Julia, and I planned a small post-holiday staycation and had heard that the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver caters to families for this kind of thing. There’s a scavenger hunt, which, to be honest, I’m more excited about than the kids are. There’s the pool, of course, plus the hotel’s popular afternoon tea.
But beyond that, the hotel’s always held a sense of childlike wonder even for me, even in adulthood. Something about the age of it, the era it’s from. It has always hit my nostalgia centres, reminding me of the lobby of the Plaza in New York, which I’ve never been to, but which has been immortalized in that scene in Home Alone 2 when Kevin McAllister meets that ghastly orange goblin. The Hotel Vancouver feels just like that scene.
First opened in 1939 and designed to feature elements of French chateaus from the Renaissance period, the hotel has been a staple of Vancouver’s hospitality industry—not just with tourists, but also for locals seeking a high-end meal or drink. Then there are the suburbanites, like myself, craving a little culture and adventure. Hence the staycation.
But our visit, as luck would have it, coincides with Vancouver’s Snowpocalypse: 2024 Edition. At present, the snow is finding temporary form as mushy sludge while the freezing rain slashes at the side of the building in diagonal torrents. God forbid the city sees actual tourists this week. So my wife and I make it our mission to stay inside the hotel for a full 24 hours.
Now, anyone who has had children knows how fraught the very notion of staying indoors for 24 full hours can be, but we’re both confident we can make it work. At the very least, there’s Netflix.
“Pool? Dad?” This time it’s Layla, the seven-year-old.
“Not yet. Food.”
“Food” being a 1pm seating of the afternoon tea. It’s held in a “secret room” located inside the hotel’s Notch 8 Restaurant + Bar, adorned in traditional Chinese decor for this season’s Year of the Dragon Lunar New Year theme.
“Tea,” of course, is a loose term for the activity, which includes the steeped beverage but also various wines and cocktails created with the Chinese theme in mind, along with an impressive menu of savory and sweet snacks. And when I say “snacks,” I mean a full meal of bite-sized pastries of the highest quality, which is great because we’ve skipped lunch and we’re all hungry and irritable. Well I am, anyway. The food arrives, and Lily asks, “When are we going to the pool?”
The quality and creativity of the snacks rivals anything else the city has to offer. The scone. The cake! All of it. Plus The National playing through the speakers, Matt Beringer’s baritone soothing all of us to an increasingly fattened and comfortable state. Layla’s eating and drinking everything a person in her age range is allowed to, the whites of her eyes growing more visible with each passing minute, a sure sign the sugar is coursing through her at frenzied pace.
“This place is awesome,” she says and cackles. “I give it five stars! I thought I’d just be having some tea and leaving. Not like this!”
After tea, the kids and I set out on the scavenger hunt, which is designed to showcase the history of the building and inspire some exploration of its public areas. The golden postbox, for example, is one of the items—a vestige of a time when snail mail was just known simply as “mail” and guests could utilize the mail drops (still) located on every floor, connected via a chute to the postbox.
“Look! There it is!” I’m more excited than any man my age has a right to be about this, or anything. “The golden postbox!” The kids saunter up, this relic’s purpose unfathomable to young minds nurtured by iPads and Taylor Swift.
“When will we goooo toooo theeee pooooool?” Lily technically asks, given the sentence structure, but at this point it’s really more of a demand. So I haul them up to the room, which is large and spacious, with a foyer that indicates a wealth and status we’re certainly not in possession of. We get suited up for the pool, including robes for the kids, and head down. Except the pool is way too cold for Lily, and with no hot tub, the adventure is over in about five minutes. We tried.
Back in the room, we flop onto the beds and watch Netflix via Google Chromecast, which, as a parent, is the greatest hotel invention since the elevator. The kids are settled with Floor is Lava (a top-five all-time Netflix pick, you’re welcome). Out the window, the snow drifts down onto the rooftop below. It feels like a different city. I find peace…
…for maybe seven minutes, before both kids crash from the sugar. Lily turns to hysterics.
“She needs a snack!” Julia says. It’s a red alert.
“We have none!”
There’s a knock on the door. A man is there with a platter of chocolates and gummies, just for the kids. It’s as if the hotel concierge had a direct pipeline to some omniscient presence that rules us all.
“This is a terrific facility,” Julia says, munching on some gummies. “Outstanding, even.”
And so we gorge on candy and Lava for the next few hours, dozing here and there, the lot of us a heap on the king-sized bed. The kids are calm, and therefore, so are Julia and I. You don’t get this at home.
Finally, dinner. They seat us in a booth away from the other patrons, in a classy, dimly-lit corner of Notch 8. A singer strumming a guitar plays a beautiful cover of Lorde’s “Royals”, the volume of the performance optimal for dinner-time conversation. The waiter is hilarious and knowledgeable. The kids order some variation of carbs and cheese, while Julia and I share the chicken schnitzel and the trout. All of it is phenomenal.
Julia and I drink wine like the royals in the song and sink deeper into that state of familial bliss we experience far too infrequently: when we can shed ourselves of the schedules and the exhaustion and sit together in a neutral zone—i.e. not our kitchen table—with good food and music and fancy wine, and enjoy what we’ve always known (but don’t get to truly experience often enough) is the best damn company on the planet. That peace settles over the table once again.
Then the kids start punching and pulling each other’s hair, which means it’s time to leave and set off on the bedtime routine. The girls are bundled up together on the pullout, falling asleep to some cartoon. Julia is zonked the second her head hits the pillow. I turn on my side to shut out the light, and a thought flutters across my mind like a butterfly: Goddamn, that was nice.
The Fairmont Hotel Vancouver is located at 900 West Georgia Street. Notch 8’s Lunar New Year tea and evening runs until February 25, with a special children’s tea offering priced at 50 per cent the adult tea price. Children under five also eat free with an adult at Notch 8, and children six to 11 enjoy 50 per cent off the regular menu.