and I didn't realise it at the time, walking down the erogenous zone
along the south end of Granville
Street in Vancouver
's downtown area like we had some business being there, but when the two indie
girls asked us if we could direct them to The Sugar
Refinery they were implicitly confessing that they thought we might be hip
per than they.
Regrettably, we was not - suspecting that they were either addled tourists or users of incomprehensible drug slang we gave them vague directions to the small-S small-R sugar refinery ("Rogers Sugar was established in 1890 by the entrepreneurial B. T. Rogers. Rogers' refinery was Vancouver's first major industry not based on logging or fishing") and this would in fact be the last time anyone would make such a grievous mistake.
As it turned out, they'd been no more than two blocks from its site at the time of the asking. I don't know if they ever found it, but within a matter of months we had.
What can I say about the place that will not be out-of-date by the time you read this write-up? The only real constant is change; every time you go there the menu will be different... every time you go there the layout and architecture will be different - the stairwell painted a different colour, the men's bathroom a plastered warzone for green plastic army men, the upright piano replaced by a bank of high school lockers, the DJ booth swapped for a wall of illuminated birdcages, the paintings taken down in favour of a long poem covering all wall surface - as well, they have docked a long swing to the ceiling, adjusting table locations to provide a clear flight path. The metal throne is gone, but to compensate the disco ball has been reactivated. The exits and entrances, as with the bar and kitchen, tend to remain in approximately the same location, providing the central themes upon which all other elements of the place improvise over.
It's a restaurant. It is and has been so much more (after-hours club, live music venue, café, gallery, jam space, Hippocrenian shrine and object of pilgrimage) but the bottom line is that for your dining dollar, they provide the best eats in that neck of the woods - given, of course, that the price of the food only hints at the value of the incredible ambiance. India, Interrupted, Retail Romance, and ... perogy poutine?! Several of their dishes have variants: a), b), or "We'll see" - an improvisational trust game between you and the kitchen staff. They don't disappoint. Wash it down with some vile-yet-intriguing Croatian liqueur?
Rumour has it that the space began as a clubhouse for students at the Emily Carr art school on Granville Island under the far side of the Granville Bridge and has been haemmorhaging money ever since, relying on the skill and goodwill of volunteer artsie hepsters to keep it moving smoothly. The truth to the rumor is unknown, but it's a poor reflection on the professionalism with which the friendly staff manage to bring you to complete comfort in an utterly inconstant environment. Whatever its nature, the art school connection is palpable - at all hours of the day and night the place will be jammed with thick black glasses of both genders dressed better than you.
Every night something is going on there; bands playing (and /recording/), DJs spinning, speakers reciting. There are recurring events (including the ongoing Parallela jazz series Tuesdays, the defunct Unrefined urban poetry night last Sunday of the month and my historical favourite, the experimental chaos of Scrambled Angst first Sundays) but the calendar is never so locked up as to impede any of the dozens of local and touring bands who log gigs there from making use of the space at their convenience.
Over the years the place has cultivated a few of what might be referred to as house bands - depending on what year it is and what night of the week you drop by you stand a very good chance of hearing Friar Tuck, klezmer wunderkinds A Biselleh Mazl, hokum-heroes the Molestics (now the Golden Wedding Band) or The Beans (who made use of the space for an unprecedented 48-hour marathon performance in mid-August this year) ringing out from upstairs as you approach on the ground-level sidewalk. The perennial favourites end up becoming immortalized as arcane dessert-art items on the menu - a Friar Tuck, for instance, being a $1.50 plate of assorted cheese slices with a ball of tin foil on the side.
This place ("place" seems so small - can we lobby e2 to implement a "state of mind" write-up type?) can be located at 1115 Granville Street, upstairs above Willy's All-Nite Adult Book Store ("Because a Dirty Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste"), from 5 pm to "late." Its staff can be reached at 604-683-2004, and in all honesty sometimes it may be a more efficient way to snag the attention of the wait staff than mere gestures and sultry looks. It's a great place to fall in solitary love with a stranger across the room none the wiser.
The first time I ate here I was so overwhelmed I accidentally left without paying. This set the tone for an excellent working relationship between us.
Update: please note, the (sugar refinery) is no longer in operation. This write-up remains for historical purposes.