The shops I wish we had in New West

If New West's fairy godmother offered to fast-track a few new shops, here's what I'd wish for ... (Photo: suttonhoo on Flickr)
If New West’s fairy godmother offered to fast-track a few new shops, here’s what I’d wish for … (Photo: suttonhoo on Flickr)

I have many favourite boutiques and restaurants in New West, and it seems to me there are more opening all the time. But if I had a fairy godmother who would fast-track a few new businesses for me, here is what I would wish for:

A truly great coffee shop
New West does not lack for coffee shops, but it does lack for great coffee. A JJ Bean would be awesome, or better yet, something like Raw Canvas in Yaletown, which combines great coffee with a great creative space (and turns into a wine bar / lounge at night!). I want it down on Columbia Street, which just seems like the right place for a cool cafe.

An indoor play space for kids (that is also comfortable for parents)
While restaurants and cafes with adjacent play areas are popular in other parts of the city (Kinder Cafe in Coquitlam, Rocky Mountain Flatbread on Main, Cafe Deux Soleils on Commercial), there isn’t anything in New West or nearby. There are also large indoor active play areas, Koko’s Activity Centre in Port Moody, Crash Crawly’s in Coquitlam and Jungle Jac’s in Pitt Meadows, but all of these are awful for parents – and far away to boot. I would love to see a fun place where kids can play on a rainy day and parents can sit in a comfortable chair and chat with each other over good quality coffee and snacks. Bonus points if the food is healthier / more interesting than just hot dogs and pizza. I had thought that the space where Dynamic Health and Fitness is now in Royal City Centre would have made a great large indoor play space, but River Market would be another good bet for a mid-sized space. A restaurant with a small play area could be done anytime by any of our existing restaurants. Yes, it’s fewer tables, but you wouldn’t believe the number of times I’ve overheard local parents (mostly moms) pining for such a space in New West.

A hip greasy spoon diner
Back when Will and I lived downtown (years ago!), we’d often head out to The Templeton for a hearty, hip breakfast on Granville St. This weekend when we were considering where to go in New West for breakfast, there was nowhere that quite fit the bill: independents like the Coming Home Cafe and The Hideout Cafe were likely to be closed (it was Remembrance Day) and we were left with various chain restaurants or the greasiest of greasy spoons (cheap, but no atmosphere and mediocre food). We ended up at The Boathouse for brunch, which was good in its own way, but we spent the meal daydreaming about what a great Columbia St. eatery would be like. Re-Up/Fathom sometimes has brunch on the weekends, and it is very good. Maybe the owners could be convinced to open a breakfast joint on Columbia next?

A brew pub
Last night Twitter erupted in disappointment when word got out that Brown’s Social House would be the pub tenant at the Brewery District in Sapperton. New West has a nascent craft beer community, including some intrepid home-brewers, and a local brew pub was on their wish list. I’m sure Brown’s will become a popular destination for a certain type of night out, but for now Hops remains the beer geek’s pub of choice in New West. But if there are any brew pub entrepreneurs out there reading this: Sapperton wants YOU.

A gift shop for men
We’ve got Brick and Mortar Living, Lofty Living, Cadeaux and Sonse Design (among others) where you can find a lovely little something for a woman, but men are much harder to shop for. I’d love to see someone open a Brick and Mortar-style boutique with little things for men to covet and women to gift. Ideally it would tap into the Art of Manliness movement – most men’s gift stores I’ve seen are full of unimaginative, uninspired garbage. In my opinion, this sort of store would do well on Columbia St., to tap into the wedding market and give brides something really nice to buy for their husbands, or grooms to select for their groomsmen.

An independent toy store
Yes, we had one of those (two if you count the oddly named & situated Kids Kloset), but since Pedagogy Toys closed, there’s been nowhere to go locally to buy gifts for kids. I love shopping at toy stores, and I would love to see someone give an independent toy store another go. I think a toy store would do well uptown. There are lots of parents and grandparents out and about during the day, heading to Moody Park and the Library, and I could see a lot of walk-by traffic from folks in the area to do banking, grocery shopping or other errands. A toy store in the vein of the Village Toy Shop in Port Moody would be perfect.

A neighbourhood coffee shop on 12th St
Poor, poor 12th St. It has struggled for so long and is in quite the slump right now. The hill really limits how far people will walk the street, especially without a chain of awesomeness to draw you up, one store at a time. Amber’s Choice is a nice cafe at the top of the hill, but if you’re around 6th Ave or below, it’s a long way to hike for a coffee and a muffin. John Ashdown’s old cafe, Village Coffee Lounge, was in a perfect spot for neighbourhood customers, and as a resident of the West End I certainly feel its absence. I’d love to see more tightly clustered retail on 12th St., particularly around the nexus of 12th St and 6th Ave, anchored by a great community cafe.

A large mixed-use development at 22nd St. SkyTrain
Here’s the biggest item on my wish list. I want to see 22nd St. SkyTrain station built up. Last year, three of the five or six houses immediately next to the SkyTrain were up for sale at the same time, and I was holding my breath hoping a developer would buy them – alas, not how that story turned out. Still, I think a smaller-scale Plaza 88 ‘Shops at New West Station’-type development would be great there. The proximity to downtown on the SkyTrain is awesome from that station, just 25 minutes to Waterfront and less than 20 to the edge of downtown. The price per square foot vs. travel time to downtown work would be ideal for many folks. Plus, it would provide some walkable and useful businesses for the existing local residents in the area – and potentially lift the fortunes of some of the 20th St businesses as well (which suffer from the same issues as 12th St).

There’s more of course. I’d love to see more wearable street fashion, not just bridal, and more of a visible arts presence. I miss having an art supply store on the street (years ago Full Spectrum Art Supply bowed to the bridal market and turned into Paper Poet, a wedding invitation & papercraft store), and I often wish for an independent bookstore of the type I enjoy in La Conner, WA (The Next Chapter, check it out if you are ever in the area. Fireplace, comfy chairs, decent coffee and an expertly curated selection of titles).

But that’s me. What would you like to see?

The value of ‘a pint’ in New West: a (semi) scientific exploration (AKA ‘pub crawl’)

It started like most scientific research: someone asked “why?” then sought the answer.

Except that I asked “how much”, and I was hardly the first to ask. As any scientist will tell you, most science is just collecting more data to confirm results already collected by others, so we boldly followed the trend to where many had been before.

In this case, the people we were following were the good people at the Campaign for Real Ale. Following a story that hit the regional media, a minor #NewWest Twitterstorm addressed important issues in the local pub scene: namely sizes of pints, and value for the money. This caught the attention of a few good people loosely affiliated with Tenth to the Fraser, and with many new options for the pub aficionado popping up in New Westminster, it seemed like a chance for a little compare and contrast exercise to better inform your summer pubbing. The actual research was performed on a summery day in early May, but now that summer has arrived, the results are ready for peer review.

Very official scientific experiment here. Photo: Harry Pehkonen.
Very official scientific experiment here. Photo: Harry Pehkonen.

We assembled a cracked research team. At the first pub, attendance included no less than two PhD physicists, two MSc geoscientists, and two Professional Engineers. Our technical team consisted of stenographers, computer scientists, photographers, measurement professionals, teachers and poets. All would be put to test.

Being good scientists (or science fans… or science fiction fans…or poets) we sought to control all variables. All pubs were visited on the same Saturday night. We were rigidly consistent in our orders, and we used the same precise measuring tool at each pub. Being environmentally conscious, we would not think of wasting the beers we ordered, so they had to be consumed. This worked out doubly well, as it forced us into carbon neutrality, as it took driving between pubs completely off the table…

There were various ordering techniques amongst the assembled research party, but I attempted the greatest constancy: ordering “A pint of your second most expensive beer, please”. There may have been some discussion after this, as apparently it is an unusual way to order, but I invariably agreed to the first beer offered by the waiting professional, deeming that the Second Most Expensive Pint™. I’m not above mixing beers, and all this fluff about “starting light and moving towards fuller flavours” has no place in science.

Throwing caution to the wind, Research Team 2, code named “Tig”, ordered “whatever’s on special tonight” to provide an extra dataset for the less-beer- inclined. Mixing drinks in this manner is usually advised against, but science is not without its risks.

Dublin Castle, 7:30pm

Pat shows off the Official Pint Measurement Device. Photo: Harry Pehkonen
Pat shows off the Official Pint Measurement Device. Photo: Harry Pehkonen

For the first week of May, the deck was remarkably crowded with what are presumably the denizens of Fraser View frolicking in their native habitat. The view is just short of really good, the food is above good, the waitress is named Kelsey.

Upon the warming up of the Graduated Cylinder of Truth®, I ordered the Second Most Expensive Pint™, which was apparently the Guinness-produced import “Kilkenny”, served in a tall branded glass. The service pint ordered by a member of our technical staff (Stanley Park Lager) was served in a standard BC-issue b509 “dimple” pint glass, served a little above the line to a measured 520mL.

All beers were enjoyed, including the one on special. The walk west began.

  • Pint: Kilkenny – 510ml for $6.75 ($6.62 per Metric Pint)
  • Special: Okanagan Springs Pale Ale: $4.75.

Brooklyn, 8:20pm

A crowd entered the Brooklyn to the dulcet tones of Huey Lewis and the News, which called for immediate occupation of the Billiards Room. The remarkable view of a non-eponymous bridge was hardly enjoyed, as a furious game of push-the-coloured-balls-towards-a-corner ensued. Certain River Market Staff displayed suspect caroming skills, while being stared at down the nose of more professional science-management staff. It seems dedication to data gathering has already begun to fade. Then Pink Floyd came on the stereo, and a more erudite discussion of the merits of ice-filled urinals ensued. I’m starting to like this team.

The Second Most Expensive Pint® was the quasi-local Granville Island PI, served in a glass of suspect volume but compelling pinty-shape. The B-team reports a Long Island Iced Tea of the vodka-coke-syrup variety, but with the “double” serving size on special, it was an easy choice (although, the fact it was a double probably bodes poorly for future data gathering).

  • Pint: Granville Island Pale Ale – 325ml for $4.24 ($6.52 per Metric Pint).
  • Special: Double Long Island Iced Tea: $6.10

The Met, 9:00pm

Until the group sauntered into the Met at 9:02 on May 5th, this reporter had completely forgotten about both Cinco de Mayo, and that Lenny Kravitz, bereft of any irony, recorded a version of “American Woman” that grooved less than the original performed by Burton Cummings and his merry band of Mormons.

Further, the Second Most Expensive Pint™ at the Met, an India Pale Ale entitled “Green Flash” was similarly unknown to me. It was, to the concern of our data collection team, sold as a “sleeve” in a tulip glass (OMG, the variables are adding up…). I told them not to worry. Don’t let it frighten you, let it liberate you! Collect the data, we will worry about getting it through peer review later. If measured by hops per dollar, this would be the clear winner, but we had a graduated cylinder, not some magic bitterness-epiricizing device.

With conversation veering towards political and religious minefields, and the surprise appearance of a City Councillor in our midst, things had the potential to get seriously out of hand here. Not helped by the “theme of the day” special: a Cinco-de-Mayo Margarita. Good thing it wasn’t national Dog Bath day.

  • Pint: Green Flash IPA – 434ml for $6.25 ($7.49 per Metric Pint).
  • Special: a Tig-Approved Margarita: $4.50

The Heritage Grill, 9:45pm

I can only assume this is a Rock-a-Billy band. Lesee: Hollow-body Gretsch, skinny jeans and straw hat, drummer and bassist both standing up, bandana tied around a limb. Yep, that there is Rock-a-Billy. Where does Paul find these guys? I gotta hang out here more often.

At this point, it was probably prudent to put this rag-tag group in the back room, for the courtesy of the Rock-a-Billy fan base. Just how many cigars did Thurston Howell pack for this supposed Three-Hour-Tour? Did he have cigars? I seem to remember cigars.

It appears a poetry context has broken out on the little stage in the back room. A researcher is relating a rhythmic tale of “…a young man from Kent”.

Shooters? No-one said anything about shooters. Yes, those appear to be shooters. In for a penny, in for a pound.

Another funny-shaped glass, apropos for the Weisse-beer, I guess, but there are a lot of cloudy beers lately, they don’t cause headaches, do they? Don’t measure the orange! Fruit is good – gotta keep up the Vitamin C, but not part of the measure… damn variables. How am I going to get that out of the cylinder? Must think of peer review, they can be real jerks about stuff like that. What did you call that shooter again? Tastes like trouble.

  • Pint: Kronenburg Blanc – 503 ml for $6.25 ($6.22 per Metric Pint).
  • Special: The Julian (Rum & Coke): $4.50

The Drink, 10:40pm

Look, if you are out drinking pints as fast as you can- a hockey net in the urinal not only looks like the coolest idea ever- it helps with certain aiming situations that you ladies may not understand, OK? If you didn’t want to know about it, why did I come out of the bathroom encouraging you all to go look at it?

Man, this place is cool. They seem to have got the hipster thing down without the grimy bits. Like your hipster brother-in-law got showered and dressed up for a wedding, just enough tweed and leather to know he listens to Modest Mouse, but not drinking from a mason jar.

More cloudy white beer- these branded glasses are messing with our science, and my head. Orange is good, though. Eat the peel- that’s why Belgians never get hung over. That was Eddy Merckx’s secret: orange peels and amphetamines. Whattya mean Kronenbourg is French- Really? Eddy’s gonna kill me.

Special? That looks like some fancy cocktail. No crappy ounce-o-liquor-n-pop here: those are actual berries floating in a pool of vodka. This place is like a freaking Orange Julius with mood lighting, only fuzzier around the edges – actually, most of the edges have been fuzzed right off. Or is that me?

  • Pint: Kronenburg Blanc – 495 ml for $6.72 ($6.79 per Metric Pint).
  • Special: Bliss: $7.28.

Hops, 11:25pm

Att his point, I am clearly getting smoother- at the peak of my charm. Seeing as how I strode into the place and ordered “a Pint of your second most expensive beer”, and the waitress said – I quote- “OK” [make note on pad, walk to bar to place order], like the last 17 people who stumbled in off the SkyTrain ordered the same thing – As un-nonplussed as I have ever seen. Actually a little creepy in her plussed-ness. How does she stay so plussed? What have I got if not a shock value? Is she onto us? Hide the Cylinder! They called ahead! They are all against us! The guy over there with the sombrero- I’ve seen him before, we are bring followed… or maybe he beat me to the punch, looks like the kind of jerk that saunters into a bar and asks for the second most expensive tequila….

This place is great- where are all the construction workers? Is that real wood? What did you say!?! Oh, Deschutes, I thought you were calling me names. This stuff is definitely the schute. In a good way. Pity the fool over there on Team B with the fruit-less martini.

  • Pint: Deschutes IPA (“Sleeve’)– 383 ml for $7.00 ($9.13 per Metric Pint).
  • Special: Martini w/Grey Goose (but no floating fruit): $8.55.

Terminal Pub: 12:15

Depressing Halo song, then Cyley Myrus….starting to get me down. What!?! A Scientist never leaves his cylinder behind! This is unacceptable! Run Forrest, Run! Is that waitress giving me attitude? Hope she doesn’t spit in my beer… whattya mean I’m the surely one, you sure it wasn’t her? I just ordered… second most expensive beer TEE-EM… think she likes me? Cuz her 20oz. pint is actually 520ml… that’s like 21 ounces or something… don’t you double it and add thirty? Lemee countee my fingers. Where are my fingers? Dunno… maybe making up for it being Rickards… Not sure I can drink this whole thing… Red Bull? Who gave the B Team Red Bull and Vodka after midnight? They’ll be up all night. You ever hear the sirens in this town? Gimmie some of them Nachos…you sure are prettier than your twitter… than on the twitter… Loudest Bathroom Ever… I SAID LOUDEST BATHROOM EVER! What was that about an after party?

  • Pint: undetermined… technical difficulties… please stand by….
  • Special: Vodka Red Bull – It’s not what you pay, it is what it costs you…

Conclusion

... and a fun time was had by all. Photo: Harry Pehkonen
... and a fun time was had by all. Photo: Harry Pehkonen

For the record, there only thing for certain about “the pint” is that it changes with location and product. It was once said “a pint is a pound, the world around”, but it was also said “a pint of pure water is a pound and a quarter”. Worse, they are both right. Almost. For those raised in the warm socialist cuddle of the Metric System, this all seems baffling, so I will use the Metric System to try to make sense of pints.

Canada, being a Commonwealth country, uses the Imperial Gallon (for most things), and one eighth of the Imperial gallon is an Imperial Pint: 568ml. When you sell things like drinks in Canada, the Federal Government regulates that a pint is 568ml. Anything else is not a “true” pint. This is equal to 20 Imperial ounces, which are 28.4ml each. It also happens to represent the amount of water that weighs about 1.25 pounds. Which is equal to 568g, but you knew that already.

Down in the Excited States, they invented their own, smaller US gallon, which comprises 8 US pints, which are each 473ml. Ever pragmatic, their pint weighs just a little over a pound, and when divided up liquid ounces, each weighs an ounce (allowing for spillage). Since there are 16 ounces in a pound, there must be 16 liquid ounces in a pint. So US liquid ounces are about 29.6ml each, slightly larger than the Imperial ounce.

Ever wonder why a can of beer is 355ml, but a bottle of beer is 341ml? 355ml is exactly 12 US fluid ounces. 341ml is exactly 12 Imperial ounces. I realise that doesn’t answer the question, but it’s gotta mean something! It is also a better explanation than the one I gave my nephew: that the little bit of beer you can never get out of the can because of the rim of the can is exactly 14ml, and they put that much more in the can to make it fair. I’m a favourite uncle.

None of this explains the hybridized “Metric Pint”, which is the defacto pint served in British Columbia and much of continental Europe, and measures 500ml. Those round glasses with a handle and deep dimples that make it look like a hand grenade- what we call a “pint glass”, is typically 500ml to the line (although more will fit, up to a full pint if filled to overflowing). As are most of the “branded” glasses in which you may receive your Stella, Kronenbourg, or Kilkenny. A “sleeve” is a straight-sided tapered glass, and it is anyone’s guess of its capacity, as glass thicknesses and base heights vary widely. The one person who almost certainly does not know the capacity of the sleeve is the waiting staff delivering to you, so take it easy on them.

I could go on at length, but I’d rather do this over a pint. Of any size.

Hops a solid new addition to local pub scene

Hops on Urbanspoon

Dimly lit Hops, located beneath New Westminster SkyTrain, is ideally situated for stumbling home after a pint or few. Once the new movie theatre at Plaza 88 opens for business, it will almost certainly become a convenient spot for pre-movie drinks. But it takes more than just easy access to SkyTrain and a taxi stand to earn a new pub good customers.

There has been a pub in this location as long as I have been stomping around New West, and I remember more than one rowdy night spent here back in my college years a decade ago. Newly renovated in a similar style to the Terminal Pub or Drink (the latter is owned by the same company), Hops is clearly going after a different demographic than the rougher clientele the former bar served.

The bar at Hops
The bar at Hops

I came in for lunch to scope out the space and sample the menu, finding soft pretzels on the menu (they are a favourite treat of mine, and often don’t live up to expectations), free wifi and a nice selection of local brew on tap. Hops offers a few nice twists on the typical pub experience in New Westminster. I had the pretzels and a cup of chowder, and found both to be very tasty and nicely presented on the plate.

The space is significantly smaller, and includes some higher end decor choices including actual artwork on the walls, designer bar, leather booths, wood accents and upscale lighting. Yet, despite these touches, the space retains some features I associate with a more downmarket pub, such as gambling machines and an economical low-pile carpet flooring in a colour that won’t show stains (instead of a more appealing but less-resilient hardwood look). The service was pleasant, but when I asked for what I thought to be a minor detail (to order only one pretzel instead of the two listed on the menu), it was a non-starter. It is a minor detail, but one that matters to me. I would be more forgiving during the dinner rush, but for lunch when there are maybe five people in the whole place, I expect a waitress to at least ask the kitchen if they can accommodate a custom order.

Pretzels, beer & clam chowder at Hops
Pretzels, beer & clam chowder at Hops

It was all more or less as expected, which puts Hops in a “solid and predictable” category of pub. The menu features mostly comfort foods, including the expected sandwiches, wraps and burgers, but there are a few nice surprises, including a gorgonzola mac & cheese with short ribs that sounded pretty good. In addition to the now ubiquitous walls-of-televisions that unfortunately (to my mind) dominates most pubs, Hops has smaller wall-mounted flatscreens in several of the booths, which I assume could be turned to whatever channel you wanted. There are also a couple of nice nooks for larger group gatherings with larger televisions. Like most pubs, it’s hard to find a seat where you aren’t distracted by screens. Even my favourite local pubs, The Terminal and the Dublin Castle, suffer from television overload from the perspective of someone who comes to a pub to hang out with friends, not TV screens.

I left with mixed feelings about Hops. I will definitely return when the movie theatre opens, and I will probably enjoy my food and brew when I do. But all the televisions are a turnoff for me. And maybe it makes me a pub snob, but I just don’t feel the same way about a pub when I see a dedicated TV screen for Keno and a pull-tab machine. The pub is only two weeks old, so new it’s still listed as “coming soon” on Tag Pubs’ website and at the time I first published this review it didn’t yet have a listing on Urbanspoon. I plan to give it some time to grow on me, and I would recommend trying it out for yourself. Let me know what you think if you do!