A barn from Port Coquitlam, salvaged rope, a submarine-style door and a suspended bathtub – this is not your average bar redesign shopping list. But then again, The Portside Pub is not your average bar.
“We gathered all the marine paraphernalia from a bunch of different places, it was like an episode of Canadian pickers,” explains Andrew Flynn – Portside’s bar manager and bonafide east coast boy hailing from Cornerbrook, Newfoundland. The Pub’s owner, Mark Brand of Boneta and Save On Meats is also from Nova Scotia, so it’s a not surprising that his next hospitality venture is one adorned with model ships and weathered captain’s wheels.
Any friend who has ever been to the Maritimes – be their destination Gander or Moncton, Charlottetown or Truro – has always remarked, ‘Everyone there is so bloody nice.” I thought the same during my own trip to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia in 2005. This is the ethos that Flynn and his team are trying to recreate.
A visit to the Portside is as refreshing as ocean wind in the face, considering the sea of slick, matchy matchy and oft-insincere restaurant and pub chains that populate Vancouver. Portside staff are friendly, the crowd is mature yet slightly rowdy, and the vibe entirely unpretentious.
The Thursday night we visited the pub, the house was about a third full transitioning from a Canucks game to a Burlesque show. Guiding me through the gorgeous post and beam space, Flynn explained how the redesign team used about five tonnes of sand to blast away the 1970s disco feel of the previous resident of #7 Alexander Street, The Post Modern Dance Bar.
Brand’s team has worked hard at creating the heartfelt homage to mariner culture that is the Portside. Throughout the pub are small and large archival harbour scene photos and found high-seas essentials like rope winches. At the top bar, a claw foot tub dispenses Jamieson’s whisky. Each level of the Portside displays wide-grained, upcycled wood, reclaimed from an old barn in PoCo and Douglas Fir floorboards of the now defunct Capones.
In the belly of the pub, a spotless glass room features kegs of local brews like Russell and Phillips locked away behind a custom-made replica of a submarine door. The shiny kegs siphon through to 48 taps in the pub, 24 up and 24 down so the selection is the same no matter what your view of the night’s entertainment is. If you’re an aspiring sailor or pirate, this is your bar.
The menu is simple and fun at the Portside, but the actual process of acquiring the food is a little confusing. Hot dogs, popcorn, sandwiches and a dollop of dim sum fare are what you’ll find here. For the uninitiated here are some directions: to get some of the quick, scrumptious nosh you need to buy tickets from the bar or your server for a toonie each. Then you bring your tickets over to the informal, carnival style food counter manned by friendly dudes who assemble your food faster than a gull can steal a kid’s lunch on the docks of Granville Island. The chefs can’t handle cash, hence the ticket system.
We tried the pulled Chicken sandwich (four tickets), Flynn’s highly recommended siu mai dumplings (three tickets) and pulled Pork sandwich (four tickets). We loved the kick of the spicy, crunchy kimchi paired with the juicy braised chicken, and the siu mai was as good as any I’ve had at the Chinatown or Richmond night market.
Like any good Maritime pub, music and live entertainment are also part of the venue’s program. While local DJs rule the dance floor on Friday and Saturday, you can find live music at the Portside on Sundays and Wednesdays nights. Bluegrass fans gather to a jam out with Tishomingo String Band Sunday nights. On Wednesday evenings ladies gather for ‘Women & Whiskey’ where the fairer sex can sample whiskey and beer flights while listening to the talents of local female-headed bands. Those looking for a laugh can head to the Portside for ‘Funny Shit’ on Tuesdays with funnymen hosts Billy Botox and Seany Guys.
As Captain of Brand’s newest venture, Flynn is in charge of keeping the ship afloat while balancing Vancouver night life essentials: quirky food, a competitive beer list and bums-in-seats entertainment. So far the ship’s sailing straight – let’s hope the Portside stays its course.