After Dark in Vancouver

After Dark in Vancouver

There’s always the temptation to follow the crowds in a faraway city, but luckily we have Vancouver local John Lee to lead us past the painfully obvious in British Columbia.

On most weekends, Downtown Vancouver’s neon-lit Granville Street teems with giddy young party monsters ever on the verge of their next vomitous episode. But ask discerning locals where to drink and, if they like you, they’ll tell you to avoid ‘the Strip’. Vancouverites have a hot list of favoured night-time haunts, from craft beer charmers and under-the-radar dive bars to tiny live stages and steaming dance floors. All are within easy reach, as long as you know where to go.

This is the home of Canada’s best craft beer scene and new microbreweries are popping up in Vancouver every few weeks. But despite the frothy clamour, one ale-maker stands out from the crowd. Since opening in 2013, Brassneck Brewery has concocted more than 50 different beers and hooks drinkers with an ever-changing chalkboard of intriguing libations with names like Magician’s Assistant and Passive Aggressive. Arrive early for a seat in the tasting bar – holes punched in the wood-plank walls reveal the brewery beyond – and couple your sampler flight with cured sausage from the jars on the counter. Still hungry? There’s often a food truck parked outside and you’re encouraged to bring your grub into the bar.
Brassneck Brewery
2148 Main Street, Mount Pleasant


Check the online calendar of nearby Hot Art Wet City gallery to add an early-evening side event to your big night out. One of Vancouver’s most eclectic art spaces, HAWC opens late on the first Thursday of every month and hosts regular night-time happenings, from artist talks to burlesque-themed sketch classes. But the best way to meet local artsy types is to grab a few drinks at a gratis show opening. New exhibitions kick off monthly and there’s always something fun and fancy worth rubbing your chin at – recent shows have covered embarrassing teenager art, disembodied dolls’ head paintings and clever designs applied to bike saddles and beer bottles.
Hot Art Wet City
2206 Main Street, Mount Pleasant

Hop on the number 3 transit bus outside the gallery and you’ll be downtown in 10 minutes. But you’re not heading for the Strip. Tucked above a 7-Eleven, the sticky-tabled Railway Club – launched as a respite for train workers in the 1930s – is Vancouver’s best old-school bar. Now a laid-back, all-embracing hangout for everyone from red-nosed old lags to penny-pinching students – plus those easily tempted office slaves who couldn’t resist dropping by for an after-work brew three hours ago – there’s a hole-in-the-wall food hatch and a generous array of great local-made booze. The hoppy Driftwood Fat Tug IPA comes recommended. But the Rail’s main attraction is a small, sweaty stage with a near-nightly roster of bands of the emerging and obscure variety.
Railway Club
579 Dunsmuir Street, Downtown


The frayed-around-the-edges Railway Club flirts with the whole dive bar aesthetic, but Pub 340, with its aroma of stale beer, is the real deal. A 10-minute downhill walk away, it’s home to a gaggle of glassy-eyed regulars during the day – where else can you find dirt-cheap booze sans a side order of communicable diseases? – while a younger, hipper crew rolls in as the night unfolds. Few, however, are here for the greasy floors and grubby beer-hall ambience. Instead, they purchase pints to take to the front-of-house pinball room. For a dollar a game, you’ll have your choice of 11 tables, including the ever-popular White Water and the bells-and-whistles Wizard of Oz. Need to rest your flipping fingers? There’s also a console programmed with 1980s video games.
Pub 340
340 Cambie Street, Downtown


Move swiftly along Hastings Street – heart of gritty Downtown Eastside – then turn right onto Main Street’s Chinatown stretch; you’re keeping your eyes peeled for the faded awning of the Brickhouse. Echoing a 1970s family room, this bar’s eye-popping interior is lined with dog-eared books, fairy-lit movie posters and neon-bright fish tanks twitching with aquatic life. Crammed with more knick-knacks than a jam-packed junk shop – from vintage 7UP fridges to dusty Bakelite radios – it’s the physical extension of owner Leo Chow’s eclectic mind. “We’re 60 per cent British pub and 40 per cent American tavern,” he’s fond of saying as he pours well-priced draughts for the friendly young folk and international backpackers who regard the room, with its sagging sofas and ever-busy pool table, as their personal den.
730 Main Street, Chinatown


Main Street noses uphill as you aim for the intersection with 3rd Avenue and a red light bulb mounted above an otherwise anonymous doorway. When the light is on, the Narrow Lounge is open. Descend the graffiti-lined stairway and you’ll suddenly emerge in a cosy, subterranean speakeasy no bigger than a train carriage. Grab a perch at the glowing bar and order from the list of traditional martinis and classic cocktails – you can’t go past an Old Fashioned – or snag a tiny table beneath the antler horns and garage-sale artworks. There’s also a secret Mexican-themed garden out back, complete with piñatas, painted picnic tables and a kitsch Jesus shrine flickering with candles, making this one of Main’s best hidden hangouts. Hungry? Order the Guinness mac and cheese for a late-night fuel-up.
Narrow Lounge
Corner Main Street and 3rd Avenue, Mount Pleasant


You’ve now looped back to Brassneck territory, but it’s long past the brewery’s closing time. Luckily, there’s still plenty to do nearby. The popular Biltmore Cabaret ( once had a nightlife monopoly in this part of town – its dance floor, band nights and burlesque shows are still hot items – but a challenger arrived on the scene in early 2014. Formerly one of North America’s last-remaining porn cinemas, the new owners of Fox Cabaret have transformed (and fully pressure-washed) the venue, ditching the dodgy flicks in favour of live music, DJ nights and Sunday night comedy. Far friendlier than the characterless Granville Strip clubs, it’s the perfect spot to end your Vancouver night out.
Fox Cabaret
2321 Main Street, Mount Pleasant

Get there

Air Canada has daily direct flights between Sydney and Vancouver.

Stay there

Marked by a huge old-school neon sign, the recently renovated Burrard is a former motel in the heart of the city. Its rooms are retro-cool and there’s a hidden palm-tree courtyard, as well as free bikes for local exploring and complimentary wi-fi. Doubles from about US$78.

Get Informed

Wondering what to do during daylight hours? Vancouver’s official tourism website offers plenty of ideas.



Words John Lee

Photos Dominic Schaefer

Tags: art, canada, music, nightlife, urbanites, Vancouver

While you're here


Excuse us if we sound dramatic, but we’re pretty sure we’ve found the...

Excuse us if we sound dramatic, but we’re pretty sure we’ve found the best dome...


Arcana’s extraordinary mirrored cabins in the Canadian woods really are a...

Arcana’s extraordinary mirrored cabins in the Canadian woods really are a secret –...


If you’ve decided to test out Canada’s Powder Highway, this is your...

If you’ve decided to test out Canada’s Powder Highway, this is your chance to get...


John Lennon and Yoko Ono: this twentieth-century rock star-peace power couple...

John Lennon and Yoko Ono: this twentieth-century rock star-peace power couple have never...