Skip to content
Join our Newsletter
Join our Newsletter

ON THE PLATE: No high-fives for food at puck-friendly bar

Playoff hockey makes me do weird things. I havent shaved for nearly two months and currently look like a bespectacled Sasquatch.
VAN201105251980756.jpg

Playoff hockey makes me do weird things. I havent shaved for nearly two months and currently look like a bespectacled Sasquatch. I suddenly like green leotards, and at the time of writing Ive developed a special sympathy/loathing relationship with San Jose. Somewhere lurking in the back of my skull there are new, dread-infused aversions to Tampa Bay and Boston, and I seem to be knocking on wood a lot. Im also dining in restaurants and bars that I normally wouldnt, on account of all the screaming and yelling.

The Charles Bar on Cordova seems to have no problem with any of that.

In fact, the Gastown venue at the base of the new mixed-use Woodwards building encourages it. When I showed up early for Game 2 of the Vancouver Canucks Western Conference final tilt against the San Jose Sharks with a few friends, we positioned ourselves in front of a massive arrangement of flatscreen TVs, received white towels to wave and a hockey puck with the name Torres scribbled on it. If Raffi Torres scored a goal, wed get shots of whisky at no charge. Good times. It may not be how I normally begin a meal (or a restaurant review), but tis the (playoff) season.

The obtuse triangular space all polished, carved wood and concrete makes up the prow of the flat-iron-like building. Id heard friends call The Charles haphazard in look, but given the shape of the room, I dont think they could have done anything better with it.

Since its a liquor primary operation, theyve simply plunked a bar in the middle and worked distinct zones for drinking and dining around it. Go figure. The seating is either bar high or lounge low, which allows for a more casual, milling-friendly atmosphere. Bonus: at the point of the prow, a bewitching little patio juts out towards Cambie an ideal venue for watermelon caiprinhas on non-game days ($9).

Of course, with mitigating circumstances like the Stanley Cup playoffs, such considerations seem ridiculous.

All one really requires is a shot of whisky (won), a white towel (free) and a red-relished burger/beer combo for $11. Was the burger one of those pre-packaged, entry-level pittance pucks of sugar and salt? Absolutely, and I didnt care, because sometimes food gasp is the last thing I think about.

And thats been working out just great for The Charles. They were packed with jersey-wearing people of similar minds to my own (drink, yell, bite, drink, repeat with mouth full), and fun was the order of the day. If I gave it a second thought Id probably say something awful about the place, like how I wouldnt go there for a proper dinner.

The service disappointed on all three of my visits, game days and not. The staff were sweet and earnestly bubbly, but the rudiments of table and customer maintenance seemed lost on them. In my day, leaving a pile of chicken bones in front of a guest for an hour was patently offside, as was not offering a glass of water to a charge drinking alcohol outside in the sun. Smiles aside, not once did I feel that I was ever in The Charles care.

I havent forgotten that its a liquor-primary business, but they would do well to work on their service standards.

The direction of the food could use some help, too. There are two dozen establishments nearby where the love and effort they put into their plates is real, while the menu at The Charles is wholly without point or theme; a kitchen sink wonder indifferent to the city it serves.

Its for grown-ups that havent quite grown up, reaching for the same money pot as Earls, Milestones and the rest of the chains: on the lower shelf, just above prototypical pub pablum and with just enough faux-worldly exoticism to attract the guiltily unadventurous. Its a cuisine I call New Boring.

Without surprise, it under-delivers. Think sugary, flat-spiced and slightly overdone tuna tataki ($12); egregiously over-sweet and over-sauced pulled pork tacos garnished with some sorry, shredded excuse for Oaxacan cheese ($9); miserly portions of college-grade nachos ($12); awful poutine with curds that have melted to the consistency of wet string ($7.50); and blandly dressed Cobb salads that havent been tossed ($14). Still, what better way to survive a 5-on-3 power play than nervously ripping the sad flesh from unexciting lemon-pepper chicken wing bones ($10.50), slurping on cheap lager and belching repeatedly?

In the end, a bellyful of mediocrity is what you get in these parts if you want to bask in the full glory of a hooligan-friendly fan joint.

Cheering in the well-served lounges at nearby LAbattoir or Boneta (where people are on dates), is a muted affair.

These days, we want to stand up and scream at the refs and high five the people at the table next to us who watched with us as Henrik walked it in with Daniel.

Thats where The Charles comes in, fixable faults and all.