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Watch: Inside Vancouver's new speakeasy-style bar-restaurant inspired by the occult

Take a peek inside this mysterious new venture with delicious food and drinks

Does your cat, dog, or parakeet need a little help from the great beyond? Or do you just need a fun new spot to grab a drink? 

What looks like a pet psychic business in Gastown at 238 Abbott St is really the clever cover for a new cocktail bar and restaurant from the creative minds that brought Vancouver its beloved - and departed - Storm Crow bars. 

Arcana Spirit Lounge is designed with spirits in mind - both the liquid and the ghostly ones. Jessica Langer, the Chief Marketing Officer, tells V.I.A. in a phone interview that the concept has been in the works for about two years. The initial idea was to create a venue inspired by H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulu (psst: there's a drink on the menu named accordingly.)

Ultimately, the plan evolved into a drinks destination based on "vintage spiritualism," factoring in elements from a century ago that touch on the occult, seances, tarot, and the like. 

Fortune tellers, tarot card readers, and the occasional seance

Fun is on the menu for certain at Arcana, which will have - not surprisingly - an immersive decor and even special features like in-person tarot card readings and the occasional seance. Arcana will also have an old-school Zoltar fortune-telling machine - just like the one that led to some time travel hijinks in the 80s comedy hit Big. The space, promises Langer, will have  "some really cool, fun surprises and hidden stuff," for guests to discover.  "Not everything is going to be what it seems!"

The food and drink program offers some fun components, while being impressively elegant and more than just "bar grub."

Head Chef Larcy Nugent is behind a menu of upscale comfort food with a French and Eastern European influence. To that end, expect dishes like a Croque Monsieur playfully dubbed on-theme as the "Croque Sorcier," chili-lime chicken drumsticks, and steak tartare, along with house-made kettle chips and dips. 

Nugent and his team make the most of a somewhat limited kitchen, utilizing tools like sous vide, to turn out beautifully cooked flank steak topped with chimichurri and served with a decadent butter sauce for dipping and a side of chips and dip in your choice of flavours.

Though the kitchen is not gluten-free, there are some gluten-friendly options for those with dietary intolerances. 

A veggie option of a wintry salad of squash, apples, farro, kale, and pomegranate is a hearty and refreshing seasonal dish; Nugent tells V.I.A. diners can expect frequent menu changes that will showcase what's in season as well as give him a chance to bend a little to come up with some themed dishes to match the vibe of the cocktail menu.

Cocktails and mocktails inspired by the occult

Arcana's head bartender hasn't had to shift far geographically from his last post: Chad Rivard comes to the new project by way of The Diamond, which recently ended its storied run in the neighbourhood. Rivard's involvement is a boon for Arcana, since this allows them to have "a bit of Gastown continuity and keep the community together," as Langer puts it. 

Rivard's drinks menu has cocktails named for tarot cards and designed to "capture the vibe" of their respective namesakes. One drink, called The Psychic Hotline, comes with a card with a number you can connect with by text for your own psychic reading. A drink named Death can be presented for one or two drinkers and is served in a glass skull, while The Star comes with a beguiling illuminated ice cube that casts a yellowish glow. 

Be sure to keep an eye on the massive custom-made Ouija board over the bar area, which lights up and flashes out letters programmed to spell important words, as in a drink special. Other noteworthy touches are the tarot cards presented with the drinks that you may take as souvenirs. The drinks are served on coasters designed to look like the planchette used to land on letters on a Ouija board, and 

Additionally, low- and zero-proof cocktails have some real estate on the Arcana bar menu, an appeal to those who enjoy a night out without the booze. The Empress, for example, comes in a version with Empress Gin, or a spirit-free version, but both arrive at your table "smoking" thanks to dry ice, with blueberry "paint" on the glass. 

While Arcana is positioned as a cocktail-forward hangout, the licence is food primary, which means that earlier in the evening, guests can certainly bring minors (accompanied by adults). The flexibility means Arcana could easily be a go-to for a family celebration, for example. 

A speakeasy without a secret password

While Arcana is set up as a speakeasy, Langer explains that there is no secret password to get into the cocktail bar. "We wanted to do a speakeasy because they are a lot of fun," she says, adding that they're skipping a code word because they "want people to feel like they're insiders" without that extra barrier of having to get the access info right. 

Timing has been central to bringing Arcana to Vancouver. The Storm Crow crew, which continues to operate two Toronto ventures under its "alliance," have had their eyes out for an ideal location. When the Gastown space that had previously been The Hart and The Revel Room became available, work on Arcana began in earnest. 

"Gastown is a pretty cool, diverse neighbourhood," says Langer, acknowledging its proximity to downtown and the area's foot traffic - soon to be enhanced when a pedestrian-only zone is established next summer through a City of Vancouver pilot program. 

"The city is spending a lot of time and resources on Gastown, and we wanted to be a part of that," adds Langer. "We want to create some vitality, and bring more interest and fun into the area."

'We're hoping that Arcana is our triumphant return to the Vancouver scene'

Having a space that is accessible and immersive is crucial for the Storm Crow folks. PopCap co-founder and Storm Crow owner Jason Kapalka - the "creative engine behind the whole thing" says Langer - along with all of the management, are keen to bring something fresh and new to Vancouver. 

Both of Storm Crow's previous Vancouver ventures succumbed to economic pressures born of the times. The Storm Crow Tavern on Commercial Drive folded in April 2020, among the first venues in Vancouver to shutter as the pandemic paused life - and business - as we knew it. Its sibling, the Storm Crow Alehouse "nerd bar" on Broadway west of Granville Street, closed permanently in January 2022, in the aftermath of the pandemic's early years and the Broadway Subway construction. 

"We've been looking to re-establish - and maintain - a presence in Vancouver," says Langer. "We love the city. It's been really sad for us not to have a place here. We're hoping that Arcana is our triumphant return to the Vancouver scene."

Follow @arcanaspiritlounge on Instagram for more information and updates on a planned grand opening for January 2024

Video: Peek inside the 'Pet Psychic' biz that's actually an awesome new bar/restaurant

@forkingawesomevia This new speakeasy-style bar and restaurant in Vancouver is hidden inside a Pet Psychic in Gastown. And it is so much fun! Apologies as the captions went a bit sideways! 🤪 #forkingawesome #vancouverbc #vancouverfoodie ♬ Daydreamin speed up - 🪽

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