Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie opens in Chinatown
By Joanne Sasvari
January 15, 2010

What took so long?
It was only a matter of time before Chinatown, with its vintage buildings and fascinating history, was revived as a fashionable drinking and dining destination.
Now, after several years on the sidelines of Vancouver’s dynamic bar scene, this storied old neighbourhood will feature two hot new joints opening open only a few doors apart, each with one of the city’s most talented bartenders behind the wood.
First up is Bao Bei Chinese Brasserie (163 Keefer St., 604-688-0876,, which has just opened.
“Bao Bei means precious. In Chinese culture people use the term for their children, like ‘my precious child,’” says Tannis Ling, the longtime Chambar barkeep who’s the self-styled “boss lady” of the project.
She’s been dreaming of opening this restaurant for about five years and started working on it about a year ago. Now she has created a unique space that’s at once homey and stylish, with a funky vintage feel.
“It’s Chinese countryside meets French bistro with a little throwback to Chinatown’s heyday,” says Craig Stanghetta, who helped design the room. “It’s similar to an izakaya,” he says of the popular Japanese drinks and tapas bars, “but the Chinese kind of way.”
“There’s a Shanghainese and Taiwanese influence and definitely a Vietnamese influence because we really like the freshness of Vietnamese food,” says chef Joel Watanabe, formerly of La Brasserie and Bin 942. “We don’t want to be too fusion-y.”
Unlike many Asian restaurants, the drinks here will be as important as the food. Ling plans to focus on simple, well-made cocktails as well as beer, wine and sake carefully chosen to pair with the food.
“Everything is going to be fresh, fresh juice and good alcohol. I can’t see anything going very wrong with that,” Ling says with a laugh.
“The concept for the drinks here is to take it back a little,” she adds. “The food is a little bit rustic. I’ve done a bit of the molecular mixology, and you get a little bored with it. It’s just three, four ingredients a drink.”
Everything will be designed to be affordable, too. “I don’t want to scare people away,” Ling says. “I want people to have a cocktail and want another one.”
Simple the drinks may be, but expect to find exotic flavours that reflect the neighbourhood’s Chinese traditions, such as a sour made with dried plums, rye whisky and honey or a concoction of freshly juiced pears, ginger and rum.
Unfortunately for those with fond memories of the neighbourhood’s disreputable eateries of the 1960s and ’70s, one Chinatown tradition they will avoid is “cold tea,” the popular but highly illegal tradition of serving teapots filled with beer or whisky after hours.
You likely won’t find cold tea on the menu at the super-stylish new Keefer Bar (133 Keefer St., 604-688-1983,, either.
The bar is just part of a petite new hotel known as the Keefer, which features four luxury lofts available for short-term rental just down the block from Bao Bei. But the décor here is anything but cheerfully rustic. Expect high-end, high-concept design, with installations by Doug Coupland and “dark, ominous interiors” inspired by its Chinatown heritage.
That sense of style applies to the cocktails, too. The award-winning Danielle Tatarin, formerly of DB Bistro Moderne, is the bar manager here and she is known for her artfully constructed drinks, with clever use of molecular mixology and exotic flavours. We expect they’ll pair beautifully with the kitchen’s Asian street tapas and upscale dim sum.
Best of all, the Keefer should be open not long after Bao Bei (again, depending on the city), making this Vancouver’s most deliciously exciting block for the next little while.
“We are shooting to open the bar just before the Olympics if all goes well,” Tatarin says.
We’ll drink to that!

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