Bei Chinese Brasserie opens in Chinatown
By Joanne Sasvari
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,
www.bao-bei.ca), 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
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
“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, www.thekeefer.com),
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!