Vancouver Hipster Guide

Hipster by Wikimedia Commons
Hipster by Wikimedia Commons

If Canada is a super power in some sense or another, it’s certainly the country that has the greatest number of hipsters per capita. It’s no surprise that our country is a hipster paradise. We boast multicultural values set deeply into the core of the constitution. Indie music plays everywhere, including commercial radio stations, and the Arcade Fire, who are a symbol of intelligent indie bands all around the world, are mainstream here. We are relatively progressive and we are wealthy enough to create fabulous opportunities for youth to devote themselves completely to their search for authenticity with almost no distractions.

Now, if you’re a true independent spirit of Vancouver that dislikes being the term hipster, as you’re just an honest intellectual, very different from the crowd, read on! Today’s post will provide you with priceless tips about how to get around in Vancouver and never be out of touch with skinny jeans, plaid shirts and a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon.

Main Street

Over the past couple of years, Main Street has become a Vancouver hotspot brimming with youngsters (eg those younger than me) with thick-rimmed glasses. Stretching all the way from the Port of Vancouver docks to the north and the Fraser River to the south, Main Street is made up of diverse neighbourhoods — from Gastown and the Downtown Eastside to Chinatown or Mount Pleasant (South Main) and Riley Park (Mid-Main). The divide running along Main Street used to be very striking; the wealthy west side met the working-class east side here.

The Blurring Division

That east-west split has been slowly disappearing as the bike-loving folks with fully grown beards discovered the spirit of the areas east of Main (because all the genuine hipsters need to find their own 1970 New York Soho atmosphere to become the new Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorp). These days, this former off-the-beaten-path urban space is infused with fashion boutiques, live music venues, cheap international eateries, and trendy cafes, but some of the original local features can still be seen: the high-brow Aurora bistro with its fancy $120 pinot noir is located just across the street from Fox Cinema, whose program consists exclusively of porn movies.

Food & Drink

Main Street by Wikimedia Commons
Main Street by Wikimedia Commons

To associate with some similarly ironic characters on Main Street, you definitely shouldn’t miss Foundation (2301 Main Street), a vegetarian heaven famed for having the very best nachos in Vancouver. Its chill vibe and great music will cheer up even hipsters in the middle of an existential crisis stemming from an inability to figure out what Ulysses is really about. Quite a lot of decent moustaches can be found in Bean around the World (3598 Main Street), an original café with remarkable wood décor and a wide array of baked goods to supplement its great coffee. Some regular visitors swear that their mochas keep them alive. Brickhouse Late Night Bistro & Bar (730 Main Street) is a cheap, subterranean place for drinks. Authenticity seekers flock here during the evenings, trying hard to recreate Charles-Bukowski experiences and meet and greet some of the vestiges of traditional local visitors.

Stores

Hipsters’ lives are not all about hanging around fancy cafes and clubs! There’s so much more that needs to be done to be a self-respected member of this fine community, and Main Street can provide it all. Visit Three Bags Full (4458 Main Street), a store with a tremendous selection of wool and luxury yarns that can bring your knitting to a brand new level. If you feel like you could use a new typewriter or attend a letter writing class, pop into the Regional Assembly of Text (3934 Main Street). Their choice of unique, hand-made greeting cards or invitations will compel you to send them out to everyone! The business even includes a lovely lowercase reading room, perfect for exploring the depth of your hundred-year-old copy of Thus Spake Zarathustra. If your home library still lacks some of Sartre’s works, nothing’s easier than taking a look at Pulpfiction Books (2422 Main Street), one of the city’s most popular used bookstores.

Clothing

The Archertype
The Archetype

As soon as you feel that your stock of ironic T-shirts needs a new piece, hit up Archetype (2549 Main Street), the boutique that built its name by selling small labels that produce avantgarde but affordable prints and ’70s-style leather jackets or denim. F as in Frank (2425 Main Street) offers probably the largest selection of vintage hats and a sea of ’80s and ’90s clothing, including many Levi’s cut offs and a selection of Ray-Bans. Since the owners of the store are known to go through about 1,000 pieces of old clothes every single day, the goods that make it to the store must meet even the most critical hipster’s criteria! If you’re looking for some new designs, don’t miss Eugene Choo (3683 Main Street), a lovely boutique showcasing the cult French label A.P.C shirts and pop-art styled messenger bags made from recycled materials.

Commercial Drive

Commercial Drive is another neighborhood where hipsters feel at home in Vancouver. According to the Hipster Handbook, Commercial Drive could be nicknamed the “indigenous zone of the hipster in the U.S. and Canada”. To illustrate the character of the neighbourhood, one Vancouverite used this example: once he walked into a coffee shop and a guy with a full-grown beard and a Holga camera came to him and politely asked if the guy could wait in the queue for him while he would be sitting on the stairs outside and reading. Commercial Drive is overrun with artsy and independent types, such as poet wannabes, sculptors, punks, and hippies, creating a perfect environment for anyone looking for the right atmosphere to overcome Woody Allen-inspired panic attacks.

Food & Drink

JJ Bean Coffee Roaster
JJ Bean Coffee Roaster

For individuals looking for a patio breakfast and brunch spot with a friendly, almost family-like atmosphere and a rustic chicness, Little Nest (1716 Charles Street) just off Commercial Drive comes highly recommended. Their food is brilliant and their offer of baked goods has become a legend. However, to visit the true hipster central of the area, it’s worth cycling down to JJ Bean Coffee Roaster (2206 Commercial Drive). You can find an unprecedented number of people with leather bags craving their daily portion of 100 per cent ethical and fair-trade coffee, as the business actually owns their own coffee farms with guaranteed standards for their workers. The laid-back spirit of the place with baristas who seem to have an eternal hangover will certainly keep you coming back! When looking for a place to spend the evening, The Tiki Bar (1489 East Hastings Street) at the Waldorf Hotel is always overflowing with youngsters who enjoy the ultimate irony of pretending to be in the South Pacific. It has everything that any Polynesian bar needs: a starry night ceiling, palm trees, dim lighting, and a really, really high temperature.

Stores

For all the potential future Bob Dylans and Ian Curtises, Bonerattle Music (2012 Commercial Drive) is the place that can help you start your career. This little independent music shop run by one passionate dude doesn’t offer that wide an assortment, but it’s famed for its quality and originality. New and used, cheap and expensive, the choice is up to you and the best thing is that you can spend hours here trying out the instruments without making anyone angry.

If you find yourself in trouble with your bike and you’re worried that you might need to start using some kind of non-ecological transportation, don’t hesitate to have it fixed at Bikes on the Drive Sales & Service (1350 Commercial Drive). The shop made it its mission to promote cycling as an alternative to cars and the guys working in there know their jobs really well and always provide you with exactly what you need in a short time.

If you feel that good video stores that didn’t sell themselves out are dying out, Black Dog Video (1470 Commercial Drive) will prove you wrong. This independent store specializes in foreign, independent, documentary, and queer cinema. You will certainly have no problem getting the filmography of Ingmar Bergman or the best picks from the French New Wave here.

Clothing

Value Village
Value Village

To keep your independent clothing style nicely varied, Value Village (1820 Hastings Street East) is a safe thrift store haven. This place has such a large selection of clothing that it simply can’t let anyone down. Go treasure-hunting in this huge store and besides clothes, you might find tons of awesome stuff, such as used kitchen appliances and glassware. As for the newer stuff for girls, Barefoot Contessa (1928 Commercial Drive) offers beautiful feminine clothing for a reasonable price. Each piece is only produced in small batches, so you’re sure that your newly bought dress or skirt won’t be worn by a thousand other people in Vancouver. If Audrey Hepburn were alive, she would certainly love this store! Mintage (1714 Commercial Drive) is another store in the area that is highly recommended. Its motto should be “something old, something new!” as they manage the perfect fusion of old and new: vintage clothes are mixed or combined with completely new items, creating the perfect synthesis for all the urban hipster fashion enthusiasts.

Are there any other ultimately hipster spots that you know of? Let us know about your tips and there may be a Vancouver Hipster Guide vol. II coming soon!

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11 Responses to Vancouver Hipster Guide

  1. Mark Bignell says:

    Any place that brags about how “progressive” and “hip” it is and doesn’t attend any of the live music events as part of its “progressive” and “hip” pursuits, is full of shit. I go to live gigs on a regular basis and mention them on my Radio Bandcouver show. A show that actual TELLS you where to see local music and actually supports the scene. It makes me sick how certain people brag about how “progressive” and “hip” Vancouver is and yet don’t attend live music shows by local musicians. You’re a bunch of hypocrites and liars.

    Reply
  2. pat says:

    This is a joke, right? Sarcasm? It’s nasty in any case…Hipsters – go away. You’re ruining all the good spots. I certainly am not about to tell you my fave breakfast spot; you’ll bulldoze it and have it turned into a pretentious Apple martini joint in no time.

    Reply
  3. steve says:

    This article is poorly done. The author clearly doesn’t know what they’re talking about. The whole existential/ulysses crack has no relevance to hipster culture in the slightest, and it’s a terrible joke to add in the first place.

    Reply
  4. Leigh says:

    haters gonna hate.

    Bad jokes aside, this article is good for Vancouver… so is any other article that promotes culture in Vancouver. If you’re sad about certain breakfast joints or venues getting “infiltrated by hipsters”, you’re probably just old and single… just move to NYC already and be done with it.

    The kids are just having fun and learning about urban culture… more often than not, they are 19-23 and they just moved to “the big city”. They start with AA and UO… maybe venture into a new “off Granville” dive bar or club. Then someone makes fun of them for their plug earrings, Chuck Taylors or trucker hat… and they go out and start shopping at Lark or Gravity Pope. Before they know it, they look like grown ups and suddenly trying hard at their art, music, craft, designs, writing etc.. seems kinda cool. Nothing wrong with any of this, as long as it’s not destructively consumeristic (and I’ll admit that in some cases it is!)

    Vancouverites used to reject fashion since it was perceived, somewhat naively, as the same thing as consumerism. Meanwhile, small groups of very hard working DIYers, crafters, vintage shoppers, aspiring fashion designers, bespoke-fans, heirloom-lovers, antique-collectors, dumpster-divers, garage-salers, fought hard agains the dominant fleece/gortex Vancouver paradigm and now they are winning. Vancouverites have learned to project their creative aspirations through their clothing in ways that go far beyond the conformity we saw with ravers, punks, sk8rs, goths, emos and hip hop heads. Sure, there are the occasional exploitative corporations that capitalize on their hard work, but there are also countless new startup companies that were birthed from this protozoic ooze of DIY culture. Those small young ventures depend a great deal on the minions of “copy cats” who dress up like My!Gay!Husband! for Halloween (in all fairness, I think there were only two of them last year… Jason: am I right?)

    The interesting thing to me, is the incredible changes Vancouver has gone through in the last 5-10 years. I grew up here, and it has improved in almost every way. Old buildings have been restored, and people are more creative and sophisticated with their fashion experiments. The snobs are less judgemental and cliquey than they used to be… and perhaps most importantly, our artists and home grown “international” businesses are doing very well. Vancouver has made steady progress to becoming a culturally significant city that is a “must visit” when bands are on tour.

    Between CITR, Discorder, Radiozero, 560, the Waldorf, the Biltmore, the Electric Owl, the Astoria, the Cobalt, Vanmusic, VIA, the Strait, the Media Club, Timbre, SWAK, M!G!H!, Winnie Cooper, Zulu, Redcat, and dozens of other Vancouver indie music related entities… we continue punch well above our weight. I’d love to see some stats on “creative output per capita” if it were possible to capture such a metric.

    young aspiring hipsters: just keep doing your thing. The kids are alright.

    Reply
    • Frank says:

      Hey guys,

      I think Leigh has it right. Perfect is the enemy of the Good!

      I’m a spanking new member of Vancouver and hoping to become an active participant in one of its culturally richer communities – this is how I ran across this article.

      I’m in my early 30s and looking to learn about the arts and culture scene here and to meet and work with others who are interested in developing it further.

      I could use your take on how/where to find a good community to get settled in this regard that is reasonably accessible to UBC.

      Are Kitsilano and Mount Pleasant my best options?

      Write me if you’d like to discuss over drinks (on moi, bien sur): payemsusty@gmail.com

      Reply
      • Sebastian says:

        Welcome to Vancouver, Frank. It sounds as though Mount Pleasant would be a good fit for you, but if you want, feel free to email me to talk about it in more detail.

        Reply
  5. olivia. says:

    i agree. this is poorly researched, and borderline offensive.

    Reply
    • Matt says:

      Offensive? Get a life. You’re easily offended by nothing.

      Reply
  6. Sebastian says:

    Thanks for your thoughtful and positive comments, Leigh. I agree. I grew up in Vancouver and feel that our city, while not perfect, is on the right track.

    Reply
  7. Cheap Coach Knockoffs says:

    Thank You For This Post, was added to my bookmarks.

    Reply
  8. Marion says:

    How come everyone is so angry!? Didn’t your mom tell you if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all?

    Reply

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