I did not intend for the first night out in Vancouver, B.C. to go from the rarefied (champagne, chandeliers, wingback chairs) to the sordid (Jäger bombs, picnic tables, vomit). However, starting out at the posh lobby bar at the Fairmont may make a downward spiral inevitable. The martinis are excellent, there's a jazz singer with live piano accompaniment, and snacks include something called "Breaking the Ice": patrons use tiny mallets to liberate a tin of caviar that has been entombed in a block of frozen water. The Lady in Red—a sweet, pink drink served in tribute to the ghost who purportedly roams the halls of the hotel—has mysteriously disappeared from the menu, but they'll still make you one. The ghost herself reportedly still makes appearances, at least as recently as a few years ago when she scared the bejeezus out of some crew members filming The X-Files, who supposedly then quit the show and left Vancouver never to return.
(This posh part of the evening might have been differently but equally well disposed of in the lobby bar of the Opus Hotel, just given props in the New York Times. It's a ghost-free, ultra-modern lounge where, the next night at 7:00 p.m., hipsters with laptops were working on an ad campaign. Video monitors above the sinks in the Opus Hotel's bathroom let you keep tabs on the action in the bar while you're away, and a glass wall between the ladies' and men's provides excitement while you're there.)
The purgatorial level of that first night in Vancouver involved a stop at a British pub called the Jolly Taxpayer, where an inebriated gentleman immediately charged up, bellowing, "I'M DAVE, AND I'LL BE YOUR ESCORT TONIGHT." This was not to be, as Dave was duly informed. The entertainment was a singer-songwriter-guitarist type playing covers ranging from Gloria Gaynor to Tom Jones, and the books on the shelves of a distant balcony level looked peculiar. Investigation revealed that these books—hundreds of them—had all been lopped off vertically two inches from the spine, and that the shelves were only about three inches deep. Read aloud, the remaining words on the truncated pages sounded like mediocre poetry. A fall down some badly eroded stairs (Canada clearly isn't the sort of litigious society that keeps steps safe for the tipsy) signaled that it was time to move on.
The final, infernal destination was selected by a local, apparently as a car-wreck–style curiosity. "People know the Cambie, even if they don't want to," he said. Outside, someone was puking copiously, and the cavernous interior was packed with what in the USA would be literally an impossibly young crowd (the drinking age in Canada is 19). The mix encompassed frat types, punk rockers, and indie sorts, all great-looking and enjoying the hell out of themselves (except perhaps those being ejected mid-fistfight). It seemed far better than any similar scene available in Seattle. Vancouver is a bewitching mistress.