Vancouver in general is in transition, but there’s a whole swath of East Vancouver that’s coming to life right now. Like, right now. You can actually see it growing. It’s Yeast Van, baby. The craft beer industry’s influence on this neighbourhood is already staggering.
If you don’t know Yeast Van, it’s a cute nickname – coined by Parallel 49 employee Paul Gibson-Tigh in 2012 – for the area of East Vancouver with the highest concentration of craft breweries. There are nine in total, seven of which have opened in the last three years. At least two more are in the works. That’s about 10 per cent of B.C.’s breweries clustered within short cycling distance.
Yeast Van’s borders are fuzzy, since it’s not an official neighbourhood, but it fits squarely in the Grandview-Woodland district. I’ll define the borders right now: Clark Drive to the west, Venables to the south, Victoria Drive to the east, and Powell Street to the north. Strange Fellows is situated two blocks south of Venables, so it’s technically outside Yeast Van, but whatever, let’s count them in.
Because of these breweries, this mostly industrial neighbourhood is humming with cultural activity that hasn’t been seen here in decades, if ever. Right now, it’s an empty canvas that the City of Vancouver, if it were so inclined, could help cultivate a district for tourists and locals, centred on the single most authentic cultural industry to emerge out of Vancouver in two decades: y’know, beer. We could call it Yeast Van, with flags on streetlamps and everything.
“The breweries have brought this new life in to this area, but what would be really beneficial from a tourism standpoint is, for people want to come in and open cool little bars, restaurants and other things,” says Chris Bjerrisgaard, Parallel 49’s marketing manager.
“If the Waldorf continues to live, [that’s] another aspect of this.”
The Waldorf is central to this, both logistically – as a funky bar/restaurant and East Vancouver’s only boutique hotel that can service beer tourism in the neighbourhood – and as a spiritual guide for how Yeast Van can (and should) shape up as Vancouver’s designated brewery district. The furor that followed the Waldorf’s almost closing back in 2013 was a cry from Vancouver’s disparate cultural communities – groups of people starving for something authentic in a neighbourhood that can grow and sustain creative enterprise. The Waldorf was a beacon and a sign that this neighbourhood can provide that. The brewing industry has carried that further, almost by accident.
“This area has the making to be as good, if not better, than Southeast Portland, and that is a mighty big statement, but we need the support,” Bjerrisgaard says.
Is the city interested in offering that support? Sort of. Tom Wanklin, City of Vancouver’s senior planner for Downtown Eastside and False Creek Flats, says that from a general perspective, the city is aware of the booming industry, but that creating a designated brewery district isn’t really necessary.
“If we as a municipality start trying to influence where people should locate their breweries in a particular area like that, we could actually find ourselves fiddling around in the economies of scale and find that it is actually a mistake to the needs of the brewers themselves,” he says.
Their approach is to basically wait and see, and to support whatever crops up organically. If the market wants funky retail and restaurants in that area, it’ll happen, and Wanklin says it’s the city’s policy to support that. If the neighbourhood shapes up into a Portland-style beer district, then so be it.
Portland, to be fair, doesn’t have a designated beer district either, but Southeast Portland is considered its unofficial brewery town. You go there for the beer, but there’s a wealth of other experiences that go along with that: various food options, a blend of retail spaces, art projects, etc.
Vancouver already has something similar in the Brewery Creek / Mount Pleasant area, and while Brewery Creek is great in its own right, it’s an area that likely can’t sustain many more breweries than it already has due to the relative lack of appropriate industrial space in the area.
Yeast Van is far more suitable, for a few reasons:
The name is awesome and totally sellable from a tourism perspective.
The beer industry has room to grow, since the neighbourhood has a surplus of warehouse space zoned for light industrial, increasingly left vacant by businesses fleeing for cheaper rent in Burnaby or Surrey.
Yeast Van is underdeveloped in the culture department. Its proximity to Strathcona and Commercial Drive means there’s potential to merge these two culturally diverse neighbourhoods into, like, one super hip neighbourhood, with food and bars and entertainment.
So let’s make it happen. Who’s in?