Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Ovaltine Cafe - History gets a second Chance

In a little cafe. . . just this side of the border 
in Vancouver



Ovaltine Cafe, Vancouver, Canada, *Vancouver Neon image

At 251 E. Hastings Street, Vancouver, sits The Ovaltine Cafe, a retro picturesque local place that survived the fifties, the sixties, seventies, eighties, nineties and rolled into the 21st century. It's in the downtown eastside, very close to Chinatown and the last news I heard is that it's getting a new lease on life, with a mother-daughter management team. To these new owners, simplicity and good food are the order of the day. This cafe is also a showcase for the possibilities of neon signage.

My mother-in-law, shown in the image below, worked in this cafe back in the forties when this part of town was thriving and a good restaurant like this one was a centre for the police from the nearby precinct. MIL rode her bike to work and knew many of the local constables.

Ovaltine Cafe, Vancouver, BC, retro image prop DG Hudson, c.1940s

Anytime a heritage building is revived, the locals dread gentrification and the lovers of retro want it, along with a few modern conveniences. Gentrification will happen in some pockets of the city, but not at the Ovaltine. Keeping what's good about it and a little sprucing up is all that's on the menu of the new and improved Ovaltine Cafe. It was good enough for a few movie sets. . .

The Ovaltine has starred in countless TV shows and a few blockbuster movies. It's a four level Edwardian Italian Renaissance Revival style, popular 102 years ago when it was built. This cafe has a quaint Rockwellian coffee counter, varnished wood panelling, worn cloisters and smoky mirrors, but this address has been home to other restaurants, a tailor's shop, government offices, apartments and even a postal substation in its lifetime.

One of my favorite movies, I, Robot, has a scene with Detective Spooner (Will Smith) and his boss are having coffee and discussing the robot problem or rather Spooner's take on the robot problem.  It has also been in Fringe, X-Files and Da Vinci's Inquest.


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Do you like the neon that used to be used on all signs several decades ago? Do you like visiting old establishments that have been revived? What do you think of gentrification? (gentrification is the reboot with improvements and some modernization of old establishments that have began to decay due to changing demographics in an area)

Please leave a comment to let me know you stopped by and thanks for visiting. I apologize for my absence lately, and will try to improve posting frequency.  

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References:

http://ovaltinecafe.ca/

http://blogs.vancouversun.com/2014/09/17/ovaltine-cafe-survives-a-new-ownership/

http://scoutmagazine.ca/2014/09/10/diner-iconic-ovaltine-cafe-on-the-dtes-to-change-hands-next-week-before-reboot/

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/food-and-wine/restaurant-reviews/ovaltine-cafe-a-diner-that-stayed-true-to-its-eastside-roots/article24464912/

*Image of Ovaltine Cafe: Vancouver Neon image - highlighting the neon used at this establishment.

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20 comments:

  1. Quality lasts. I hope the mother/daughter team can take this cafe forward.
    I am a bit torn by gentriification. Sympathetically done, it preserves the best of the past. Sometimes it goes too far. Much too far.

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    1. I'm of the same mind, I like a place to be safe from crime, but not cater to a special demographic. I also hope the cafe survives. I used to go to art school near the location of the Ovaltine.

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  2. Is it named Ovaltine after the drink? That's really cool and yes I love old neon signs (neon signs in general). I'm not a fan of gentrification. It often leads to higher prices, higher real estate taxes and the pushing out of the old timers in favour of hipsters and yuppies. San Francisco is a perfect example, with the gentrification of the very gritty South of Market and Mission District neighbourhoods.

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    1. I haven't been able to find that answer, JoJo, but it's possible. . .I love neon too, but it's expensive to buy signs even small ones.Too bad about Frisco, one of my fave cities, but the developers usually want to clean up the spaces so unsavory elements don't hang about. So, heritage places suffer as a result.

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  3. I love when a place like this is preserved and restored but not overhauled into something different. I don't mind gentrification if it's for the right reasons, like turning a crappy, crime infested area into a respectable neighborhood. But if you're just ripping up historical buildings and turning them into another block of Starbucks, well, I'm not a fan.

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    1. Well said, and my sentiments as well. This area (in general the downtown eastside) could use a bit of cleanup. There was a time when it was safe for everyone to walk here, but you need a civic government that doesn't bury its head in the concrete sand of politics. This type of re-opening is a start when local people try to keep a place alive.

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  4. I don't know how I missed this gem during my trips to Vancouver. I LOVE the retro/vintage ole time look. It's fun.

    Good to see you again, DG. I hope you're well, and thank you for visiting.

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    1. Not sure when you visited, but there were times when the cafe was hidden by all the crowds of street people. . . It wouldn't have been in the prime visitor's list of places to go. Hopefully, times are changing for this venerable cafe.

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  5. I know the concept but did not know the term gentrification. Fascinating stuff! You remind me of Myrtle Beach and the need for just that kind of thing. Yes, I think part of the preservation is in modernization, but only as long as there is a strong nod towards the original intent.

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    1. Nice to see you hear, Julie! Preservation is required for a culture to have a sense of history. A real visual reminder of times past has more power than a dry textbook.

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  6. What a neat place! I'm glad they're going to keep it going.
    And having the police as clientele was certainly a good thing:)
    Enjoyed the post:)

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    1. It was one block away from the police precinct, and on the edge of Chinatown. It definitely has one of the best neon signs.

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  7. Just stopped by to say hey and thanks for the follow and comment:)
    Have a good one:)

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  8. I can't help but remember that scene from A Christmas Story where Ralphie finally gets his decoder ring...and the secret message tells him to remember to drink his Ovaltine!

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    1. I know that movie, Milo, but what I remember most is the 'leg lamp'. . .Good luck with your latest venture - Beyond Space Opera looks very good, hope it does well!

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  9. That sounds like a cool place to visit. I might have to someday in the near future if my extended family makes their trip to Whistler this year. I'm on the other side of the border in Washington State.

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    1. Vancouver would love to have you visit! Hubs used to ski at Whistler, at Manning Park and at Baker; he grew up here. Whistler Village is nice too. The Ovaltine is in an interesting part of town with a lot of history.

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  10. Yes indeedy I'm a fan of good old-fashioned neon signs. The lighted signage on this establishment is beautiful. I do enjoy going to vintage classic places and happy when they remain part of the landscape.

    I too wonder about the name. Seems like "Ovaltine" would be trademarked so that it couldn't be used for just anything. The story would be interesting to know.

    Arlee Bird
    A to Z Challenge Co-host
    Tossing It Out

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    1. I will keep researching, Lee, but most of those who would know are no longer with us. . .the drink by that name was originally British owned and is known world wide. I can't find any connection so far.

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