Vancouver's nightlife is not bountiful, but it is comprehensive. Along downtown's Main Street corridor, you'll find an Irish bar, a sports bar, a martini bar, a wine bar, a discoteca, a brewery and even a supposed "hipster" bar. Within 10 blocks, you'll encounter densely packed strata of socioeconomic diversity that would span 100 blocks of Burnside Street.
We went, we drank, we hopped. We took a taco break. We drank and hopped more. We paid a lot of sales tax. Using Coors-stained receipts and fractured memories, we cobbled together this handy guide to a night out up north.
Joe's Crab Shack
101 SE Columbia Way, Vancouver, 360-693-9211, joescrabshack.com.
Unsurprisingly, Joe's Crab Shack smells like crabs. A whole brine-y bucket of them. The smell walloped us even before we could make it past the tie-dyed T-shirts to the host station.
Even at night, the bar offers pleasant views across the river—The Oregonian's everyman restaurant reviewer, Michael Russell, recently proclaimed it the area's best—and the televised sports was turned down low, so Sixpence None the Richer and Huey Lewis could have our ears.
In addition to three of Joe's most modestly priced beers, we ordered a toxic blue drink called the "Shark Bite" served in a fishbowl-sized chalice. This required the waitress to squeeze red fluid from a plastic shark into the glass while screaming. It was awkward: She delivered the whole bit completely deadpan and without enthusiasm. First lesson learned: If you're an elitist Portlander sightseeing in Vancouver, do not laugh at the locals' use of the phrase "okey-dokey."
Top Shelf Grill
600 Main St., Vancouver, 360-699-7106.
Top Shelf is known as a MILF bar—the kind of establishment that lures a devoted clientele of 40-something divorcees with sweet faux-martini drinks and naive younger men. This happens to the soulful sound of Mary J. Blige's 1996 single "Not Gon' Cry."
Top Shelf's art includes a painting of a blue motorcycle rolling toward a giant martini, and another of a pole-dancing olive. One gent wore his baggy jeans very low, with a bandanna tied around his head. He told us he was dressed as a "vato" for Halloween, apparently not imagining that this might be offensive. (This happened during Halloween week—Top Shelf had decorated with sassy-looking Freddy Krueger cutouts taped to the front door.)
We ordered the MILF-iest cocktail we could find—the Banshee, made with 99 Bananas schnapps, Godiva dark chocolate liqueur and cream—which tasted like a choco-nana Chupa Chups. Some of us found it undrinkable, others enjoyed the chocolate syrup.
Boomer's Sports Bar & Grill
611 Main St., Vancouver, 360-693-7300.
As we crossed the street and entered a bar that looks much like a fraternal order of something or other, Johnny Cash told us about how he walked into a burning ring of fire. Our guess is, people often walk out of Boomer's feeling several other kinds of burning sensations.
The place smells like a bowling alley. Turns out, carpet is not an ideal flooring option for a bar. The ceiling tiles are low and yellow, the most saggy among them nearly touching the floral upholstered chairs on wheels. We ordered the drink special, Jägermeister shots served in test tubes emblazoned with the Jäger logo for $2.50. The bartender—a jovial, maternal lady who seemed perfectly content tending to this room of gruff-looking gents—told us we could keep the test tubes. We did.
We did not, however, stick around for the costume contest at 10 pm.
Main Event Sports Grill
800 Main St., Vancouver, 360-448-7146, mesportsgrill.com.
As we stood on the street trying to select our next destination, a kindly gentleman in a top hat and handlebar mustache—we later learned locals refer to him as the "Mayor of Main Street"—tipped us off about this place, where a new executive chef is "taking bar food to a whole other level." Sadly, the joint was so packed we couldn't get a seat. We plodded along on the same old level.
Niche Wine & Art
1013 Main St., Vancouver, 360-980-8352, nichewinebar.com.
Dimly lit, and furnished by what appears to be several trips to Pier 1 Imports and the Room Store, Niche Wine & Art is working its niche hard. We were the youngest people in here by, oh, 20 years. We ordered half-pours of wine, which was all our newspaper budget would allow, and a cheese-and-meat plate to make up for the food we didn't eat at Main Event.
In the restroom, there was a picture of naked men peeing in the woods while various forest creatures stared up at their wangs. There was also a flier on the door for an art exhibit titled The Traveling Magic Uterus Roadshow. Outside Niche, there was a yarn-bombed bike rack—Vancouver's little piece of Hawthorne Boulevard.
For the first time, our Discover card was not honored.
Salmon Creek Brewery
108 W Evergreen Blvd., Vancouver 360-993-1827.
First, the good news: Salmon Creek Brewery's restroom smells wonderful. Now the bad news: The main tasting room smells like a restroom. We asked for a sample tray and were somehow cajoled into entering a contest in which we blindly sampled a tasting flight of seasonal beers and had to guess what we were drinking. We did not win the contest, but we got to enjoy a number of beers not available south of the Columbia. We also got to marvel at the waitress's fake, glittery eyelashes.
1411 Washington St., Vancouver, 360-695-2461, muchasgraciasmex.us.
We were momentarily excited to spot a taco stand, until we realized it was a Muchas Gracias. We went anyway. We regret nothing.
The Elbow Room
1800 Broadway St., Vancouver, 360-694-3552.
The Elbow Room is Vancouver's hipster bar, but these "hipsters" look like perma-shroomed burnouts whose life is a never-ending Ween show. The Pulp Fiction soundtrack plays on the jukebox as we sit in a round pleather booth and sip $2 PBRs, the house special.
813 Main St,, Vancouver, 360-695-6712, dublindown.com.
Ostensibly an Irish bar—a popular format in Vancouver, which also has Shanahan's and IrishTown—the Dublin Down reminded us more of a hostel bar, filled with a mismatched cast of young folks up for $2 Jell-O shots, smoke machines and "I'm on a Boat."
Aw, shit, get your towels ready!
Wait, who's the DJ? It looks like our friend, the Mayor of Main Street. The mustachioed Mayor is apparently such a recognizable figure that DJ Dirty Harry—Vancouver's pre-eminent wedding DJ—dressed as him for Halloween. The real Mayor served as hype man for his doppelgänger, who was mashing up the Bee Gees with Eminem.
We awkwardly learned that, in Vancouver, shuffleboard pucks are a form of black-market currency so valuable you have to leave your driver's license at the bar just to play a game.
"I fucked a merrrrmaid," T-Pain sings.
On the drive home, we wonder if this explains the smell at Joe's Crab Shack.