Finding a Lunchtime Oasis in Downtown
By Andrew Burns
One of the most common times people engage with public space is during their lunch break. It can be relaxing – not to mention good for your health – to get out of the work environment for a much needed interlude. But finding a no or low-cost alternative to the office or shop kitchen or crowded school cafeteria can sometimes be a frustrating task. Luckily, there are many excellent public spaces that provide the perfect spot for a mid-day escape.
There are a few common elements that make a public space an ideal place for lunch: shelter, seating, tables or ledges and other amenities help to ensure comfort, while proximity to offices, commercial areas, and schools ensure easy access. Takeout locations or grocery stores provide the necessary ingredients for those who may not have brought their lunch with them. And lastly, there’s the setting itself – which can include places of quiet respite, views, good people-watching, or the melody of a busker, among other things.
As we head into some nicer weather, we wanted to take an opportunity to highlight some popular and some less well known locations to break for a bite in the downtown Central Business District.
Art Gallery Steps / Robson Square
The south steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery have long been a favourite gathering place for downtown residents and workers. The steps receive unobstructed sunlight and provide seating, while the nearby food trucks parked along Howe Street offer a variety of options. With the 800 block of Robson Street closed to motorized traffic, there’s plenty of space to gather and sit away from the noise of the street. For an even quieter location, the elevated areas south of Robson (lead photo – above the Law Courts) feature ample greenery, plenty of benches, and an oasis-like feeling that feels quite removed from the the steps.
Vancouver Convention Centre
The seawall path wrapping around both the Vancouver Convention Centre and Canada Place offers one of the very best views in all of downtown. Close to many office towers and cafes, the Convention Centre is a convenient location to eat while taking in the North Shore mountains. Jack Poole Plaza (at the foot of Thurlow Street) presents one good option, while a short stroll west west leads to Harbour Green Park (pictured) where grass and trees help to break up the surrounding forest of high rise towers.
Bill Reid Gallery Courtyard
Tucked between the Bill Reid Gallery and Cathedral Place Building is a small and quiet public space. Despite being only steps away from the busy intersection of Howe and Georgia, this space is usually empty. Designed in the manor of a medieval close, this little green space comes as a real surprise for first time visitors to the space. As a bonus, the nearby Smokehouse Sandwich Co. in Cathedral Place features fantastic sandwiches. (Access the space by taking the steps on Howe Street, just north of Georgia; or, follow the narrow path to on the west side of the Cathedral Place building).
Lot 19 is a small park at the north end of Hornby Street where it terminates at Hastings Street. Once the site of the original Vancouver Club building, this open space features a mix of paving and grass – along with some interesting public art. The park receives direct sunlight through the towers in the summer and is set back far enough from the street to create a relaxing and enjoyable environment. In the last couple of years, the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association has helped to transform the space into an excellent lunch spot by putting out tables and chairs, as well as programming events in the summer. Music and games are available during weekday peak hours.
Indoor Public Spaces
In a rainy city like Vancouver, it’s often not feasible to eat outside. Most indoor eating areas are restricted to paying customers, so where can you go if you brought lunch to work but want to get out of the office? Here’s a couple of ideas.
The Sinclair Centre at 757 West Hastings Street provides a large atrium open to the public with tables and chairs covered with a glass roof. Despite only having one café in the building, many people enjoy this spot to eat their own lunch from home or from nearby take out. The historic building also features a large historic clock built in 1909 that rings on the hour.
The atrium of the downtown Central Public Library is open to the public and provides seating and tables under cover. There’s also a nice selection of cafes and take out options that line the northern side – and many more just outside on Robson Street. And if you have a few moments after finishing your lunch, you can always explore the library – which offers a limitless breadth of knowledge and entertainment! (Also to note: in good weather, the southwest plaza (facing Robson) is also a popular and sunny gathering spot).
Andrew Burns is a local writer and fan of public space who spends his lunchtime exploring the city.
What’s your favourite lunchtime public space? Where’s the best park or plaza to chow down on a sandwich? Drop us a line and let us know!