If you haven’t been to Calabash Bistro, you are missing out on a Gastown restaurant gem that has it all. This vibrant Caribbean restaurant allows one to comfortably dine, drink, dance and enjoy live music all in one location. Located on the corner of Hastings and Carrall, Calabash offers a warm, inviting and energetic atmosphere that typically transpires to some of the most memorable nights out.
The Calabash brand and its staff
Sam Willcocks, co-owner of Calabash best explains the restaurant concept. “We’re just trying to sort of bridge that gap a bit between restaurants, clubs and [the] pretentious feeling you get in Vancouver,” explains Willcocks. He also added that when people go to restaurants or clubs, there is this uncomfortable feeling, and people don’t really talk to their neighbours. “We’re just trying to create a melting pot. People come in and they feel relaxed. We don’t push through tables. We let them take their time.” When people come in to the restaurant, there is a sense of belonging, as if everyone is part of a family. It just can’t be helped that conversations will be extended to other tables, whether it’s about other guest’s food, or their attire for the night. In addition, the servers make it easy for the customers to get into the spirit of things, sort of like an icebreaker. They come to the table and actually take the time to converse.
The restaurant name came about during a brainstorming exercise. A calabash is a gourd that grows on a tree, which has a variety of uses such as for drinking, cooking and making instruments. According to Willcocks, “[Calabash] represents a lot of what we do. We have music, we have art, we got food. With a calabash, you can cook with it, you can drink out of it and you can do art with it.”
Calabash’s head chef, Cullin David, described the food as “food from the soul, from your heart. Food your grandma used to make.” Having a home cooked element is key to bringing the authentic flavours of the Caribbean to the place, as well as introducing it to the North American palette. David said that it’s easy to do that here in Vancouver because “people here are really open to food and different flavours, and they’re excited about trying new stuff.” There’s always something for everyone.
For small groups, the regular menu is available, filled with favourites such as the free-range chicken with their delicious jerk sauce. For bigger groups, the set group and family-style menus are the route to go, with four different sets to satisfy the Caribbean taste buds. If the group just wants something to snack on with a pint of beer or a rum cocktail, there are two late night snack menus to look at. Along with the food, Calabash also boasts the “biggest rum collection in the city,” according to Willcocks.
The social climate and interior
If the food and the rum cocktails aren’t enough, Calabash also has live music about four nights a week.
The entertainment features live performances of reggae, hip-hop, funk, and poetry. These are usually covered by talented local artists.
Calabash Bistro’s resident DJ Carlyle Mark, known as “the record player” spins an all vinyl set most days of the week, and hosts a old school vinyl night the first Friday of every month. Carlyle mixes up a set of old school/funk, soul, R&B, disco, rare grooves, classic hip hop, original breaks and slow jams from the 70′s, 80′s and early 90′s.
Guests can either sit and relax while enjoying their meal and listening to good music, or after two glasses of cocktails, they can go downstairs to the basement where they can immerse themselves on various local artworks on display and strut their stuff on the dance floor. This is part of bridging the gap between restaurants and clubs, and a definite reflection of Calabash.
Part of creating that melting pot is the different mix of people that come in to the restaurant. “We get a lot of ethnicities coming here from all around the world. People really enjoy walking in and seeing that balanced cultural place,” explains Willcocks. The crowd is extremely multi-cultural and in tern, full of energy and good vibes.
The gallery space located in the downstairs lounge is an integral component of the Calabash concept. Taking art out of the white cube of private galleries, and bringing it into everyday interaction. Local and community artists are given a forum to display their work.
Calabash is definitely a place to go to if people just want to relax and chill with friends and family. It’s also a place to casually dine and have the option to dance if you so desire. It’s great for birthdays or dates where one can conveniently experience art, food, drink, and music in one evening of fun.
Address: 428 Carrall Street, Vancouver
Ph: (604) 568-5882
Much like VcB, Tangoo’s mission is to make the city more connected, accessible, and ultimately, more fun. By leading the resto-cocktail hop movement and always being in the knowhow, we rely on them to enrich your night-out compass with Vancouver’s greatest food and drink happenings. Follow the movement at www.tangoo.ca and @TangooNights
Images from Calabash Bistro’s Facebook Page