Travel Blog

23 Oct

A Temple to Carnivores in Downtown Vancouver: Inside Hy’s

Photo courtesy of Hy’s Encore.

It’s easy to miss.  But on the corner of Hornby and Dunsmuir Streets is one of the city’s most venerated institutions: a Vancouver shrine where lovers of beef go to pay their respects.

Hy’s Steakhouse is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.  When it opened its doors in 1962, Vancouver had a population of just 384,522 people and Hy’s was pretty much the only decent place in town to get a steak.  Fast-forward a half century and the city is a culinary mecca.  And Hy’s, which took home steakhouse of the year in the 2012 Van Mag restaurant awards, is still going strong.

Encouraged by beef-loving friends, I checked out Vancouver’s temple to the carnivore for the first time this weekend.  I’m glad I did.  Walk inside, and it feels like you’ve entered a secret club, to which only the select few are initiated.  The interior is windowless – dimly lit and lavishly paneled in dark wood.  Diners are escorted through a long, brick-lined tunnel into the main dining room.

Renaissance-style paintings of nobles and knights line the walls, collected by the original owner on trips to Europe (If this is starting to sound a bit like a gothic, Dan Brown novel, that’s not too far off the mark).  And dominating one end of the room, front and centre for all to see, is the grill itself – spitting flames and embers, sizzling away behind a glass panel, an altar to steak.  

As should be clear by now, Hy’s is an old, old-school steakhouse.  You’ll find no fusion fare or daring recipes on the menu, which seems like it has changed little over the past 50 years.  Escargot, oysters Rockefeller, mussels Normandy:  Even the appetizers are steadfastly retro.  I started with one of Hy’s showstoppers – the Caesar Salad.  A white-smocked waiter wheels over a side cart and, with theatrical flourish, whips up the dressing right at the table: mixing Spanish anchovies, garlic, egg, oil and red wine vinegar in an enormous wooden bowl.  Over the top? Maybe.  Delicious? Definitely.

Photo courtesy of Hy’s Encore.

The highlight, of course, is the beef: premium prime rib, filets and NY strips that have sealed the restaurant’s place in the carnivore’s hall of fame.  Hy’s is apparently the only restaurant in Vancouver with a charcoal-burning grill (Current codes prohibit this kind of thing, but the restaurant is so old that its grill was grandfathered in).  So what you get is a  rich, smoky charbroiled steak, delicately seared on the outside to seal in the juices.  My 12-ounce filet was easily the most memorable steak I’ve had in Vancouver.

But half the charm of Hy’s is the atmosphere.  It’s dark.  It’s conspiratorial.  It’s stubbornly, proudly oblivious to passing trends in food and fashion.  Clientele inside – from old-timers in suits and ties to young couples dressed for a night on the town – all seem like they’re in on a secret, part of a fraternity only the select few know about.  For the last half century, the city’s movers and shakers have been sitting down to feast in Hy’s.  In a city as young and fickle as Vancouver, that kind of legacy is rare.  You can feel the history in its walls – or maybe it’s just all those eyes staring back at you from the paintings.

Anyone out there a Hy’s regular?  What makes the place so unique? Let us know below.  

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