Patios for people-watching in East Vancouver
Commercial Drive is a eclectic neighborhood not far from downtown Vancouver, undiscovered by package tourists. Dozens of European coffee shops hint at its Italian past. Nowadays you can munch on a vegan samosa, bite into an elk sausage, or sip on an apricot ale. Plus, more than twenty-five locally-owned cafés offer sidewalk seating to relax and people watch.
Each listing includes:
- The cafe’s name and web site link
- A snapshot of what the patio seating looks like
- Gossipy and opinionated commentary
- The cafe’s address with cross street (list starts at the south end, where Commerical meets Broadway)
Plus, print out your own copy of a Google map of patio cafes on Commercial Drive.
Locals’ favorite patio restaurants on Commercial Drive:
Named after the patron saint of beer, St. Augustine’s offers more than 40 beers on tap. Also on tap is non-stop, wall-to-wall sports screens, so the south-facing shaded sidewalk outside is a nice break. 2360 Commercial Drive, at Grandview North.
2. JJ Bean
JJ Bean is a coffee shop that roasts its own beans. Its north-facing patio is a popular meeting spot for locals. Buy a bag of micro-roasted beans, and they’ll throw in a cup of coffee. 2206 Commercial Drive, at East 7th Ave.
Big, airy, woody, earthy place with great muffins, live music, draft beer, and a breakfast tofu scramble. A sequel to the smaller Cafe Du Soleil further up the street. Watch out for dogs and bicycles on your way in. 2096 Commercial Drive, at East 5th Ave.
Me and Julio, Sorry Babuska, Tangent Cafe
(January 2016 update: Looks like they changed again..stay tuned.)
2095 Commercial Drive, at East 5th Ave.
Timbre Sushi Ville
(January 2016 update: Looks like they changed into yet another Vancouver sushi restaurant.) Timbre used to be a Chinese restaurant called “Sang,” which is French for “blood.” The Timbre guys cleared the place out a few years ago and stocked it with too-loud music and disinterested servers. That said, they did show the Tour de France last year, which is cool. West and north-facing patios. 2095 Commercial Drive, at McSpadden St.
Need I say more? Fresh-cut fries, a south-facing patio, and the hangover blend of fries, gravy and runny cheese known and loved in French Canada as poutine. Warning: servings are large, so order your poutine for two. 1885 Commercial Drive, at East 3rd Ave.
Funny, this modern spin on a Greek restaurant has a nice-looking patio but I haven’t been there for years. 1815 Commercial Drive, at East 2nd Ave.
Finally! We all wondered when we’d be munching on family-made sausages on the roof top patio, and the second-floor space is now open. Sausage, beer and sunsets, here I come. 1812 Commercial Drive, at East 2nd Ave.
Tiny cups of hot, sweet coffee served by handsome Italian brothers amidst full-size Roman statues and chrome-finished furniture. Add pastries, home-made gelato and a panini from La Grotta Del Formaggio next door. 1745 Commercial Drive, at East 1st Ave.
11. Libra Room
A cool place for a cocktail anytime of the year. Live, free jazz many nights, and the stage is next to the roll-up front windows. Sit near the stage inside or out, or just listen for music when you walk by, and pause on the sidewalk. West-facing patio. 1608 Commercial Drive, at Graveley St.
Divino Wine Bar, Merchant’s Oyster Bar
(July 2012: Now Merchant’s Oyster Bar. Same beautiful patio, and a very promising looking menu.) 1590 Commercial Drive, at Graveley St.
13. Cafe Roma
This macho Italian coffee shop is so old-skool, it doesn’t even have a web site. The west-facing patio is huge and next to the liquor store for optimal people-watching, but ever since I heard there there were questionable fencing activities in the back room, I’ve gone elsewhere for biscotti. 1510 Commercial Drive, at Grant St.
14. The Charlatan
The willow-curtained, south-facing patio is one of my favorite places for brunch and beer on a summer morning. Big points on location, service, food and consistency. Check out their other pub, Five Point on East Vancouver’s other cool neighbourhood, Mount Pleasant (a/k/a SoMa). 1447 Commercial Drive, at Grant St.
First there was Lombardos, then Marcello Lombardo opened Marcello’s nearby. I used to work at the bike shop next door, and we joked that the only time I saw BMWs on The Drive is when trendies from Kitsilano came here for a Big Adventure In East Vancouver. I haven’t been thrilled with the food or the service. Nice wine bar and north-facing patio, though. 1404 Commercial Drive, at Kitchener St.
Caffe Amici Maz Market
(Now a convenience store. You could try the Memphis Blues Barbeque House next door – they have a small patio.) Another of Commercial Drive’s many old-skool Italian coffee shops. When the Bike Doctor was right next door, I used to sneak here where Paolo would whip up a foamy latte for two bucks. West-facing patio. 1344 Commercial Drive, at Kitchener St.
17. Turk’s Coffee
Commercial Drive’s sidewalk citizens like to hang here to talk about their weekend on (clothing-optional) Wreck Beach. Step past dogs and bicycles and join the gang for an excellent cuppa on the west-facing patio. 1276 Commercial Drive, at Charles St.
18. Absinthe Bistro
Formerly a grubby worker-run, politically correct cafe, this small location has undergone a much-needed renovation. For better or worse, it’s now an upscale-looking French bistro. Well, at least it’s not another Neopolitan pizza place. West-facing patio. 1260 Commercial Drive, at Charles St.
In the summer, the patio is awesome, food awesome, and service cheerful. In the winter, wall-to-wall murals of droppy-skinned 70’s-era rockers painted on the cinder block walls might turn your stomach. A 10-page whisky menu helps ease the Classic Rock pain. West-facing patio. 1230 Commercial Drive, at Charles St.
This is the place to come when your American visitors want to take you out for dinner or brunch. Stylish bennies and fusion food, authentic mint mojitos, and cheery Cuban music, always. The west-facing patio faces the sun and the community’s character-laden Grandview Park. 1212 Commercial Drive, at William St.
20. Biercraft Bistro
We had to say goodbye to the flaming weenie when Santo’s burned down, but Belgian-themed Biercraft has done a good job of adapting into the neighbourhood: excellent taps, imaginative menu, nicely-appointed south-facing patio and knowledgable tap service. 1191 Commercial Drive, at William St.
21. Joe’s Cafe
Three formica tables don’t usually rate as a “patio” but Joe’s is special. Join the old guys on the sidewalk and listen in as they comment on the girls walking by. Joe’s is old-skool and the real deal. You can’t visit The Drive and not go to Joe’s. West-facing tables. 1150 Commercial Drive, at William St.
22. Sweet Cherubim
Attention soy-sucking, carob-chomping ovo-lacto vegans: Sweet C’s has got your back. And for the rest of us, this bakery/natural food store has huge, tasty samosas with tamarind dipping sauce for about two bucks. Grab a Happy Planet juice and enjoy on the east-facing patio. 1105 Commercial Drive, at Napier St.
23. The Reef
Jamaican patties, jerk chicken, Red Stripe beer. What’s not to like about this nouveau-Caribbean spot? Decor inside is tiki-breezy, and outside a west-facing patio soaks up the sun. Us locals are still thankful that the creepy 1950’s/Quebec diner Frenchies is gone. 1018 Commercial Drive, at Parker St.
When Zesty’s became Zawa, we were ready to try it out. It has huge patio potential that rivals Havana. Unfortunately, it appears to be the same bar-food menu and uninspired beverages. An okay place for corporate beer and deep-fried, portion-controlled appetizers on the west-facing patio. 920 Commercial Drive, at Venables St.
25. Uprising Breads
As you might guess from its name, this little bakery-cafe is a hold-over from the Sixties. They’ve kept it fresh with to-die-for pastries, efficient coffee service and–yes– granola. One block west of Commercial with a east-facing patio. 1697 Venables Street, at Commercial Dr.