|The Only | 36 x 30 | Oil on canvas | 2009 | SOLD|
Two Survivors: A Seafood Place and Old Neon
By Robert Boyd
The Only Café is Vancouver’s longest surviving restaurant in the same location. It has changed very little over the years. It has never been a fancy place. There is no maitre d’, and definitely no valet parking. It is rather plain looking both inside and out. It has an ornamental tin ceiling which is still the original, as well as a full-length wall mirror. There are seventeen chrome button swivel chair-stools on a horseshoe-and-a-half counter and two booths at the back, making for a maximum capacity of twenty-five. Its specialty is seafood, which is where the name was derived from. When this establishment was first opened, it was the only restaurant in all of Vancouver that served seafood, hence its name. It retains an old-fashioned sense in the fact that payment terms are still cash only. No credit cards or Interac. For all patrons, the rules are very simple: no undesirables allowed, and service is refused to anyone who is too drunk to sit up and eat. But to gain a better perspective of how the Only has stood the test of time, let’s turn back the clock.
Vancouver, 1912. Vancouver is a bustling city. Hastings Street is at the heart of the downtown core. It is the place to “see and be seen”. The city’s most popular theatres, restaurants, dance halls, and hotels are all located in the first three blocks of East Hastings Street. In that year, Antonio Demetry establishes a restaurant in the brand-new Craftsman’s Building at 20 East Hastings and names it the Vancouver Oyster Saloon. At the same time, Nick Thodos is working as a cook in the English Kitchen, five doors down at 30 East Hastings. The two Greek men eventually become the most popular cooks in all of Vancouver. In 1916, Nick’s brother Gustave joins him at the English Kitchen, and later that year, they purchase controlling interest in the Vancouver Oyster Saloon. They immediately renamed the establishment the Only Café.
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