Beach House, West Vancouver.

Beach House Restaurant, West Vancouver, September 2013.

This place on the West Vancouver ocean has been around for a long time. I remember driving over here from town with a girlfriend when I was in high school about 300 years ago. I think the place was called Pepi’s, and it served spaghetti and meatballs in tomato sauce on a red-and-white checked tablecloth with a candle stuffed into a raffia-clad Chianti bottle in the middle. I see that teenage dinner in the reverse telescope of my memory not as an epiphany of meatballs but as an exotic exploration of the adult world.

Of course West Vancouver (and in fairness I) have since stagnated. I can also remember going to Carmel California with my parents as a 10-year-old boy, and then returning to the Clint Eastwood redoubt last year and finding it barely to have changed at all (except with inflation). West Vancouver is oddly similar for me. The British Properties were full of people who played golf in plaid or yellow pants in the 1960s, and West Vancouver is still about the same kind of pretense, some of the young people actually aping the wardrobe.

Beach House today has for me the old-fashioned “grown-up” almost intentionally phony feel of Carmel California. That things are superficial and meretricious is preferred, somehow classier and more sophisticated than if they were presented as they really are. It offers a false claim of having been around in its present form for a long time, expensive-appearing as its clientele understands from the movies it should be and as they deserve. Never mind now they don’t seem to be able to remember exactly where the place is or walk up to the entrance from the Cadillac without an aluminum walker or walk across a carpet without adult incontinence products.

Past the front door of the Beach House is achingly boring 1980s-style decor being pitched I guess as camp-traditional by now. We wait at the entrance for cognitively impaired but still-entitled people to remember where they are and sort out their reservations. Eventually a bored high school girl in a black dress helps us find our seat, accustomed to having to do so physically. The view of Burrard Inlet is unavoidably magnificent, the sun going down, everything right with the world. The server (socialized to please by partner of .com rich dad) gets fuzzy colloquial about what you want to have for dinner, and then you wait for the first course amid drunken hoots from golf guys in the bar.

Dinner is, like the place, derivative but respectable. The sablefish is a coarse version of the Feenie original, the tuna poke very similar to his more recent Cactus Club number.

Two different worlds. Pepi’s 50 (fifty! God it does feel like 300) years ago and the Beach House now. My sweet teenage girlfriend and I were subversively collaborating in taking on the adult world and this simple little restaurant was willing to play along. This isn’t just about nostalgia for past innocence and achieving pre-retirement cynicism. It has to do with preferring direct sensual apprehension to somebody’s hideously thoughtless picture of an acceptable escape, however effective.  How ominous and disappointing that the building now called the Beach House has changed from something simple and sincere into something smug and boring. How terrifying that the same thing just might have happened to me.

What a hell of a way to die. And in case any Beach House diners feel suicidal about the ennui of their frailty, the aging West Vancouver laminate kitchen and the Capilano Golf Club, I’ve got good news. There is a better life.  You don’t really have to die that way. Join me. 5.2 food/6.0 service/2.2 ambience/ 2.5 overall value, unless you’re into it.

About John Sloan

John Sloan is a senior academic physician in the Department of Family Practice at the University of British Columbia, and has spent most of his 40 years' practice caring for the frail elderly in Vancouver. He is the author of "A Bitter Pill: How the Medical System is Failing the Elderly", published in 2009 by Greystone Books. His innovative primary care practice for the frail elderly has been adopted by Vancouver Coastal Health and is expanding. Dr. Sloan lectures throughout North America on care of the elderly.
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