Hy’s Steakhouse and Cocktail Bar, Vancouver.

December 2013

I was taken to this place as a teenager by my parents in the 1960s. It was an awkward experience then, but now I at the other end of my life and this restaurant stubbornly barely having changed at all, I find it an old-fashioned male refuge from the ever-twirlingly effete flavour-of-the-moment restaurant scene, however enjoyable that may be sometimes.

As such, I and my (I think I can say without fear of contradiction) conservative friend and colleague Henry Stevenson have developed a micro-tradition of several years which we refer to as the Christmas Carnivore’s Dinner. And we have in spite of competition from Black and Blue and others stayed with Hy’s. And we will probably continue.

You get a traditional welcome after pushing through the heavy doors of the ecclesiastical-looking building on Howe Street. An ironic combination of modern humour and willingness to sustain conservative behaviour is comforting. We are shown to a table combining privacy and a view of the scene.

At other times the waiters have been older. I find some of the charm of this place in being attended to by someone who has been there for almost 50 years, as long as I’ve been an adult in this city. But this time the server is a young guy, moving I guess a little fast for me, but communicative and willing to engage.

I started with a half-dozen oysters which were cold and expertly shucked, no shell detritus, with traditional mignonette and horseradish. I had glorious prime rib for dinner, which at $45 was expected value and quality easily equal to Chicago. A good rind of fat, traditional vegetables and a little bit of beef reduction glaze made for me a royal hungry man’s dinner. Henry had a steak and I didn’t hear him complain, but then he wouldn’t. An unexpectedly wonderful minor burgundy with a pretty smell from Roumier covered by their reasonable corkage washed it all down.

This was not an inexpensive dinner, but we did bring a reasonably-priced high class wine that augmented the quality of the experience and kept the cost to $130 each.

Some restaurants are in a caste by themselves. Around here, the competition in this league seems to me to be nouveau high-flyer carnivore heavens that… how do I know? When I’m eating with Henry we are together too conservative to risk bothering with other places. Why would we? Hy’s is as good as it needs to be for this kind of food and proven by two generations of evolving grumpy no-change minority in this town. I am happy to dress the old-boy part, carve up the beef in the old-boy style, and pay the old-boy price. Once in awhile.

8.8 food, 8.0 service, 7.8 ambience, 7.1 overall value.

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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