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 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.

December 2018.

Hard to feature that Henry and I have been back here now many times (we inaugurated a summer-time carnivores’ dinner a couple of years ago). My friend is fixed in his ways but this year started talking about the possibility of going somewhere else. And I think it would be a good idea.

The service has continued to move away from the iconic sixty-year-old guys, and the last two years we’ve been looked after by a pleasant-looking thirtyish female. She (and I think also even the older men based on experience of three years ago) is moving pretty fast. We have these dinners early because Henry knocks off at his Veterans’ job at 4 PM so we have a drink at the Wedgewood and then walk over for dinner, and we were certainly the first table filled. I guess whoever is in charge understandably wants to move table volume, but part of the charm of the place was the feeling that everybody was taking their time, and you wouldn’t have been surprised to see somebody light up a cigar.

Bang bang they get you seated and cocktails arrive, the upsell of the quite dull cheese bread is consistent, food arrives with, for me, just a little bit snappier cadence than I’m comfortable with. We were all through with our steaks while there was still plenty of wine in the Woodward Canyon Bordeaux blend I brought.

I guess I’ve been spoiled by extra-thick ribeyes from the Gibsons Butcher and absolutely by the beef they serve up in Argentina’s parrillas. But my $75 sixty-day aged rib steak was thin and I’m afraid to say lacked flavour. I had a very nice beef tartare with bread that hadn’t been dried dangerously crisp. But for all that money ($170 each with a 20% tip and $40 of corkage) you want the steak to be something really special.

Anyway this time food 8.2, service 8.1, ambience 8.8, value 7.8, peace and quiet 7.2.

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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