Lift, Vancouver.

August 2015 (see also August 2018, March 2021 below)

I remember when this place opened in, I think, 2006 thinking, “They’ll never make a go of it.” The capital costs for the location and the physical plant designed by Barry Downs must’ve been outrageous. But we’ve been back maybe six or eight times for drinks, lunch, or dinner, and so far it hasn’t been converted to a burger joint. This time it was lunch.

The location is handy for us, a long walk from our West End apartment and a short detour driving back and forth from the Sunshine Coast. What advantage is taken of the on-the-ocean site. Reaching into sexy Coal Harbour with its fabulous yachts, sailboats, kids in dinghies, and competitive rowers.

It looks like the building has been renovated with a west deck and some sort of a crustacean carapace over the top. I liked the original exterior better. But the Downs-Archambault interior has aged nicely and if anything is warmer and more welcoming. We sat on the protected upstairs deck in a sunny breezy spot.

Other times we have felt mildly annoyed at a being surrounded by elaborate narcissism, but this day we were impressed with the lack of the kind of aggressive raucous trendiness one finds at the also-beautiful English Bay Cactus Club. Service and atmosphere were relaxed and comfortable. We’ve never been frankly disappointed but also never blown away by the cuisine here; this time no surprise.

Deep-fried squid with shallots and a sharp aïoli was tasty but a bit short of crisp, and just slightly underdone. The heat in the sauce was lovely. Sushi was competently executed and perfectly fresh. Steak frites fries were crisp and hot, and the steak was tasty and nicely rare in spite of being a cheap cut. Beer and a glass of ever-so-slightly oxidized pinot washed it down.

Things moved slowly but that didn’t bother us because of the very pleasant surroundings. Just over $90 with a 20% tip seemed reasonable value for the experience. We will probably go back about yearly and hope this slowly-evolving little local landmark keeps getting classier, and they find a better chef…

Food 7.6, service 7.8, ambience 8.7, value 7.4.

August 2018

Better. I’m not sure if they did find a better chef, but this lunch experience was superior to previous pretty much across the board.

It was reasonably quiet although seriously undersubscribed, and we sat at a lovely indoor table looking out over the million-dollar yachts tied up a few meters away. Our server was a delightful guy, intelligent, quick with information, and nicely ironically chauvinistic about the place and its attributes.

We had a reserve pinot gris from Blue Mountain which was refreshing and full of astringent tropical fruit and citrus peel contrast.

Lunch was their red crab salad sandwich and a poke bowl, the sandwich crisply but softly toasted and tasty along with some perfect fries, but not as flavorful as the salad and sashimi which was really beautifully dressed and satisfying. A little pricey at $150 for two, but on balance worth it.

Lift has become a standby for us, close to home in town and getting better with age. We will certainly be back.

Food 8.9, service 9.2, ambience 9.0, value 7.9, peace and quiet 8.6.

March 2021

After lining up for 15 minutes or so and seeing no movement at the English Bay Cactus Club on a cool sunny Saturday, we opted for Lift instead and were relieved when the small lineup moved quickly, getting us to a corner inside table in just a few minutes.

The place was full, and lots of people were enjoying the brunchy offerings outside at main floor surrounding decks and the upstairs roof at around 1:30 PM. By coincidence we ordered the same Blue Mountain reserve Pinot Gris although the wine list is longish for the pub-style service that Lift has been doing for many years.

Our server was a briskly chatty young middle-aged lady who was prompt and full of speedy banter which didn’t delay her getting things done. We started out with six tempura prawns with a spicy mayonnaise which were crispy and tender as one would hope and benefited from the mayo. Robin went for the burger with its caramelized onion etc. and thin professionally-crispy fries. Mine was their lamb hash, chunks of braised lamb shoulder which were adequately moist, along with some ratatouille, shredded potato called hashbrowns (but really just cooked strings) and a nice soft fried egg on top of everything. Once we got salt and pepper on it this was a completely satisfying match for my substantial appetite.

The experience here is always kicked up several notches by the lovely relaxing interior and spectacular view of rowers and yachts in coal harbour, especially on a sunny day. The food hasn’t changed much in class and quality, but as long as you’re not looking for haute cuisine it’s completely okay. But no question it’s the physical plant and location that steals the show.

So happy that this lovely scene has survived.

Food 8.3 service 8.8 ambience 9.4 value 8.6 peace and quiet (Covid-enhanced) 9.0

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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