Gastown staple Irish Heather is moving to Chinatown


Bar/restaurant has been a staple of the historic district since 1997

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The Irish Heather bar and restaurant has been a Gastown staple for a quarter of a century. It’s hard to imagine it anywhere else.

But it soon will be. The Irish Heather will be closing its 210 Carrall St. location on April 4 and moving to Chinatown.

“We’re trying to reposition ourselves so that we’re in a stronger position when COVID ends,” said owner Sean Heather. “The (high) rents in Gastown, the property taxes — I don’t believe that we would be in a good position when COVID is over. I think that we need to reduce our overhead, reduce our outlay, and get a smaller square footage. I’ve been looking for an opportunity and one presented itself.”

Heather didn’t want to give the address for the new location yet. He also didn’t want to divulge his rent, but said Gastown rates “are in the $55 to $60 per square foot (range). In a place like mine, I would probably be spending $22,000 (per month).”

The Carrall Street location is 4,500 sq. ft. “It’s too big, probably, after COVID,” he said. “Before COVID it wasn’t big enough.”


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Heather explains that because of COVID and seating restrictions, “we can’t have the busy nights” that bars and restaurants need to make money.

Normally, he explained, “most of us are breaking even at best on a Sunday-Monday-Tuesday. We’re making a bit of money on the Wednesday, we’re making decent money on Thursday. and we’re packing it in Friday-Saturday. That’s how you pay your bills. If you take away the paydays, you don’t have anything.”

The new location is smaller and cheaper.

“To me, it’s a smart play if I can reduce the footprint, reduce the overhead,” he said. “Then I know I’m going to do enough business to cover the bases and float for another year, until it gets strong again. That’s what it’s about, really.”

The 55-year-old hails from Limerick, Ireland. He moved to Vancouver in 1991, initially working as the “graveyard supervisor” at Benny’s Bagels. On St. Patrick’s Day, 1997, he opened the first Irish Heather at 217 Carrall.

“Being from Ireland, the brick (of Gastown) has a charm that I appreciated,” he said. “It’s also an easier sell with what I’m trying to do, if the building looks and feels like something from back home.”

The Irish Heather in 2015.
The Irish Heather in 2015. Photo by Jason Payne /Vancouver Sun

It was an instant hit, a cozy space with a great selection of booze and great food.

“I always wanted to put across the positive sides of Ireland,” he said. “One of the issues I wanted to address was that Irish food was crap — this notion that we only eat bacon and cabbage.”

Four years after it opened, Heather opened a “whiskey bar” called The Shebeen in a tiny mews house across an interior courtyard from the bar proper. Originally a jail and stable, it was one of Vancouver’s great secret spaces — you felt like you had snuck into an 1880s speakeasy.


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“That was ground-breaking, for sure,” he said. “There was nothing like it in Vancouver. Any street in Paris, any street in London, any street in Dublin, you’re going to find those kind of things. But you don’t really have that here.”

In 2008, he moved across the street to 210 Carrall in the 1887 Tremont Hotel, which had undergone a significant restoration. Incredibly, it had a small building at the back, which became a second Shebeen.

He plans to announce the new location April 8, and hopes to open in early May. But he thinks it may take awhile to get the buzz back in Vancouver’s bars and restaurants.

“Of course, there’s a hunger and a thirst to go out, people are chomping at the bit to get outside,” he said. “But some people have been making money during COVID, and some just haven’t, and they’ve got debts. I don’t see it coming back anything like what it has been in previous years for at least a year.

“We have to wait for the tourism to come back, and all sorts of other things. I think it’s not going to be as easy as everyone thinks it is.”

Undated handout photo of the Irish Heather.
Undated handout photo of the Irish Heather. Photo by Handout /Vancouver Sun


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