Vancouver paakox

Vancouver: just as many people as Seattle, but half the square mileage.

The tower is tall and glassy, a narrow, 71-story twist in the Canadian skyline, but its signage is draped in protective gear as construction wraps up. You can make out five individual letters under five bags of blue plastic: T, R, U, M, and P.

After the usual construction delays, the new hotel in Vancouver booked its launch for January along with the new presidency, presenting outsize significance to what might otherwise be yet another luxury hotel in a downtown full of them. It’s the only Vancouver hotel protested by the city’s mayor. 

The “name and brand have no more place on Vancouver’s skyline than his ignorant ideas have in the modern world,” wrote mayor Gregor Robertson in late 2015, citing a petition signed by 50,000 to change the name; the owner, a Malaysian businessman who partnered with the famous reality TV star, was unswayed, as the bagged letters attest.

The hotel claims to be “international,” but it radiates one nation: the U.S. and its polarizing new president. Vancouver, a city almost exactly the same size as Seattle, is much more international than that. It’s a tiny global nexus, its residents bouncing from continent to continent, culture to culture, with ease.

It begins directly across the street from the new tower, behind a smaller glass edifice guarded by two dragon sculptures. Shangri-la Hotel and its immaculate Chi spa boast an Asian pedigree; the luxury chain reaches as far as the Sultanate of Oman and Mongolia, but only two are in North America.

Spa rooms are tiny Asian-inspired palaces, each larger than a studio apartment and bookended by gas fireplaces and soaking pools. Guests don’t go to a locker room at the Chi; they use private bathrooms and individual steam rooms behind wood screens. 

Treatments themselves borrow from the Chinese Wushu martial arts tradition or the Indian Ayurvedic Podikizhi detoxifying ritual. Caudalie skincare lotions use grape extracts from Bordeaux and Burgundy; here pan-cultural experiences are simply de rigueur.

Exiting the private Chi feels like a treatment unto itself—a blast of cold air on pampered, warm skin. The streets of Vancouver look like Seattle’s, perhaps with more wool scarves and less Seahawks gear. Next to department store windows displaying Christian Louboutin and Balenciaga, skiers change into ski boots and board city buses that run directly to the tram at Grouse Mountain.

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Image: Courtesy Chi Spa 

The world’s best
pampering may be downtown, but hemisphere-hopping is just another day in Chinatown. By 5:15pm, there’s a line of people on grubby Pender Street, not for anything related to China—not the herbal medicine shop on the corner or Dollar Meat Store across the street, where animal carcasses hang in the window. 

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Image: Ian Lanterman

It’s the walk-up queue for the second-story Kissa Tanto, an Italian-Japanese fusion joint that won Canadian accolades and New York Times approval in its first year. Decorated like the lobby of a swinging 1930s Tokyo hotel, snappy jazz included, it reflects the Italian-Japanese heritage of chef Joel Wantanabe, who also launched the neighborhood’s buzzy dumpling palace, Bao Bei

With reservations booked for months, the walk-up line is the only guaranteed entry; the cross-cultural menu is worth the dancing and shuffling that diners perform in line to stay warm. Japanese and Italian flavors sometimes share equal billing, as in a delectable fish crudo topped in shiso vinaigrette and castelvetrano olives. Entrees tend to let one flavor take lead; a rich pork-ragù lasagna has only a drizzle of miso bechamel. The bar reimagines an amaretto sour as My Private Tokyo, a squat, foamy blend with Umeshu plum wine and an apron of plum sea salt on the rim.

Kissa Tanto was born here, but Vancouver is relentlessly global. Here on the end of Canada, behind jagged mountains, the cosmopolitan shopping district peddles in Parisian classics. Ladurée is a touch of fairyland Paris, a teahouse as cheery as a Fabergé egg decked in Easter colors. The boutique outpost of the Parisian original is a mint-green and pale-pink palace fit for a cookie, the macaron.

The cookies are shipped from Europe like delicate china. The first Ladurée invented the treat in 1862; never mind that the combo of crisp, airy meringue and rich ganache seems born of a Marie-Antoinette fever dream. Ladurée macarons are never chewy or sugary; every pistachio, lemon, or coffee cookie crackles with the first bite.

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Behind the boutique’s picture-perfect macaron rows, the tea salon prepares brasserie classics like croque monsieur and brioche French toast, remarkably fluffy for also being baked overseas. This spring, a second store will open in the Holt Renfrew department store, pairing the opulent cookie with its spiritual twin, high fashion.

The best of Paris, Tokyo, and ancient India—the city on the far lip of Canada feels more like a crossroads. To stride through Vancouver is to ping-pong around the world, cherry-picking the best. Is the new tower hotel, with its 50-bottle champagne menu and Hermès-themed dog toys for canine guests, just another stop on the city’s parade of nations? Vancouver will find out, just as soon as the plastic comes off those sign letters and the hotel joins the fray.

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