UPDATE, January 2011: There is now an Original Joe's in Langford. Since Langford fills me with the same kind of malaise as watching soap opera re-runs at my grandmother's house I have never bothered to go.
By the time they reach adulthood most people have given up on things like magic. The notion of conjuring something from nothing is relegated to the worlds of fantasy and conservative economic policy. Yet I, in the midst of all this doubt, am a living example of magic’s possibilities. I can, through my mere presence, bring rain to any region of the world simply by appearing there without a coat or umbrella. My most recent trip to Vancouver came at the end of weeks of sunshine, and so I foolishly felt safe in bringing only the essentials: socks, underwear, undershirts, shoe shine kit. The collection of umbrellas I have accumulated by making this mistake time and time again hung, unused, in my office at home. True to form, the skies opened, and my plan to walk downtown for dinner disappeared into the rain like Rutger Hauer’s tears. Instead, I decided to keep close to my room at the Plaza and Original Joe’s pub, a place I had been to a few times, fit the bill perfectly.
Original Joe’s is a Canadian chain of pubs with locations as far east as Manitoba. This particular location is situated on Cambie Street above a Starbucks, and they’ve got a great upstairs patio for when the weather is co-operative. When it’s not, being inside is your only choice, and it’s nice enough: spacious, dark but not dingy, with exposed red brick along the outside wall. There was no one at the front so I grabbed a menu and sat myself near the large corner window and waited. It was the perfect spot from which to watch the rain ruin the hairdos of the just and unjust alike, and I sat there a while looking out the window before a server noticed me. Turns out that they prefer to seat you and I had been a touch impatient.
She was civil about the whole thing though and remained friendly and attentive the rest of the time I was there. The menu had some interesting choices; not least of which was a choice of 2 sides when ordering a hamburger, options including fries, Caesar salad, garlic mashed potatoes and mango pasta salad. The special of the day was $1 off their appetizers, which seemed a bit lame, but still I ordered a plate of hot wings to start ($7.99 after discount) and for my entrée, the Sgt. Pepper Burger ($13.99), a “black pepper crusted burger served…with chipotle sauce, topped with banana peppers, lettuce, tomato, red onion and melted provolone.” For sides I chose fries and Caesar salad.
Sometimes I don’t know why I keep eating chicken wings; the bad ones make me feel ill, the good ones hurt on both approach and takeoff. Original Joe’s hot wings came frustratingly close to bar snack perfection; they were served piping hot and the sauce was Buffalo-style thick rather than Louisiana thin, but the chef had been too stingy with it to make them really sing. They were more than edible but not worth paying for unless they’re on sale, and by that I mean at a better deal than $1 off menu price.
By now the place, empty when I arrived, had started to fill up with an oversupply of square-jawed baboons, their shaved heads and too-tight t-shirts meaning only one thing – UFC Night. I don’t have a problem with bloodsport, after all every crumbling empire needs one, but I do have a problem with many of its fans. Now I dearly wanted my dinner to arrive, mostly so I could eat it and get out before these apes had a few beers and started to forget which side of the television they were on.
It was a short wait for my Sgt Pepper Burger and sides. Usually when two sides are offered you get smaller amounts of both but from my first look at the plate that wasn’t the case here. There were more than enough fries and a cup of Caesar salad full to overflowing, not the mention the main event itself, the Sergeant Pepper Burger, which isn’t dainty. The first time I tried this burger it was completely covered in black pepper and set my mouth on fire in the best way – this time around it was respectably peppered but didn’t reach the same heights as before. Whether this is because it was less seasoned or because an increasing tolerance to hot food has me constantly chasing the dragon, I don’t know. What I do know is that the burger was delicious, spicy, and heated through without cooking away all the juices.
The fries, some thick cut, some not, were satisfying even if a bit wanting in seasoning, which left it to the Caesar salad to bring it all home. As it turned out that cup was full to overflowing with tasteless, crunchy bits of lettuce spine and simulated bacon bits dutifully covered with a bit of dressing. No one really cares what the Caesar salad tastes like in a bar; you order it primarily because toward the end of a whole plate of French fries all you can taste is guilt. I went through motions but the salad couldn’t hold my attention and I found my gaze wandering to a table not far away.
Sat around it were three men in T-shirts and one blonde woman whose striking beauty probably owed equal thanks to Jesus, Max Factor and Dr. Bronwynn, FRCS. You could tell which of the men she was with because he was the only one not looking at her, and judging by the looks from his cronies I would bet that at least one had already made a play for her while Alpha was out hunting buffalo. Since this tableau of impending kleptogamy was a hell of a lot more interesting than my salad I pushed it aside and concentrated on them instead.
The men took turns talking over one another while she looked politely bored the way only pretty women can, and eventually I decided that it was the smallest one, the one I’d dubbed Chim-Chim, that had the greatest chance of success. Several times he turned to her to explain a point or engage her in the conversation, and it was at those moments that the look of disinterest lifted from her face just a little. Alpha, on the other hand, sat back and sipped his beer, placid and secure in his dominance.
When the check came I confirmed with the waitress that it was, in fact, UFC Night, and she brightly suggested that I stay and watch, after all I wouldn’t have to pay the cover since I had arrived early. I politely declined and asked, out of curiosity, what the cover charge was. I was taken aback when she said “seven dollars” and so I inquired further, “What does that get you?” She looked at me for a moment, as if to determine whether or not I was being deliberately stupid, and then said: “Inside”. On the way out I glanced back at Chim-Chim one last time and saw that Alpha had caught on to his game. He was going to need a lot more than seven dollars. Probably stitches.
Original Joe’s is a great neighborhood bar and one of my regular stops when I’m in Vancouver.
Update: Langford is getting an Original Joe's, at #125 - 2955 Phipps Road. The Original Joe's website lists an opening date of early September.
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