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Jun 14, 2010 04:04 PM

What's the deal with Chill Winston?

Stumbled upon Chill Winston for lunch on Sunday and it seemed like a cool little venue, the food was good, and the fries were amazing. No really, they were amazingly good. But if we mentioned the dreaded words "Chill Winston" to any other server or local in Vancouver, we got the eyebrow-raised, "Oh really? You liked it?"

Is it just a case of a trying-too-hard-to-be-hip restaurant in a part of town with some GREAT restaurants or is there a story here that the non-locals are missing out on? The servers were friendly and the food was good for lunch when we went (and as I said.. the fries were amazing), so I'm wondering where all of the scorn is coming from.


Chill Winston
3 Alexander St, Vancouver, BC V6A1B2, CA

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  1. I

    Chill Winston
    3 Alexander St, Vancouver, BC V6A1B2, CA

    2 Replies
    1. re: grahamvaughan

      I'll bite... I can't comment on whether there is a backstory but I did hear rumours a couple of years ago. On the more concrete side, for a drinks forward place, IMO the cocktails are not all that, despite apparent creativity. The food is generally decent but overpriced for what it is, at least in the evening (I don't recall the fries being that great but it's been a while, and the menu does seem to change with frequency). It is deafeningly loud at night. And the wait for a patio seat, arguably the biggest draw, can be legion. Having said that, I'm very glad you had an excellent experience there, jennifer42. It may be time for a revisit.

      1. re: grahamvaughan

        {Oops. Posting error}

        Hi Jennifer,

        There's no back story. Chill Winston always reminds me of that Yogi Berra quote about Studio 54: "Nobody goes there anymore 'cause it's too crowded".

        The fact is, the thereto unknown young owners of Chill Winston took Vancouver a bit by surprise with this totally unique (under BC's draconian liquor laws) concept in a neighborhood that was ignored for decades. They spent (or rather, gambled) real money and built a beautiful room in what should have been an obvious location for every other restauranteur in the city (I'm certain there was a lot of forehead slapping from the industry and there's definitely a bit of residual envy).

        And it was instantly successful. It dramatically changed the neighborhood (ushering this new era of great Gastown eateries) and changed the rules for what a restaurant could be -- a loungy casual atmosphere with great food.

        But it's like that obscure band that you discovered in high school; they were cool until everyone else caught on.

        The service at Chill Winston has always been inconsistent (which I think is simply a result of having to quintuple their staff for the all-to-brief patio season), but the vast majority of the time (and I mean that) it is very good. And almost huggingly friendly.

        I've had amazing meals there from a well-considered and well-rounded menu, the bar puts out a well-chosen beer and wine list, and the atmosphere is second-to-none. And considering the ingredients, the food prices are really quite good.

        And I'm obviously not the only one who knows this. It's an extremely busy restaurant. It's most certainly not perfect, but it sure is a great all-around package for an evening out.

        I think people are just puzzled by Chill Winston. They don't know what to make of it; it doesn't match their preconceived notions of what a small mom-n-pop restaurant should be (and technically that's what it is) but it also is most certainly not a corporate store. Like a small restaurant, the food is real (organic, local, cooked to order), the staff is real (not waitrons), the atmosphere is refreshingly unpretentious, and the music is great ... and all in a 300 seat beast of an establishment. For any of us who've worked in this industry, that's quite a feat. Maintaining those food standards whilst doing that kind of volume is totally commendable. It also isn't without massive operational challenges that smaller establishments just don't suffer.

        But if you don't realize all that, you might just see a big restaurant and lump it in with the other big restaurants (ie. chains). And in doing so, you'd be awfully confused by the casual attire of the staff, the fact that they charge for bread, that the bartender doesn't manhandle your cocktail in the name of artistry, etc. and ultimately you'd be possibly disappointed in your experience. And if you've heard the food is good and therefore visit expecting a quiet dining room with silver service, then you'd also be disappointed.

        Sadly, by falling prey to those preconceived notions, everyone simply forgets to see Chill Winston -- and enjoy Chill Winston -- for what it is, instead of what it isn't. Everyone I talk to here in NYC who's been to Chill Winston thought it was the highlight of their trip and wishes there was one here in the Lower East Side. And considering we New Yorkers think everything we do is best, that's pretty high praise. But Vancouverites (actually, Canadians in general, it seems) seem to think the ice is smoother on the other side of the rink and are too busy critiquing to death a unique element of their wicked dining scene to actually enjoy it.

        And here I get to my point:

        Again, Jennifer, I don't think that there's a backstory, per se, but I think that in an industry traditionally full of bravado, the humility of the owners of Chill Winston (I've interviewed one of them and he's achingly humble) has left them with no story. So whether-or-not theirs is the best tuna tar tar in the city no one will ever know because they won't say it. Meanwhile, the guys down the street have claimed that theirs is ... and that's the story everyone hears.

        But as you've seen yourself, it's obviously not the whole story.

        So enjoy the fries because you enjoy them, Jennifer!


        PS. I work in Vancouver three beautiful months of the year. So my perspective is as both an insider and an outsider.

        Chill Winston
        3 Alexander St, Vancouver, BC V6A1B2, CA

      2. Funny, up to now i've never heard of "Chill Winston" at all.

        Guess i'm not in the know :)