For a harbourside table with an unmatched view, try dining at Vancouver’s Christmas Market in its new location at Jack Poole Plaza. No need to cultivate the maître D’ or even reserve in advance.
The catch: you’ll be dining in a heated plastic tent and you’ll have to serve yourself from one of the 24 outdoor food stalls that serve the German-themed seasonal bazaar. And the menu will be heavy on carbs, sugar, fats, caffeine and alcohol; just the right fare, anyway, as it turns out, for the current cold snap.
Better hurry, though, to sample this venue while you can; the Christmas Market pulls up its tent and steals away on New Year's Eve, not to return until next November.
Basic as it is (long rows of picnic tables under a clear vinyl canopy), the “Alpine Haus” tent is a major new amenity for the market, which just in 2016 has moved to its new location after a six-year run at Georgia and Cambie.
With its newly abundant floorspace, the Market now offers better circulation among its 70+ vendor huts, which sell all sorts of hand-crafted geegaws, from lathe-turned wooden roach clips to “ethical” soaps. A team of foragers offers pre-packaged dried mushroom soup. A publisher presents a line of eco-oriented kids’ books printed on recycled paper with vegetable inks.
In addition to three purveyors of schnuckelig German Christmas, there's now a place to buy African angels and little elephants for your tree. Or you get your kids (or grandkids) to handcraft their own Christmas stars and gingerbread ornaments at specialty workshop stalls.
Live "Gingerbread Men" comprise the house band that pumps out a steady stream of upbeat seasonal tunes hard by a little dance floor wedged between the Alpine Haus tent and the bazaar's brand new "Christmas Pyramid."
The Pyramid, the market's two-story tall, mechanized, rotating centerpiece, also houses a well-patronized kiosk serving mulled gluhwein, a heady, spiced après-ski concoction that tastes like hot sangria and comes in an excessively cutesy ceramic shoe.
For the under-drinking-age set (which makes up most of the Christmas Market's target demographic) the bazaar offers another way to make the head spin: a dinky little merry-go-round that, according to my grandchildren's critical assessment, offers a truly dizzying array of rotational axes for a carousel of its size.
Between the carousel and the dance floor, you might be able to work up enough of a calorie deficit to justify sampling some of the market’s food offerings. There’s Bratwurst, Gulasch and Spätzle; crepes and cannoli; pizza and kebabs; handbrot and something called “chimney bread” (a kind of large-bore bannock).
It’s all a bit pricey for stall food, and almost everything in the bazaar is sold on a cash-only basis. But not to worry; the Christmas Market is thoughtfully provided with enough ATM’s to satisfy the importunities of even the whiniest kids and their over-indulgent parents (or grandparents).
In the end, we settled for a platter of crackling pork hocks, which seemed the most Teutonic item on offer. Tasty, but a bit bland compared to the Chinatown version. The accompanying sauerkraut, on the other hand, was world-class.
And so was the harbour view.