Every Sunday we recap local lifestyle and culture news that you may have missed over the last seven days. This week a new restaurant opens in part of the historic brick building at Lawrence and Water, our favourite hot dog spot appears on the commercial real estate market, and Westcorp's new downtown hotel faces criticism from municipal planners ahead of their February 20 city council meeting.
Restaurant La Lupita Opens in Part of the Old Keg Building Downtown
You might not know that a new Mexican-style restaurant opened in part of the historic building located at Lawrence and Water (1570 Water St.), and that's because it opened this past Thursday under little fanfare. The sign and a banner went up on the building earlier this week, otherwise, the restaurant opened its doors with little social media buzz - they posted their logo and a single photo on their Facebook page, their Instagram account sits empty, and their website takes you to a login page. It was the softest of openings.
The beautiful historic former Kelowna Courier building saw The Keg arrive in 1993 and operate until the end of 2014 when a dispute with the owners of the new Keg off Hwy 97 forced it to close. It re-opened early 2015 as a seafood-focussed spot, the Black Bear, only to close later that same year. Subsequently, the Black Bear's Burgrr Bar opened in the smaller, lounge half in June 2016 and then closed late summer that same year. And the revolving door of resto concepts still spins.
All these restaurants, from The Keg up to the new La Lupita, have Steve Stinson at the helm. Stinson, the former secretary of Tourism Kelowna and former director of the Downtown BIA also has part ownership in The Train Station Pub and used to own the Mission Tap House before selling it to new owners in September 2016. Since the Keg's closure, Stinson has tried to make the location work, and did apparently find some success with the Black Bear. Trip Advisor reviews of the Black Bear are still up on the site, and the seafood-focussed establishment garnered some pretty high marks, particularly for, interestingly enough, its burgers.
Castanet's Okanagan Edge wrote a piece on the new La Lupita restaurant on Thursday, and it's reported that Stinson fell ill in late 2015, ultimately leading to the Black Bear's closure. The building then sat vacant until the start of the 2016 summer – coincidentally high tourist season – when, perhaps taking cues from the glowing reviews the Black Bear received for its burgers, Stinson opened the Burgrr Bar.
When we visited the Burgrr Bar on a busy weekend, it was empty. While the staff were friendly, the vibe was more 90s steakhouse chain than that of the hundreds of trendy and successful "craft burger" type places of the time. We weren't shocked when it closed, just sad this great location would be empty again.
We do have feelings about the fact that this historic building has sat dormant for so long and did look into it a year or so ago when it was listed for lease. We recall the real estate listing wanting upwards of $9,500 in monthly rent and that included all the furnishings and fixtures left over supposedly from the old Keg. It seemed like a lot – for reference the office in the building next door is going for $17/sq ft and sure a restaurant would be higher, but that high?
We hope that La Lupita is a success - the building and sweet location deserve it. But mostly Kelowna's year-round residents do – it sucks seeing prime real estate boarded up, and the winters deader because of it. And speaking of what Kelowna residents deserve, apparently Stinson believes good Mexican food is one of them. According to Okanagan Edge, he states "Mexican food is great, but 'poorly represented' in Kelowna". Huh? Has Mr. Stinson not been to the awesome and authentic El Taquero located just up the street on Ellis? Or what about Fernando's? He could also take a short drive to Rutland and visit the wonderfully authentic Latin Fiesta. Gringo's throwing some serious shade there.
We went by the new location the other day to take a few snaps and check out the menu. Sadly it was closed for lunch but the menu was posted outside of the establishment. Peering through the windows, from what we could see the decor hasn't changed much (those 90s steakhouse stools remain). The menu does look enticing featuring $8 to $9 tacos with everything from Pollo Loco (shredded chicken) to Pastor (shaved pork) to Ponsu Ahi Tuna. The tapas portion of the menu features the traditional Mexican way of serving corn (Esquites), and what they're serving on tap hits high marks for any discerning craft beer drinker.
La Lupita is open from 4pm seven days a week. Here's hopin' it's a great addition to the burgeoning culinary scene here - after all Kelowna sure does love it some tacos.
Everyone Loves Hot Dogs Too
Well this might be our east coast roots talking, but with the lack of street meat and steamies out west here, we've been hitting up Canadian Tire and Hooligans for our fix. This is probably why the commercial real estate listing for Hooligans Hot Dogs caught our eye. Hooligans opened their Banks St. location early last summer (we heard they were considering downtown, but they decided on the Highway stripmall location instead), and while not streetmeat-cheap, the quality was A-1. MCL Commercial Real Estate Group has just listed the business for sale for $99,900.
If you have ever been, then you know that Hooligans do not serve ordinary hot dogs. Owners Ben Cramb and Linnea Feist buy fresh local ingredients and make their own in-house sauces, and their dogs are all beef with no additives or preservatives. There are also gluten free and vegetarian options. Their best seller is the Master Perogi with garlic, smashed potatoes, Armstrong cheddar cheese, garlic pepper bacon, sour cream and chives, and it's delicious.
Ben and Linnea have developed this concept as a multiple store opportunity. Ongoing menu development, training, store design and build outs are offered with this purchase. We're holding out hope someone buys in – and brings one downtown!
Push Back Against Westcorp's New Hotel Proposal
We covered the plans Westcorp has in mind for their property across from Kerry Park earlier this year, and they're set to go in front of City Council on February 20. We know there's a lot of businesses around the downtown core that are for the hotel getting built, and why not, everyone's likely to see a substantial increase in customer activity if approved and when it's open likely in late 2020.
Its biggest issue right now is size. The hotel is huge, particularly the first five floors of the podium and its ass end that butts right up against the streetscape along Water St. It reminds us of something you would see built in far bigger cities like Toronto and we'd argue that it's not particularly generous to its surroundings or adds much to lively street/park life with it's high-walled facade.
The area along Water St. that stretches from Doyle to perhaps even Lawrence could conceivably be in for stretches of shade depending on where the sun is during the day. Even Kasugai Gardens may not see sun sometimes, and Water St. specifically between the Queensway and Bernard will be dark most of the time.
Moreover, we think, a Spanish architectural firm (CGA) that has rolled out hundreds of hotels around the world – and it certainly has that inoffensive, it-could-be-anywhere, generic look – is a big miss for a BC-inspired aesthetic (if not designer).
Municipal planners are now chiming in on the proposal in advance of the February 20 meeting with the city. Urban planning manager Ryan Smith says that the new Westcorp hotel plan is a substantial departure from what is allowed under the site’s zoning and planning staff have recommended against approval. “The proposal’s overall size, height and massing are overwhelming for the subject property and its unique downtown context,” reads part of a staff report to council. They add that the revised project lacks “sensitivity” to it surroundings, and are critical of several key changes made to the tower’s design. February 20 should be interesting.
We’d like to give a shout out to our BC government for not falling to Alberta Premier Rachel Notely’s level and dragging more unrelated industries into the pipeline rift. Notley introduced a trade embargo on all BC wine (for the BC government's position on needing more testing to go into the potential Kinder Morgan pipeline fallout and bitumen transfer) starting February 14. Thankfully, our government has refused to retaliate, preferring, as they say “the courts rather than wine store shelves” to solve the dispute.
Many in the local winemakers’ community have a similarly Michelle Obama-esque stand of going high when others go low – over on #BCWineChat this week they seemed to all agree to take the high road, praising all Canadian products, eating Alberta beef, and making great wine. I think we all know how to support them ...glug glug.
What a Run!
By now of course you know that Max Parrot and Mark McMorris won Olympic silver and bronze in snowboard slopestyle Saturday. Here's McMorris' final beautiful three jumps of his bronze medal run.
Holy Kittens, Canada! @markmcmorris fires up the crowd with a gorgeous triple, still in first going into the final. @MaxParrot to come. #PyeongChang2018— CBC Olympics (@CBCOlympics) February 10, 2018
LIVE: https://t.co/y1BB9bre5t pic.twitter.com/GeNvhr6XPA
Instagram of the Week
This is the sh!t. Go BC wine go.
Today, we are celebrating the 7 year anniversary of the day we purchased the winery. Our heart-felt thanks to all of you who have supported Upper Bench over the last 7 years, and to our incredibly dedicated and loyal staff. We wouldn't be where we are today without you. Cheers to many more successful years! . . . . #upperbench #anniversary #happyanniversary #wine #cheese #wineandcheese #bcwine #canadiancheese #bigreds #drywhites #minimalist #boutiquewine #buylocal #penticton #naramatabench #grateful #cheers #winery #BCWinePledge #buyBCwine