If you are looking for a casual meal in a truly wonderful environment you need look no further than downtown Nanaimo and a place called The Vault.
The exterior of the historic building that houses The Vault only vaguely hints at the delightful ambiance to be found inside. The building was constructed in 1912 from a design by one of the most popular architects of the day, Francis Rattenbury. Rattenbury had designed the stunning legislative buildings and the Empress Hotel in downtown Victoria, thus coming to the project for the Merchants Bank of Canada with a considerable reputation. The place is now on the Nanaimo Heritage Register – the sole example in the city of the graceful Free Renaissance style that was popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The only exterior features that hint of the charming interior are the elaborately detailed round arched windows featuring radiating mullions. Inside, however, is a whole different story.
We instantly fell in love with the relaxed vibe of The Vault. There is no haute cuisine here, no high-end service. You walk up to the service bar, peruse the blackboard menu, order and then find a comfy spot to wait and enjoy the intrigues of the interior – of which there are many. The folks at The Vault have managed to combine all manner of eclectica to provide a casual ambiance that offers old-fashioned elegance and beauty. Intricately carved wooden ceiling beams combine with beadboard, vintage furniture, lots of natural light and a multi-level structure to provide plenty of elbow room. Meals are served on mismatched vintage dishes, adding to the appeal. There are antique odds and ends all over the place, taking patrons back to another era. Live posies arranged in china teacups grace each table
The food is good, too. We shared a hearty bowl of from-scratch soup featuring double-smoked farmer sausage and harvest vegetables, accompanied by a yummy open-faced chicken pesto sandwich (on home-made bread) crammed with bacon, spinach, cheddar and cream. The Vault sources many of its ingredients here on Vancouver Island and the food, as we were told by our server, is ‘made with love.’
Although the menu is limited it all smacks of good old down-home comfort food goodness, which goes hand-in-hand with the atmosphere of the place. Nightly live entertainment brings in the evening crowds, adding to the revival of downtown Nanaimo.
Clearly, the combination of flavourful honest fare, welcoming vibe and heritage chic is working. During the hour we enjoyed at The Vault all manner and ages of folks wandered in. It seems to have become a favourite spot for Nanaimo residents to study, knit, read, watch street life or enjoy a quiet coffee. It may seem to be kind of an odd combination, mixing casual with old-world refinement, but it works here.Price rating: $ – $$
Further information about The Vault can be obtained via the Facebook page at:
The Vault is located at 499 Wallace Street, Nanaimo
GPS co-ordinates are:
Lat. : 49.1636748 Long. -123.93668170000001
N 49 09.820 W 123 56.201