Cloud 9 is (or was) the City of Vancouver’s loftiest restaurant. On September 30th it will close forever. And the giant turntable in the sky, which since 1973 has brought pleasure to so many, will stop revolving.

We dropped by Cloud 9 the other night, to be whisked skyward for one last time. It was purely a sentimental visit. To be candid, Cloud Nine never quite recovered from being sold by Sheraton several years ago. Slated for demolition, the 42 story tower will be replaced by not one but two condo towers.

That’s the way things go in Vancouver.

We waited for over an hour for a chance to enjoy the views from this spectacular vantage one last time. Eventually, we sipped on a poor excuse for a French 75, as we watched the panorama roll by, with a dazzling sunset behind Vancouver Island. And, like just about everyone else there reminisced about what had been and what might have been.

When we paid our server we asked what his plans were. He was fine, he said. He was already training for his new job, as a server at sparkling new Parq Vancouver’s BC Kitchen. The new 517 room and suite resort and casino adjacent to BC Place opens this weekend (September 29th).

I also stopped to chat briefly with Kai, the bartender who’s long revelled in the best view from behind any bar in the city. In fact, he’s been there since about 1978. When I asked if he had a job lined up, he smiled and said: “Yes, part time, well maybe more full time—my grand kids.”

Everyone’s been on Cloud 9

Dig around and you’ll find almost everyone has a story or worked at Cloud 9. Sumac Ridge founder and now Time Winery owner Harry McWatters has one of the best, however.

Says Harry:

“I did the opening party here. When it was under construction there was an elevator ‘s tech strike, so no elevator and the catering office was on the 41st floor. So after doing the stairs to make the call , Peter Parigini, the F+B manager said if you want the business that bad it is yours. It was worth the walk up!”

 

Skyward delights

When I first arrived in town, Hotel Vancouver’s The Roof was still the happening spot, as it had been forever. In the days, when three martini lunches were still the norm, you had to get there early. Especially if you wanted a seat at the bar that looked across the West End. High rollers and Howe Street brokers (in those days one and the same) owned the joint.

Vancouver has a long history of skyward sustenance.

Dine in the Sky poster

The Sylvia Hotel boasted the city’s first rooftop dining room. Image courtesy Sylvia Hotel

Though just eight stories high, The Sylvia Hotel’s Dine in the Sky once presided over English Bay and the wilderness beyond. By the time the 70’s rolled around it was long gone. But there was no shortage of skyscraper dining rooms in downtown and the West End.

Choices abounded, from Windows on the Bay (35th floor, Coast Hotel) to “the Blue Hoo” (The Rainbow Room at The Blue Horizon). There was the Odyssey (atop the Hyatt Regency) and Vistas on the Bay (Hotel Renaissance), Cloud 9, and the Top of Vancouver. They’ve almost all fallen from grace. Now only the latter still offers the chance to ‘dine in the sky.”

 

The Cloud 9 decline

No single factor caused the demise of skyscraper dining such as Cloud 9. It was a confluence of realities which flows from a population more worldly and traveled, with virtual vistas on offer at the touch of a button. Diners and drinkers are more sophisticated, no longer inclined to tolerate what was all too often ‘meh’ food and service. Many, if not most, of these aeries were ill equipped, often with kitchens a floor (or several floors) below. That in itself proved more than challenging. (Not to mention the “runners”: diners who would avail themselves of the buffet before heading down the stairs without paying.)

There was other competition. Vancouver’s once mainly industrial downtown was changing into residential neighborhoods, with patios popping up all over. The street experience reinforced the connection with the community. But, most of all, the arrival of a truly local dining culture offered a wealth of more down to earth and affordable options.

What’s next?

Another perfect Cloud 9 sunset, the last

For those who still crave to sip their Negroni against a sweeping horizon, the sun dropping into the ocean, there is still one glimmer of hope. Long gone are the archaic liquor laws that required alcohol be accompanied by food at all times. And never on a Sunday! (For example, at one time it was illegal to be able to be seen drinking from the street. You couldn’t even see the view of English Bay from the bar of the Sylvia Hotel—thanks to mottled amber glass windows.)

A few of those top story settings survive intact, even if rarely used. With the ascendance of cocktail culture, wine by the glass and more, times have changed. With small plates (tapas) and less formal (no more Continental) dining, there’s no longer a need for 40 storey high kitchens. So why not bring back a couple of those haunts as nothing more than vista kissed bars?

All it would take is a real estate correction.

And that could happen tomorrow. Right?

😉