It was a dream realized to finally enter the newly restored Salt Building in the Olympic Village after watching its $10 million renovation for the past five years. The occasion was a portfolio wine tasting presented by Mark Anthony Brands, which itself is enough to get excited about. Last year, their tasting was held in the Mini auto showroom in Yaletown, but the choice of the Salt Building was a step up both in terms of atmosphere and history.
Built in the 1930s, the Salt Building was named for the commodity refined within it, which was shipped down False Creek. Later, it was converted to a paper recycling facility. By the time I first laid eyes on the Salt Building in 2005, it stood like decaying cathedral in the middle of an industrial wasteland. Now owned by the city of Vancouver, its restoration included raising it upon its original timber pilings, a peek into its ancient underside that can still be viewed from the street. I must have roller bladed past the project a thousand times since it began in 2007 and its development never failed to impress.
During the Olympics, the athletes used the Salt Building as their private party house. After that, the Olympic Village turned into a ghost town and the Salt became a lonesome place, all dressed up and nowhere to go. Neither the proposed brewpub – a brilliant idea – nor the bakery or restaurant moved in. Skating past the Salt Building on my way to the seawall, I often fantasized it becoming a center for music, arts and drinking, and yet it remained closed, bearing hopeful messages of Restaurant Coming Soon! that never transpired.
So when my co-palate Ivana and I finally crossed its threshold, I felt a rush of anticipation turning to awe, not unlike tasting a long-desired wine for the first time. The cavernous space is like a parking lot topped by a redwood forest, a place where smooth stone meets rough wood. The pagoda ceiling is an impressive lattice of old timbers and new beams that glow in the light of the halogen lamps and skylights. The gleaming cement floor that stretches a football field length feels so smooth it would be like butter beneath my skate wheels, perfect for dancing. Hearing the Arthur Smith Group playing jazz standards confirmed my expectations that this would be an excellent music venue, although central placement and a horn section would improve the acoustics dramatically. I could see a Jazz Festival concert here.
At the north end, plate glass windows present views of the plaza, False Creek, and the Northshore mountains rather like a mural. The deck outside would be a lovely place to sit at tables during the summer or to step out for a smoke between dancing.
The Mark Anthony people had plenty of room to spread out, making it easy to float between stations. Tables were laid out according to wine style and each had a food item to pair with the juices. The Bubbles table featured baby potatoes with creme fraiche and Breviro “Ocean Wise” Sturgeon Caviar from New Brunswick, Alsatian white wines were paired with sushi, New World Chardonnay had hot stuffed chicken medallions, and in two firsts for me, we tried cubes of Hills Food’s kangaroo at the cabernet/merlot/carmenere table, and then, slices of their cured muskox with the Italian reds. Kangaroo, muskox, wine – oh, my!
In between there was beer. Sandwiches of pulled pork marinated in Pilsner Urquell were served with Pilsner Urquell, which made for some interesting palate cleansing and picture taking.
The tasting finished with dessert wines and Port paired with Rogers Chocolates, which was brilliant, but those and the preceding Icon wines were also superb with cheeses from Benton Brothers. No surprise that Terra Breads provided a selection of delicious loaves given they just opened a cafe across the plaza.
So it was great food, awesome wine, swinging tunes and an affable crowd gathered under a historic roof that made the Mark Anthony Brands wine tasting one of the most memorable events of the fall tasting season. Hopefully, more wine agencies will use the Salt Building for their events.
Dance parties are already booked for Halloween and New Years Eve.
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