After accepting the gifts of nature from Stanley Park, I had one more gift to both give and receive. Lunch.
A few days ago, I noticed a park sign for the Teahouse in Stanley Park had a martini glass on it. The Fish House in Stanley Park had fish so I had thought the Teahouse had afternoon tea. Martinis? Time for a new experience.
I parked at Third Beach and walked up to the front of the Teahouse for the first time ever. Before I went inside, I stood on the triple-wide front lawn that was on a bluff above the seawall. The view of Georgia Straight stretched from Ambleside Beach in West Vancouver to the right, past Lighthouse Park and across the water to the University of British Columbia and far left to Vancouver's west side. “Holy crap this is beautiful!” I said to the seagull chillin' on the park bench. “That’s it, I want to live here. Right here.”
I walked into the restaurant and it was like somebody hit the unmute button. The bartender straight ahead shook martinis. Diners clanged silverware in the room to the left. Food runners fast-walked and disappeared to the right. Bruce Springsteen sang Santa Claus is Coming to Town to everybody in the place.
“Hi, this is so cool, I’ve never been in here before,” I said to the hostess.
“Well, welcome, we're like the little gem of the park,” she said.
“If there is a table, I’d love to sit in the lounge, please,” I asked. I had my eye on the fireplace.
“The Tea Room? Yes, I think that'll work,” she said.
I didn’t even have to ask for the fireplace seat as she led me right to it. All the chairs in the Tea Room faced towards the windows for the view. Tables for two had their chairs set beside each other, rather than across from each other. Three low tables were in the middle of the room and two large semi-circle booths lined the back wall.
My server, Owen, wore the fine dining uniform of white shirt, black pants and white apron. But a two-inch wide, yellow and orange beaded bracelet on his right wrist helped set the welcoming atmosphere of casual elegance.
“I’d love a Stanley Park amber ale and a margherita pizza, please,” I said.
“Great, as simple as that,” said Owen, “too bad it wasn’t summer, we have pizza and beer specials on our patio.”
“What? Are you kidding? How is it that I’ve never been here before,” I laughed.
“Oh ya, it’s great, nice patio and pizza and a beer for 10 bucks,” he said.
"Oh my god, that's awesome, I’m going to come after every walk next summer," I said.
Christmas was in the air but subtle. A single Christmas tree by the front door. Wreathes of silver-painted leaves on the mirrors above the booths. Brass bells the size of grapefruits, tied to the light sconces with 3-inch wide transparent green ribbon. On the hearth, acorns and holly berries surrounded a foot-tall polar bear on skiis.
"Would you like a wine spectator or other magazine to read?” asked the female manager.
“Oh no thank you, I am so content right now, you have no idea,” I said. She smiled.
“Would you like me to turn down the fireplace?” she asked.
“Oh no, I got chilled on the seawall, so it’s perfect, thank you,” I said.
All this attention.
Here’s another opportunity to practice then, said my heart.
Ok, right, just accept the gifts and be grateful for them. Okay, got it.
I sat in the warmth of the room. The Teahouse was originally built in 1938 as an officer's mess and had stunning features. The tearoom/lounge with black painted columns and off-white crown mouldings. The dark green tiled fireplace with black surround and mantel. Wide-plank wood floors. Circular design mouldings on the ceiling.
I glanced around the room -- the crowd was a real mix. Grandparents had slow conversations with their college-aged granddaughter. Mother and daughter sat in their fleece, Goretex jackets hung over their chairs. Couples sat side-by-side with arms over each other's shoulders. Two men drank beer and discussed documents spread across their table. An elderly asian couple shared tea, crème brulee and a sorbet. Three women, white wine in hands, chatted in a booth.
Then my pizza arrived. Oh, the pizza!
A thin crust, charred just right around the edges, like when you hold the edges of a newspaper clipping to a flame to make it look antique. Tomato sauce. Thin-sliced mozzarella cheese. And fresh basil that ordered me to inhale deeply whenever I brought a slice up to bite. Simple. And freaking delicious.
As I ate my way through my Italian flag-of-a-pizza, I could hear the private party in the Conservatory Room. People chatted. Glasses clinked. Rock n roll versions of Christmas songs mingled with 90’s classics from bands like The Cars. People oooo'ed, ahhh'ed and clapped.
At one point, the manager whispered something in the ear of a server as they walked by me. Both turned to look as I made my notes on folded index cards. Did they think I was reviewing their restaurant? It was fun to be the suspect of their mystery. Who is she? What is she writing?
I summarized my give-and-take experience with a note on the bill: "I had a fabulous day. Thank you for the great lunch and service that helped make it wonderful."