Wednesday, February 21, 2024
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All you can eat

When I first started the process of moving to Halifax, the joke was always “oh you’ll do well there; did you know they have more bars than people?” Now, a few years later, I can’t help but wonder if we have more restaurants than people AND bars.

I would delve into a whole depressing conversation about how Barrington is changing, but…

I think the Halloween Edition of The Coast covered that one pretty well. So I’ll save you from my thoughts on that particular topic, but I’ve had other thoughts float into my head as I ponder the state of our downtown core. One particular question is whether the recent explosion of restaurants in the city is threatening to transform our urban population from jolly alcoholics into a bunch of burger munching, roly-poly Northern-Americans.

Okay this is a bit extreme, maybe, so let’s scale it back. Let me tell you a story.

I like to think of myself as a well-travelled individual. I’ve lived in places like Auckland, New Zealand and Melbourne, Australia. I’ve travelled to Thailand, London, Paris, and I’ve been across Canada and into the states, including Seattle, New York City and San Francisco. My favourite place, by far, was Melbourne. For a while I lived in the centre of town. It was nothing short of amazing. I stepped out my door and walked down to a street called Brunswick, in the Fitzroy district. There I could find anything to suit my fancy, from late night coffee shops and bars, to music venues, clubs, boutiques, mediation centres and more. All within a six-block radius, and that was only one area of the city. If I went downtown, I would weave my way through the city streets, moving between the main streets and the little alley ways covered with beautiful scenery to find my way through to a café, restaurant, clothing store or library. There was a beautiful, diverse vibrancy to the city. I loved it.

So, as you can imagine, coming back to Halifax was a bit….shocking.

When I left, the city was at a standstill with development. The convention centre was still a hole in the ground, Barrington still had shops on the street, and Spring Garden wasn’t the weird looking mash up it is now between being new buildings, really expensive boutique shops, and the occasional bar/restaurant.

I’m not entirely sure why, but Halifax seems to have become a foodie’s dream town. For visitors, that’s great. There are still plenty of touristy things to do in the area, like the art galleries, the citadel, the maritime museum, and then a large choice of restaurants and bars to choose from when going to out for dinner. But when you live here and you’re a student, well then, there isn’t much to do but eat and drink. This isn’t exactly that much different than before, only now we’ve traded away a few of our small collection of shops in exchange for a bigger selection of places to stuff our faces.

The actual problem lies in the fact that most of peninsular Halifax outside of the North End has no character or personality. It’s simply a bunch of cute, boutique style restaurants where the young yuppies who haven’t been forced out of Nova Scotia due to unemployment choose to spend their time. They are joined by the DINKS (Double Income, No Kids), that grouping of thirtysomethings who are making a decent wage here and choose to spend it in the wealth of restaurants.

You would think that with the glut of restaurants and the relative lack of niche shops that don’t cost an arm and a leg, the market would eventually sort itself out. For some reason though, we seem doomed to witness the endless locust-like life cycles of gourmetburger joints, or frozen yogurt shops, or whatever other trend of the moment food has seized the town by storm.

So while we wait breathlessly for the next restaurant to pop up— will it be Elle’s Breakfast Diner on Barrington, or the Pavia Café in the new downtown library? —let us raise a pint, or a penne pasta, or a portobello burger in salute to the commercial diversity that we’re probably never going to get around to properly fostering in the downtown core!

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