With the assistance of Victoria’s diners and restaurant industry workers and veterans we offer these delicious remembrances of impactful establishments past. They might be gone, but they aren’t forgotten!
Do you know of a deceased restaurant, bar or cafe worthy of respectful internment here? Let us know in the comments. All photos, reminiscences and corrections for this project will be gladly received at firstname.lastname@example.org.
IN MEMORIUM, ALPHABETICALLY
Located in the former Canadian General Electric Building at 711 Broughton St., The Beachcomber was the Victoria outpost of Jack Porter’s locally famous Polynesian restaurant chain (other locations in Calgary, Winnipeg, Edmonton and Vancouver). The long-gone lounge opened in the late 1960s at the tail end of the “tiki” craze, inviting drinkers and diners to “relax to beautiful Hawaiian music amid lush foliage and enchanting waterfalls.” The kitsch room ticked all the tiki boxes, from fishing lamps and floats to exotic Edgar Leeteg nudes and all manner of “native arts”. The kitchen served “authentic Polynesian dishes” as well as “branded steaks broiled over live coals.” The address would be demolished to make way for the newfangled Broughton Tower in the 1980s, the ground floor of which would house a Fogg & Suds location.
Java was an influential coffee house and cultural hub on Victoria’s Lower Johnson Street in the 1990s. It first began as La Boehme in the autumn of 1988. It was owned by Lisa Boehme and Rick May, who rebranded it as Java in 1992. The high-ceilinged, brick-walled, big windowed-space was located in the old Wille’s Bakery building. which was purpose-built in 1887 by Swiss-born baker and businessman Louis Franz Wille, whose family owned and operated the site until 1976. (To my knowledge, no baking was done here during the Java years, their sandwich breads and bagels coming from C’est Bon and Mount Royal bakeries.)
Java had a distinctly bohemian feel to it that made it especially magnetic to literate young people with creative aspirations and pretensions. The building’s Victorian bones gave Java the patina of a bygone era (albeit through clouds of Dunhill and Gauloises cigarette smoke). Walls lined with eclectic works of art, tables topped with cracked mirrors, familial staffers and a tolerant, open-minded cast of regulars all made it an ideal environment for intimate live music shows and open mic poetry nights that ran the gamut from the horribly pretentious and completely deranged to the heartfelt and hilarious. By the time Rick May (a musician) became the sole owner in 1995, its customer base was already a motley amalgam of those who didn’t quite fit in to Victoria’s clearly defined subcultures.
Java – ‘open from 1oam ’til late, 7 days a week’ – was at the forefront of coffee’s “Second Wave” in Victoria, which is to say it helped to normalize and popularize the pleasures of good beans (their main brew was Canterbury’s ‘Saigon Dark’). This was especially the case with espresso drinks, of which it could boast many years before the proliferation of Starbucks on Vancouver Island. One of its many mottos was “Coffee so good, you’ll shake violently!” It was where many Victorians enjoyed their first latte, including yours truly. Java was also an early adopter of the World Wide Web, providing its customers with an internet station as early as 1994. (If you want to do some time travelling you can browse Java’s original “islandnet” website here.)
Java was sold in June, 1997 to Yonni Bettson and Greg Nord. It closed in 1999, the space once again becoming a bakery called Willie’s (no relation to the original). The address is currently home to Trees, a restaurant that is awaiting provincial permissions to infuse their food and drink with cannabis.
Overtime was opened in 1988 by an ownership group that included John Cantin (John’s Place), Howie Siegel (Pagliacci’s) and former Vancouver Canuck Geoff Courtnall. The 50 seater had all the accoutrements of a sports-themed restaurant and bar; even though it predated the ubiquity of flat screen televisions the walls were decorated in memorabilia and the table tops were display cases for baseball cards, hockey game programs and other printed materials relevant to the milieu. More popular than televised sports was the jukebox, which featured a diverse selection of CDs; everything from Eric Clapton and Fleetwood Mac to Madonna and Depeche Mode. Unbeknownst to guests, staff supervisors had access to a remote that would fade out and cancel any song that might be getting on their nerves. Overtime had several personalities. In the daytime, the patrons were an odd mix of divers (there was a dive shop next store), coffee-sipping and class-skipping students from Victoria High School, and cops. With Memorial Arena right next door, the restaurant would see lots of pre-game and post-game diners, plus the occasional rush of concert-goers. But late nights – after all the other restaurants and bars in the city had closed – is when Overtime (open until 3am) would get especially crazy. A small army of drunks, partiers, and hospitality staff would bumrush the place to line up for the kitchen’s last call. The menu was all over the place, but popular standouts included the deep fried squid, the basmati rice balls stuffed with cubes of edam, and the espresso milkshakes. Overtime was sold in 1995 and would eventually be gutted to become a Korean restaurant called BQs. When it closed, the property became a used car dealership.