Narrow Artist Lounge

Restaurant: Narrow Artist Lounge
Cuisine: Tapas/Pub Food/International/Eclectic
Last visited: April 16, 2011
Location: Vancouver, BC (Mount Pleasant/Main Street)
Address: 1898 Main Street
Price Range: $10-20

1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: Tres Excellent!!

Food: 3.5-4 (if you consider value it’s a solid 4)
Service: 4
Ambiance: 4
Overall: 4
Additional comments:

  • Hole in the wall/hidden gem
  • Clean & nice inside!
  • Restaurant/lounge/bar
  • Home made food
  • International small plates
  • Scotch & Whiskey menu
  • Affordable wine list
  • Hipster hang out
  • Casual, but hip
  • Weekly events
  • Very affordable/Great value
  • Cheap eats/budget friendly
  • Ages 25-35+
  • Popular nightly hot spot
  • Energetic/lively nights
  • Weekdays 5pm – 1am
  • Weekends 5pm – 2am

**Recommendations: Cran-Tapenade, Roasted Garlic Hummus, BBQ Pulled Pork Tacos, Caramel Nut Square

Talk about hole in the freaking wall. Seriously. How much more of a hole in the wall can this place look like? But, it’s only from the outside! This place has the worst signage, and shadiest, sketchiest and dodgiest location and appearance, yet everybody who’s in the “Main Street” scene seems to already know about it!

Narrow Artist Lounge looks like an abandoned dive or haunted house and it totally banks on word of mouth, which appears to be working. It was so mysterious that it sparked my curiosity and I couldn’t wait to try it asap. Its independent style and off the beaten track image made it so much more alluring.

The red light leading to the restaurant door did not help with making it look less sketchy. Thoughts of an illegal red light district, drug bar, and path to hell did cross my mind, but thankfully it was none of those things. The crappy sign and graffiti made me feel like I was entering a scene of Candy Man and if it was night time I would have been a bit scared. On the other hand I knew what to expect, so I was actually just more excited since I already lurked their website and stalked their Twitter. Hmm now that just makes me sound creepier…. 

Anyways, my group came early and it’s not a place that’s really known for dinner. Come at night time at around 9pm on a weekend though and the place is packed. It can feel a bit crowded especially since it is tunnel shaped and more or less operating in the context of a basement, so just a heads up.

The people entering were artsy, but edgy, and “artist” is only in the name, so don’t expect Yaletown canvas painting. It attracts the given hipsters or even sometimes grunge, and let’s just say all but one of us blended in, and it wasn’t me.

It’s known more for drinks, although it doesn’t have a cocktail list. It’s not that kind of place, but they are able to whip up basic cocktails. A decent selection of wines and a surprising amount of choices for Scotch and Whiskey is its niche. Popular for the lively night scene and the ambiance, it was a bit like a romanticized goth theme meets the set of the “Backstreet’s Back” music video.

I was the one that chose Narrow Artist Lounge and I don’t regret it at all. I would definitely consider it a hidden gem and the place exceeds the expectations you might have for it. It’s super dark and you can barely see your food, but it’s housing a chef that does care. It’s more than acceptable for what it is. The food was actually really good and not your average pub food, and even if some of it was, at least it was all home cooked. It’s small plates, but the portions are medium sized, and the “mains”, or “one pot wonders”, were the only things that fell short. The prices are extremely reasonable and the portions are fair, which made the value almost unbeatable. There was some modern flair and creative ethnic influences and it’s a solid find whether you come for the food or just the scene.

On the table:

Black Bean Salsa Dip – 3.5/6

  • Black beans, jalapenos and our roasted tomato chipotle salsa topped with goat’s cheese and baked with tortilla chips $6
  • It’s a pretty smoky and earthy dip with pureed roasted tomatoes, onions and a combination of black beans and red kidney beans.
  • It’s warm, hearty, creamy, thick, moderately spicy and has a tangy kick from pickled jalapenos.
  • It’s almost like a baked bean dip more so than a salsa dip and the flavours are more roasted and smoky than they are fresh and tangy. I felt like I could eat it as a side rather than a dip.
  • The salty bites of pungent goat’s cheese made it meatier and heartier with a faint gaminess of the goat’s cheese really kicking in.
  • The portion is very reasonable for the price.

**Cran-Tapenade – 5/6

  • Black and green olives minced with craisins and capers with grilled baguette $6
  • What a creative combination and I don’t know why I haven’t thought of it yet or even seen it before! Totally works!
  • It was a beautiful puree of ingredients and had the perfect balance of salty, tangy and sweet.
  • It’s not completely smooth, but it’s made purely with the ingredients listed so it had an intense flavour, but wasn’t too salty or overwhelming.
  • It was almost juicy and quite savoury and tangy, but the unique addition of dried cranberries and syrupy balsamic reduction gave it the sweetness and texture it needed.
  • The baguette was a bit soft, but I didn’t mind because the oils from the olives soaked in nicely.
  • It’s a modern take on Mediterranean flavours and I’d want to try this with melted brie and candied walnuts.

**Roasted Garlic Hummus – 6/6

  • Blended chick peas, roasted garlic and black and white sesame seeds. Served with warm house made roti $4
  • This was amazing and that plate was definitely wiped clean of any sign of hummus ever being on there.
  • It was a very textured hummus that was interestingly refreshing with tangy lemon juice and I think a hint of curry.
  • I loved the innovative addition of whole toasted black and white sesame seeds that made in extra nutty and more aromatic with a slight crunch.
  • It was thick, yet creamy with a flavourful amount of garlic and I think some alfalfa sprouts pureed into it giving it a fresh flavour.
  • It was served with a very thin, chewy, stretchy and soft roti that’s reminiscent of the home made style Indian roti’s. I liked it!
  • I love hummus and this is one of the best and most memorable ones thanks to the whole toasted sesame seeds.

Beef Donair3.5/6

  • Warm roti covered with hummus, spinach, tomato and spiced beef drizzled with minted yoghurt ready to be wrapped and eaten $5
  • This isn’t a traditional beef donair, but it was still quite good if you take it for what it was rather than what it should be.
  • It was fresh ingredients, but I wasn’t a fan of the beef which tasted like ground beef hamburger patties.
  • They were house made patties, but just a bit dry and crumbly and strips of beef would have worked much better, or even just sauteed ground beef.
  • For $5 it’s a good deal for a restaurant and the combination of curried garlic sesame seed hummus and tangy refreshing mint yogurt were fantastic condiments.
  • I could have used more of both sauces since the beef was dry, but the filling to roti ratio was fair.
  • The roti is home made, soft and thin and very good here.

Fish Tacos – 3/6

  • White corn tortilla, tilapia, red cabbage, tomato, cilantro and our creamy chipotle $7
  • This is one of their most popular things, but I didn’t get it. For a fish taco there’s much better and I found this one a bit boring.
  • They’re pretty large tacos and very West Coast in style rather than Mexican, which doesn’t bother me since it was understood.
  • There were about 2-3 tiny strips of lightly battered and crispy moist deep fried tilapia, but I found a couple pieces fishy tasting. It wasn’t flaky and I question if the fish was frozen.
  • There was way too much cabbage and it was the only thing I could taste so I had to remove about half of it to start tasting other ingredients.
  • I also couldn’t taste the chipotle salsa, but the one bite that did have it was good with a mild spice.
  • I don’t know how this would taste, but maybe you can pay extra and get them to serve it with a topping of their black bean salsa dip too.

**BBQ Pulled Pork Tacos – 4.5/6

  • White corn tortilla, shredded pork, house made BBQ sauce and our red cabbage slaw $7
  • I liked this taco much better! I do love pulled pork, but this one was really good too.
  • It was stuffed with lots of pulled pork and so worth it!
  • The pork was juicy, quite sweet, and incredibly saucy with maybe even some carrot used in the braising liquid to enhance the sweetness.
  • The brown sugar like BBQ sauce is thin and almost just the liquid the pork is braised in rather than an actual sauce.
  • The cabbage slaw was crunchy and fresh and added nice texture and tang to the super soft and and juicy pulled pork.
  • It was loaded with pulled pork and it’s pretty messy since the sauce is almost dripping out. It was delicious! I’d come back for them.

Baked Mac n’ Cheese - 1.5/6

  • Macaroni in a stout cheese sauce topped with cheese and broiled $6 Add jalapeno or bacon ($2)
  • Here is where it started to go sideways – the mains.
  • The mac and cheese was bland and sauceless and I found the addition of both jalapeno and bacon not worth it.
  • The jalapeno was just pickled and overwhelming since they were just big pieces tossed in. If you got one it was spicy and you couldn’t taste the mac and cheese.
  • The bacon came unnoticed unless you actually bit into a piece, otherwise the bacon flavour wasn’t infused.

  • There was a layer of stringy baked on Cheddar and Mozzarella cheese, but that’s about as far as the cheese flavour stretched.
  • The macaroni was in somewhat of a stout cheese sauce, but it wasn’t coming through as a creamy sauce or even one that was really cheesy or flavourful at all.
  • The noodles and sauce were just greasy so none of it was even sticking to the noodles.

Chorizo Ragout3.5/6

  • House made chorizo with chick peas, tomato and onion topped with goat’s cheese $9 (Goat’s cheese came on the side because they forgot)
  • It wasn’t chorizo, but it was still very good. It was more like a super soft and tender moist meatloaf sausage.
  • The sausage was decently spicy, plump, juicy and tender. It’s home made and fresh with a meaty flavour and perhaps some fennel seed.
  • The ragout was a sweet and tangy roasted tomato and chick pea stew and it was quite simple and good, but also similar to a marina sauce and I wanted to eat it over pasta.
  • The salty meaty bites of crumbled goat’s cheese added a creamy richness to contrast the tangy sweet tomato like sauce.
  • There’s nothing amazing about this, but there’s nothing really wrong with it either.

Beef & Guinness Stew1/6

  • Slow cooked stew with beef, carrot, onion and mushroom. With a chunk of baguette. $7
  • This was weak sauce and the beef was really tough and chewy.
  • The stew was almost mucky and very bland in flavour and it tasted like a base that was heavy in flour, but no flavour. The Guinness was obvious, but not in a good way.
  • There were lots of mushrooms and root vegetables, but I would have preferred even Campbell’s Chunky soup. I’m not sure what happened here.
  • It was the only thing that was actually really disappointing.

Peanut Butter Pie3/6

  • Creamy peanut butter cheesecake topped with ganache and peanuts $4
  • For $4 you can’t really complain any way you look at it… unless it’s really bad, and it wasn’t.
  • It didn’t even taste too much like a cheesecake, which I don’t mind since I’m not too keen on cheesecake.
  • This one was decently sweet and a great balance of chocolate and peanut butter with a moist chocolate cookie crust.
  • It reminded me of a creamy Reece’s Pieces Peanut Butter Cup, and it’s not a dense or tangy cheesecake at all. It’s not really mousse like either, but still smooth and creamy with a nutty crunch from the crushed peanuts. I wish the middle was semi-frozen.
  • This one is good, but for an excellent version try the Peanut Butter Hedgehog at Giovane Cafe + Bakery.

**Caramel Nut Square5.5/6

  • Almonds, cashews, and peanuts, with caramel on a blond cookie base. Served warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream $4
  • My friend called this a “jacked up Nature’s Valley bar”. In a nutshell that’s exactly what it was. Hah! Pun intended!
  • YUM! So worth it and so delicious!
  • It was the perfect amount of sweet and salty and it was quite sweet and also very nutty.
  • The ice cream was perfect and made it not as sweet.
  • It had a tender nutty chewy cookie crust, topped with a buttery non-sticky caramel, and a substantial layer of syrupy coated nuts.
  • It was soft and chewy yet crunchy and reminded me of a caramel butter tart topped with a soft peanut butter brittle meets peanut granola bar in one.
  • It was all sorts of delicious, but I do wish there were more almonds because it was mostly peanuts. Regardless, it was a generous amount of nuts so it’s good enough for the price.

This was a cute gesture of vintage candies like Rockets and Double Bubble. Loved the “kicking it old school” salute!

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13 Comments

  • poop says:

    from the outside, looks like a squatters’ den. early pix of the inside left me feeling klaustrophobic just looking at it. it’s probably a hipster’s dream hole, but i think i prefer life on the outside. haha! you’re so brave for even going in.

  • Linda says:

    wow, when i first looked at the picture above, i thought you took a picture of an alley, not the entrance of a restaurant lol i can see how this place works on main street – i can see the same thing if it were on commercial drive also – lots of artsy ppl there as well!

    wow hummus and roti eh? that sounds just crazy enough to work and the $4 price tag is definitely a steal! i’m not too surea bout the donair though.. i think the fact that the beef is in patty form would throw me off too much – the reason why i love donairs in general is because of the thinly sliced beef – this totally wouldn’t fly with me i think lol

    the tacos look great but the pulled pork one is totally more droolworthy! look at all that saucy meat and i like the fact that they made it with cabbage slow to cut the richness of the pork – the fish one looks good too but i wish the cabbage they used was dressed.. it looks a little dry to me :)

    OMG when you said that the beef stew was ‘weak sauce’ i totally LOLed haha i know you meant the actual sauce but it was still funny lol wow that caramel nut bar looks so yummmmmy! did you get anything stuck to your teeth?

  • Mijune says:

    @poop – LOL “Hipster’s dream hole”…. I’m using that in my next tweet about it!!

    @Linda – I totally agree with the donair part.. it didn’t taste bad though. LOL I love how you caught my “weak sauce” comment!!! Yeah!! I knew you like pulled pork and I thought of you when I had it because I remember you commenting about the one at Crave on Main! Hmm nothing stuck in my teeth, but if I did nobody saw because it was so dark! :D

  • vivian says:

    you are pretty brave walking into that place, I think I would have turned around for sure!!lol

  • lima says:

    Part of me is resentful that the secret is out about this place :P Just kidding! I’ve never eaten there but I frequently go there on Sunday nights as the Djs are awesome! (Also known as “lazerbomb”) It does get crowded, and sometimes a bit stuffy, but here’s a hint: if you sit towards the back of the bar towards the washrooms, or right up in the area at the front, you’re likely to feel way less claustrophobic. This bar has a definite “big city, underground bar” kind of feel which is actually why I like it.

  • Mijune says:

    @vivian – I totally would have if I wasn’t prepared, but I knew what I was going in to… which wasn’t hell.. thank god!! I also had some hands to hold… but if it was dark and I was along… oh god.

    @lima – LOL!!! You and I’m sure a lot of people in this scene are furious that I let the secret out!! It’s going to be “popular” now with “wannabes” lol… just kidding… but if my blog actually reached to more people and it did get busy I’d be really happy! It deserves it and it really is such a hidden gem huh? “big city, underground bar”… love that quote! Thanks hun!!

  • Miss Soo says:

    they have patio parties in the summer. We got turned away because it was insanely crowded. But i have been in, Did you try the yam fries? I always have a weird attraction to taxidermy decor. I love the atmosphere. Everyone has different taste and styles. Def for “artist” people, i cringe when i hear the word “hipster” a lot of regular folks go there too ;)

  • Mijune says:

    @Miss Soo – Oh no! I don’t know if they have yam fries on the menu anymore! But no I missed out of they did. I KNEW you would know about this place!! You’re so the Narrow Lounge Artists crowd lol :) I apologize for the “hipster” term… I can totally see “you guys” not liking it… haha love u eileen!

  • LTD.Edition says:

    To be fair, it’s a bar, the focus is on drinks.

  • Mijune says:

    @LTD.Edition – i see your point, but to be fair when your charging for food it should be good right?

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