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March 28, 2012
Oh My ... OX! Oyster Express
In the photo: Employees of the fish market next door, take a peek at their new neighbour.

There's something new happening in the sleepy heart of old Chinatown, and quite understandably, the longtime merchants on the street are curious.

It's unlikely that this particular intersection of Vancouver's Keefer and Gore streets has seen change since the Second World War, so a leap-frog into something potentially hipster is all that more exciting, or perhaps worrisome, depending on your point of view. The buzz of construction activity however, confirms that ready or not, a demographic shift for the neighbourhood may be forthcoming.

Formerly a venue that housed a humble shop hawking Chinese-made clothing (you may recall how they lined slippers and straw flip flops according to size along the sidewalk), it now resembles a small, minimalist, pine-lined box. Once new owners Shawn Chesney and Soran Im install an oyster bar inside, things are bound to get even more riveting.

According to the carpenters, the entrance (pictured above) will soon sport a new awning with the letters OX emblazoned on it, and the temporary doors beneath them will be removed and replaced with antique versions that once welcomed worshipers into an old Mennonite church located outside of Hope.

The opening is scheduled for the first week of April, and as of yesterday, the workmen were busy hammering together counters and built-in seating. Most of the interior, including floor and ceiling, is constructed with local lumber from Nelson, B.C., although it appears they have also tried to retain and recycle as much of the original building materials as possible. The bar tops are being refashioned from 100-year-old timber support beams that were found at the back of the premises, while the large, porthole round widows (which have always been there, although we don't remember noticing them before), have been uncovered and attractively lined with strips of knotty pine. (See photo below.)

The OX, of course, will stand not for anything bovine, but for Oyster Express. Chesney is an alumni of Rodney's Oyster House in Yaletown, so it will be interesting to see how the menu conforms to his own vision of what an oyster bar ought to be. We hear there will be raw as well as cooked oysters on offer. But perhaps restaurant writer Andrew Morrison will have more on this. He's promised to release details in his WE column tomorrow.

It would be a worthwhile research project ... Were stand up oyster bars once a feature of the early days of Gastown and Chinatown? If so, that would mean that the neighbourhood has not caught up with the times at all, but that the present has finally returned full circle to the past.

Photo Gallery
Oysters Express

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