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The Georgia Straight — Mary’s on Davie: In time for Pride, West End diner relaunches—on a Mary ol’ mission of LGBT love and acceptance

By August 3, 2018May 24th, 2019No Comments

When Astrid O. Lalonde heard about Merritt city council rejecting a request from B.C. students for a rainbow crosswalk in February, she decided to do something about it.

Yes, Merritt Secondary School’s Pride Club and Aboriginal Youth Voice Club will be marching in the Vancouver Pride parade this Sunday (August 5), thanks to some benefactors who helped cover travel expenses. Who those mysterious donors are, Lalonde is not quite sure.

“Maybe, maybe we had something to do with that,” she hints, during an interview with the Georgia Straight. “Because those kids deserve to be seen.”

She is actually a bit reluctant to talk about it, as she prefers to do her altruistic work behind-the-scenes. But since she and partner Michel Duprat are proprietors of the Davie Village’s Fountainhead Pub, she says they do whatever they can to help LGBT efforts wherever they may be held.

“We’re not just about our community,” she says. “We’re about LGBT communities everywhere.”

And, as she’s also a teacher and a mother of five children, she was concerned about what message that city council was sending to those students, coupled with the regular challenges of high-school life.

Although she’s straight, after moving to the West End in 2001, she credits the Davie Village with helping her find herself and teaching her about everything about acceptance, “loving people for who they are”, and being inclusive, citing the oft-quoted “it takes a village” saying.

“This neighbourhood raised me,” she says. “Honestly, I became who I am because of this village.”

That’s why she, Duprat, and several others took over the flailing former Hamburger Mary’s Diner at 1202 Davie Street—and wants to give back to the community what they gave to her.

Now in its 39th year, this is one storied Mary. It’s one of the last late-night holdovers from the era of Doll and Penny’s and Fresgo Inn. According to former Georgia Straight LGBT columnist Kevin Dale McKeown, the original version briefly opened at 1168 Denman Street before relocating to Davie Street.

The restaurant underwent a controversial period when Phil Moon took ownership in late 2014, closing the restaurant in 2015 for $1 million in renovations. However, when it reopened in May 2016, the severe black-and-white décor, that one might describe as Cactus Club goes S&M, failed to click with the village people. In addition to staffing issuesand a lawsuit from former employees, the eatery eventually threw in the towel.

Working with BSTRO and Raw Interior Design, Lalonde and friends jumped in to relaunch and rebrand the landmark neighbourhood hangout as Mary’s on Davie, which reopened on July 26.

While the original incarnation drew regulars for its inviting, super casual, yet rough-around-the-edges vibe, this new Mary now can work it on the runway.

The pastel pink and turquoise colour scheme (two proposed colours that didn’t make it on to the final LGBT rainbow flag) draws upon the neighbouring Jim Deva Plaza, or more specifically the Speaker’s Corner megaphone sculpture. As a bonus, the palette also happens to channel the ’80s preppie days influenced by the similarly coloured Miami Vicelogo—all of which align perfectly with the retro theme.

The banana-leaf wallpaper is a nod to two iconic LGBT shows. First, it’s a reference to the nightclub wallpaper in The Birdcage (the 1996 U.S. remake of 1978’s Les Cages Aux Folles). But secondly, it’s also a tribute to the bedroom wallpaper of the Golden Girls‘ Mary-in-residence Blanche Devereaux (another Miami connection).

The main difference at the 172-square-metre premises is how a new 41-feet-long bar (because size matters to Marys in the village) has changed the breezy room (which seats 61 patrons inside, and an additional 40 on the patio) from a square seating area upfront to an elongated layout that evokes the more traditional diner feel. That’s in addition to barside mirrors, giving those seated at the bar views of the whole room, with several TV concealed behind them that can be activated for special events. Plus, there’s transgender-inclusive washroom signage.

A few more décor flourishes are in store, Lalonde says, including a few flamingos, which is their unofficial mascot “because everyone’s a little bit of an odd bird”. Indeed.

The timing of Mary’s coming out is perfect. Not only because of the West End climax otherwise known as the B.C. Day long weekend (Celebration of Lights and Vancouver Pride parade, anyone?). But also during a period of rapid redevelopment, rising rents, and shifting demographics in the West End, its continuation offers a sense of stability and reassurance.

And that’s reflected in the menu, too.

Lalonde said there were two main selections that people wanted to see offered again: milkshakes and perogies.

Perogies are back, with caramelized onions, bacon, and cream cheese ($15) while their classic milkshakes will bring all the full gender spectrum to the yard. But now there are also alcohol-based variations ($8), from Crispy Crunch (Frangelico and crème de cacao) to Mary’s Bean (espresso and Kahlúa). After all, who doesn’t want to slurp up some Frosted Nuts (Frangelico and amaretto)?

That’s in addition to cocktails, Bloody Marys (of course), and other libations.

From the brunch menu ($11 to $18), which runs the range from eggs benedict to a chorizo scrambler (with two eggs, hashbrowns, and toast), Lalonde recommends the chicken and waffles ($17), featuring chicharrón breaded chicken thighs, Belgian waffles, maple srirracha butter, and Jack Daniels maple syrup.

“You’ll wanna lick the plate,” Lalonde says, sans a demonstration.

For Thanksgiving fans, if you want the seasonal dinner in a sandwich, order the turkey stack ($16). With sliced turkey breast, Brussels sprouts, cranberry mayo, and stuffing served on a toasted sourdough, what more could you want—except for the creamiest, silkiest mashed potatoes you’ll ever find on the side?

There are also meatballs, burgers and sandwiches, steak and eggs, vegetarian chili, tater-tot-chos (nachos but with tater tots in lieu of tortilla chips), and several other snacking options.

Although they’re still in soft-opening mode, Lalonde says they’ll hold a grand opening sometime after Pride.

But the unprompted question that Lalonde asks her Mary self is: will there be more locations?

“Spaces like this are needed in almost every community,” Lalonde says, with a sly smile—because Mary doesn’t give everything away all at once.

“World domination,” she adds. Opaquely.

After all, as Mary-in-Chief, Lalonde is on a mission to help everyone feel the embrace that she received from LGBT communities.

“From the minute you walk in the door, we want you to know that you matter,” she says. “You walk in—you’re part of our family. Because everybody’s a little Mary.”

This article, written by Craig Takeuchi,  first appeared in the Georgia Straight on August 3, 2018. Paul Nixey partnered with ad agency BSTRO for the launch of Mary’s on Davie—including brand strategy, design, public relations, and social media. Photo credit: Craig Takeuchi.