Merchant Spotlight: Water St. Café

Iconic restaurant in the heart of Vancouver’s Gastown going strong for over 30 years

Located in the heart of historic Gastown at 300 Water St.,  Water St. Café is an unassuming restaurant beloved by locals and tourists alike. With a history as rich as its menu and an interior as warm as its service, the owners are committed to supporting local suppliers and improving the community they have been a part of for the last 32 years.

This iconic restaurant recently joined the Moola family of merchants with eGift cards available for purchase right in our app. In honor of this exciting new partnership, we sat down with Eli Brennan, co-owner of Water St. Café, to learn more about the restaurant that so many of us here in Vancouver have come to know and love.

32 Years and Counting

Water St. Café was established in 1988 by Dominique Sabatino in a beautiful 100-year-old heritage building in the heart of Gastown. The building was built in 1906 and was one of only two buildings to survive the fire of 1910. Such a rich history is rare in a relatively new city like Vancouver, and this history is part of what gives Water St. Café so much of its unique character.

old historic water st cafe


In 2017, Sabatino passed the torch over to co-owners Alan Tse and Eli Brennan, restaurateurs who worked at notable restaurants in the city including Cardero’s and The Teahouse in Stanley Park, with Brennan as General Manager and Tse as executive chef. Their combined expertise in the Vancouver dining scene made them the perfect pair to take over this well-loved establishment.

Brennan and Tse were attracted to Water St. Café because of it’s iconic name and location in the vibrant Gastown neighborhood—the same neighborhood in which Brennan lived and worked in for 10 years. Tse and Brennan wanted to put their unique stamp on the iconic restaurant and maintain the integrity of Water St. Café while bringing it into the new decade.

With the foundation of a great restaurant, a great building, and a passion for food and dining—everything else just fell into place.


Where West Coast Meets Italian

water st cafe dinner

What can you expect when eat at Water St. Café? Brennan says a casual fine dining experience with Italian west coast-based cuisine.

“The base of the menu has Italian influence based on the founder, Sabatino, being Italian,” he says. However, that hasn’t stopped Chef Alan from taking some creative liberties with the dishes and adding his own unique flair to them. Expect Italian dishes you know and love, like you’ve never seen them before. Of course, they have a healthy dose of seafood on the menu to honor the flavors of the West Coast.


water st cafe food


Water Street Café  is famous for its customer-centred casual fine dining experience with a focus on delighting every customer. Except the same detailed service you get at a fine dining restaurant, but without all the uncomfortable aspects of a formal restaurant. “We make it a little warmer and more welcoming,” Brennan says.

Take a seat in the main dining room next to the floor-to-ceiling windows, look out at the cobble-stone streets of Gastown, and dive into the delicious house-made gnocchi, and you’ll know exactly why Water St. Café is so adored by Vancouverites.


What Makes It So Special?

inside of water st cafe

When asked what sets Water St. Café apart from other restaurants in the city, Brennan says, “We care about the food we put out, we care about the team we have working here, and we care about the guests that come through the door.”

You can see this care and attention in everything they do, from the immaculate table settings, to the well-composed plates, to the smiles that greet you as soon as you step inside. There is an attention to detail at Water St. Café that is hard to come by, and a sense of care that sets it apart from other restaurants.

A unique feature of Water St. Cafe is 2nd Floor Gastown, a live music venue located on the second floor of the restaurant. Modeled after a 1920’s speakeasy, the venue showcases local musical talent, while providing an opportunity for diners to enjoy a livelier eating experience. Since opening in July 2019, it has given hundreds of local artists and musicians the opportunity to showcase their talent in a more intimate setting.



The 2nd Floor Gastown is open and operating at a reduced capacity following all recommended health guidelines. Brennan stresses the most important thing is making sure his team and guests are safe, while still supporting our community. “Small businesses have to stick together – when we spend our funds locally, it strengthens our local economy and strengthens our communities to stay strong through these hard times.”


50 Shades of Water St. Café

Movie and TV fans are sure to have seen this familiar locale in several popular shows.

“Filming is a big part of Water St. Café because of the beauty of Gastown and the big heritage building,” Brennan says. “We’re constantly getting requests for filming.”

It’s been featured in a number of recent blockbuster films, but Water St. Café’s most notable role to date is in Fifty Shades of Grey. The first date scene, where Ana and Christian meet each other for the first time, was filmed at table 7 in the corner of the restaurant. It’s a highly requested table, with people often coming in and asking for it specifically because of that movie.

Spotting your city on the big screen is something Vancouverites know very well. Pay close attention next time and you’ll probably recognize Water St. Café in a few other popular hits too.

steamclock vancouver gastown

To the End of 2020 and Beyond

With 2020 coming to an end, Water St. Café is going out with a bang!

Starting December 13th, enjoy 12 Days of Christmas at Water St. Café featuring Christmas music live on the second floor. Enjoy a delightful meal while of some of your favorite Christmas carols get you in the holiday spirit.

Take a break from cooking on Christmas Day and let Water St. Café take care of that for you with a traditional Christmas dinner served on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. There’ll be turkey, roast beef, and all of your favorite fixings cooked to perfection and served with a smile. Plus, no dishes for you to do at the end of the night.

dessert water st cafe

If you’re looking for something fun and socially distanced to do on New Years, you can celebrate with Water St. Café at their New Years at 9 celebration. Toast the new year with the East Coast at 9 p.m. and celebrate the start of 2021 with your bubble. For everyone’s safety and enjoyment, there will be a limited number of people allowed, with tables spread out and socially distanced. Make sure you book early to take part in these special holiday events at Water St. Café

Be on the lookout for Water St. Café at next year’s Dine Out Vancouver! Some things may be a little different, but the incredible food and fun of the restaurant will be exactly the same.

outside water st cafe

Support Your Local Businesses

Brennan said it best when he said small businesses need to support each other and we couldn’t agree more. We’re pleased to offer this new way for people to support restaurants in their community—restaurants like Water St. Café that have been delighting the people of Vancouver for over three decades. Whether you’re looking for brunch on a Tuesday at 11 a.m. or dinner on Saturday evening, Water St. Café has you covered.

So, the next time you’re wandering through the city streets of Vancouver looking for a place to stop in and get out of the rain, head over Water St. Café. Between the hospitality and the sensational food, you’re guaranteed to have an unforgettable experience.


Just be sure to buy an eGift card on Moola first.

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