“Well, my whole life was basically built up around the arts,” Rachel Zottenburg, co-owner of the Emerald, says. “And then, you know, you get older, and you realize that everything you’ve ever wanted is right there at your fingertips.”
Describing a lifetime of artistic passion, first as a dancer and then as a curator, Zottenburg says that eventually, restaurants became more than just a “supplement to her art habit.” She explains that she began to see these spaces as opportunities to craft unique and immersive environments as places not just to eat but to spend time.
“David (Duprey, business partner) and myself, we’re true hanger-outers,” she jokes. “We like to drink, we like to eat – restaurants are places that we spend eighty per cent of our hangout or socializing time. So, I think probably my personal philosophy is that if I don’t want to be there, nobody else is going to want to be there either.”
That relaxed, inclusive atmosphere is something that unifies her and partner David Duprey’s numerous other Vancouver establishments, including the Narrow, the Rumpus Room, and the upcoming Fox Cabaret. “Most of my girlfriends in their mid to late twenties and early thirties are all ready for larger groups. They want time to get drinks, they want time to eat right where they are. We operate this place very much on those rules of what we wanted next,” she says.
At The Emerald, that means a single-reservation policy – if you reserve a table for a group, you get to enjoy it for as long as you want, even if that’s all night. The menu, both food and drink, is designed for comfort too – there are no plates sparsely decorated with mushrooms and radishes here. “We want people to feel like their history and influence can be part of all of this,” says Zottenburg, and in line with those ideals, The Emerald will be serving up classic dishes such as prawn cocktail and spaghetti and meatballs, as well as a reasonably priced weekend brunch buffet (the early bird special, from ten to eleven, is just ten dollars!). This is the first of Zottenburg’s endeavors where they’ve had the size and scale necessary to completely separate the bartenders and servers, meaning that diners can expect both top-notch, super-attentive wait staff and an impressively long list of serious cocktails.
Then, of course, there’s the immediately attention-getting, unequivocally gorgeous interior. Stepping off of a grimy Chinatown street and into the Emerald’s shadowy, chandelier-lit stairway is nothing short of surreal, and the experience doesn’t end when you get upstairs. The restaurant is a veritable jewel box, all crisp white tablecloths and vibrant, glowing golds and reds. Zottenburg cites partner Duprey’s design skills, as well as the know-how of a dedicated team of builders who have moved with them through all of their previous projects. She herself takes credit for some of the gorgeous decorations – a collection of stunning Art Deco glass vases and specially commissioned paintings from local duo David and Jordan Doody among them. There’s even a specially soundproofed cabaret room in the back, for which Zottenburg has already taken numerous bookings from diverse local acts including comedy, music, and dance.
What Zottenburg has done is find a way to foster all of her passions under the same roof. A space like the The Emerald combines food, art, and socializing, all with an ethos of fun and comfort. Classic, familiar dishes, a beautifully curated interior and a space specifically chosen to showcase local talent in all of its many forms? With places like this coming to Vancouver, there’s one less reason to stay inside and hibernate this winter.
The Emerald is located at 555 Gore Street.
By Genevieve Michaels
Photos: Sarah Whitlam