First restaurant, WareHouse ’23, opens on Vancouver waterfront

Beaches’ owner brings Northwest-inspired cuisine to port property

By Brooks Johnson, Columbian Business Reporter

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Nostalgia is a powerful thing, and it turns out it tastes pretty good, too.

“It’s great to be back here,” said WareHouse ’23 owner Mark Matthias.

The new restaurant quietly opened last week after Matthias’ team renovated the restaurant and banquet space at the former Red Lion Hotel at the Quay, breathing life into an iconic piece of Vancouver’s past and future: the downtown waterfront.

“It’s been a good start,” said Matthias, who also owns Beaches restaurant about a mile upstream.

WareHouse ’23 has a different menu, however, as it serves up a variety of Northwest-inspired fare like shrimp banh mi, thick-cut bacon and chowder alongside local taps, wines and spirits on a pier over the river.

“We wanted more of the bar atmosphere, where Beaches has the restaurant feel,” Matthias said.

After opening for dinner last week, WareHouse ’23 is now open 11 a.m. to midnight every day, with plans to add a Sunday brunch starting at 9 a.m. Aug. 7. Minors are allowed before 9 p.m.

Last week the venue was only open for dinner, to the dismay of many who pulled into the parking lot Friday afternoon hoping to check out the revamped restaurant, formerly known as The Quay. It has been a landmark since it opened in March 1960.

The Columbia River views are the same, the event center is back up and running, and the sail that can be seen in the dining room’s loft is still at full mast, but that’s about where the similarities end and the newness begins. The floors, ceilings, bar, tables and lighting are changed, not to mention the new pianos and game area where serious Scrabble players have been known to gather near the shuffleboard tables.

“We tried to create a different environment, and I think we succeeded,” Matthias said.

WareHouse ’23 is the first new business to open on what is a changing waterfront with two sets of owners/developers: The Port of Vancouver, which owns the old Red Lion building, an adjoining office building and a public dock/amphitheater, and Gramor Development, which is developing most of the old Boise Cascade site just downstream.

Gramor has started site work on its first two buildings, and the city of Vancouver has installed streets and launched work on a waterfront park and public pier. Other than the new restaurant, progress has been slower on the port’s part of the site.

Take that Red Lion sign still visible from the Interstate 5 Bridge, for instance. Sure, it’s false advertising for now — there are no plans to reopen the hotel — but it could one day let the port welcome folks into the city in its own style.

“Current city code doesn’t allow for rooftop signs, but that sign was kind of grandfathered in,” said port spokeswoman Abbi Russell. “We’re really not sure how we’re branding the site yet. The sign will either be altered or come down — we’re still in early stages.”

For now, in case it will be altered, it stands, as does the rest of the gutted hotel touted last fall as a future bioscience center. However, the first announced tenant, AbSci, has yet to move in.

“We’re continuing to talk with AbSci — no update on a move-in,” Russell said. “We’re continuing to make connections in the biotech community.”

This spring the port announced it will partner with two Vancouver developers to bring one of Marriott’s AC Hotels to the site and construct office, residential and retail space in other new buildings. The hotel is being developed by Vesta Hospitality, and Holland Partner Group is handling the mixed-use projects.

That’s just step one, as the port still needs to finish its plans.

“We do have an aggressive timeline, both developers are looking to get off the ground while the economy is humming,” said Matt Harding, environmental project manager at the Port of Vancouver. “We’re looking to submit the master plan to the city by the end of the year. Then the city has a nine-month process they’re looking to accelerate and approve in the middle of next year sometime.”

That could put construction starting as soon as next fall.