Check-in: EXchange Hotel | Vancouver sun

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Oh, if this barrel vault lobby could talk. There would be fables of fortunes won and lost. Stories of scams and villains. Tall tales of golden opportunities and whispered secrets of unmissable companies.

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From 1929 to 1947, this lobby witnessed the comings and goings of the city’s business elite as a gateway to the Vancouver Stock Exchange Building at 475 Howe Street. The building opened in the summer of 1929, just months before Black Monday and the stock market crash, and was designed by Fred Townley and Robert T. Matheson, architects who would create their magnum opus, Vancouver’s Art Deco City Hall, half a decade later. † According to This Week in History reporter John Mackie, who wrote about the building in 2020, the stock exchange building was described as “Gothic” at the time of its opening, but today it is considered to be in the Deco style.

The Vancouver Stock Exchange no longer exists and has been inactive since 1999, but the glorious building that served as a home during the Depression and World War II lives on as the EXchange Hotel, a four-star hotel with 201 rooms and suites, penthouses and an executive floor and a club lounge. And while few touchstones remain for the one-time financial hub, that glorious lobby does, greeting guests entering the hotel off Howe Street. The medieval English heraldry and symbols that adorn the ceiling are as fresh today as they were nearly a century ago thanks to the painstaking work of a volunteer who spent hundreds of hours recreating the original. Her work was not in vain, as guest after guest entering the lobby cast their eyes upward as they waited for the elevator to take them to the check-in floor. Some even waited for the next elevator to take in the incredible detail of the vaulted ceiling.

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The Heritage Lobby of the EXChange Hotel has been restored to its original splendor as it was the day the Vancouver Stock Exchange Building opened in 1929.  CREDIT: Pooya Nabei
The Heritage Lobby of the EXChange Hotel has been restored to its original splendor as it was the day the Vancouver Stock Exchange Building opened in 1929. CREDIT: Pooya Nabei Photo by Pooya Nabei

I don’t know how many times I’ve walked past this building without realizing that such a historic slice of Vancouver was only meters away, so I too lingered a little longer when I arrived to stay at the EXchange Hotel. As it turned out, this was not the only surprise I encountered during my stay.

Boutique hotel hidden in plain sight

I’m not sure if it’s the historic facade of this building on the corner of Howe and Pender, or the glass tower that now stands on top, but like that artistic lobby, I had no idea there was a hipster boutique hotel at this intersection used to be. But make no mistake, from the moment you check in to the moment you first open your room door and take in the surroundings, this is a classy and sophisticated experience, with an art deco atmosphere mixed with both classic and 21st century room attributes. There are L’Occitane toiletries, Egyptian cotton bed linen, 24-hour in-room dining and a 50-inch LCD HDTV with interactive and free high-speed wireless connections. In addition to the regular rooms, there is a suite club floor and the private club lounge Dividend with a light breakfast and evening hors d’oeuvres with bar service. And yes, it is pet friendly.

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Attention to detail is a hallmark of the boutique hotel's rooms.  CREDIT: Levi Groeneveld
Attention to detail is a hallmark of the boutique hotel’s rooms. CREDIT: Levi Groeneveld Photo by Levi Groeneveld

Downtown is a thing again

Much like it was when it opened as a stock exchange in 1929, this location is in the heart of Vancouver’s financial and shopping district, the latter a big selling point for staycationers who live in the suburbs or further afield and not downtown very often. But there’s also, at least for me, an unexpected buzz around the downtown area on weekends. Some of that is due to the return of cruise ships. Restaurants rock, the Coal Harbor seawall is teeming with tourists, and special events are back on the agenda. One I’d never heard of surprised me when, on a pre-dinner walk, I came across a large translucent cube in Jack Poole Plaza, surrounded by makeshift lookouts. Turns out the Canadian Squash Championships were in town and this venue looked like center court at Wimbledon. It certainly contributed to the energy on the streets.

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Hydra Vancouver Estiatorio Mediterranean is the hotel's in-house restaurant and a must if you like tasty Geek food and wine.  CREDIT: Hydra
Hydra Vancouver Estiatorio Mediterranean is the hotel’s in-house restaurant and a must if you like tasty Geek food and wine. CREDIT: Hydra Photo by Hydra

A taste of the Mediterranean

As with shopping and shows, dining is a big draw during a stay, and in downtown Vancouver the biggest problem is deciding which fantastic restaurant to spend the night at. The good news for EXchange guests who love Greek food, the elevator is all the transportation you need. And again, with its second floor location, don’t be forgiven for not knowing much about Hydra Vancouver Estiatorio Mediterranean. I certainly didn’t, but now when someone asks me where to eat downtown, that’s my first response. This is gourmet Greek food in a bustling atmosphere with Greek servants, an excellent and extensive Greek wine list and an atmosphere reminiscent of an Athens taverna. My well-traveled dinner companion voted the calamari the best she’d ever had, and the lamb main course was also on the short list. The restaurant also serves as a breakfast venue for hotel guests, with traditional breakfast items.

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Special, and then some

The last surprise for me was discovered in doing research for this story. Usually a hotel has a handful of packages, some seasonal, others more standard. Check the EXchange Hotel website (exchangehotelvan.com) and there are nearly 20 of them ranging from the classic Romantic, Bubbly Breakfast and Ben & Breakfast to the more eclectic Gas Card Package, Cruise into Comfort and Wine, Dine and Room is Fine packages.

After this staycation I will never cross the intersection of Howe and Pender without talking in the EXchange Hotel building – and if I’m not in a rush I might just stop by and check out the EXchange Hotel Heritage Lobby.

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