An early incarnation of the Blue Eagle Café stood at 251 East Hastings before the Ovaltine Café opened its doors at the same address in 1942. The Ovaltine is one of the last vestiges of what was once a vibrant café culture on Hastings Street, a product of busy foot traffic spurred by streetcar lines, bustling hotels, and shopping in the neighbourhood.
“You had an extraordinary number of coffee shops on Hastings. You had things like the Blue Eagle, the Golden Gate, the San Francisco, the Log Cabin, all in the same row, all next to each other. And they were servicing a huge pedestrian population.”
-John Atkin, civic historian
Today, the Ovaltine’s menu stays true to its classic diner roots, serving drip coffee and all-day breakfast.
“It is the last one of the real old coffee shops left in Vancouver.
The Ovaltine is interesting because it actually started off as a tailor’s shop. Then, like many of the business on many of the main streets, it changed. It went quite radically from a tailor’s shop to a coffee shop.
It actually started off as the Blue Eagle Café and then that name shifted. The Ovaltine name shows up in the 1940s: it’s another one that actually has window neon, which is the first thing to get broken in any installation. They clean the windows, and wax the neon, it gets broken.
This one still has the pink and green surrounds in the front windows and it has two levels of signs, it has the 1942 script sign out front that says “Ovaltine Café” in very thin word right over the front entrance. And then they have their 1948 sign in an incredible, expressive red arrow that’s broken up that comes down the building and points to a pulsating circle.
Even when there was a huge array of signs coming down and competing over one another, the pulsing circle drew your attention and you knew the Ovaltine was there.
The beauty of that is that it still has the Jersey Farms clock at the back, which was a promotional giveaway, but there’s red neon there too.
And when you’re sitting in the café, nighttime, out the back, neon out the window reflecting into the café, you’re in a Humphrey Bogart film. It’s perfect.”
CLOSE FULL STORY
— John Atkin, civic historian