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The Ceili's Dilemma: Is More Than A Million Enough to Entice a Popular Pub to Accept an Olympic Month Buyout?

Lesley Bidlake (center), and Ceili's servers Stephanie Powers and Sally Rubin (from left to right) display Vincour wine and the Irish pub's appetizer plate in a photograph by Linda Solomon.

A few Tuesdays ago, Ceili's Irish Pub & Restaurant rolled out a new canapé menu and served it up to a select group of reporters, editors, event planners, and hotel executives.

The lucky samplers of the complimentary wine and hor d'huerves cooked by chef Jamie Zilinsky included media types like myself and Vancouver Sun editor-in-chief Patricia Graham. Prime Strategies' Chad Hartin and his fiancée, an Australian stewardess came gratis thanks to Carling Dick, who handles Sports Services in Chad's office. Junior Vancouver Chamber of Commerce Lower Mainland President Patrick Therrien got there because his organization does events at Ceili's. 

We traded business cards and talked, stopping as a server dipped in with trays full of the newly featured menu items. These included: BC wild smoked salmon with sour cream, cream cheese stacked on a potato base, jumbo garlic prawns on a cucumber base garnished with lemon slices, goat cheese and sweet onion relish on bite-sized toast as well as three wines from Vincor (red: Jackson Triggs Esprit Merlot VQA BC, Jackson Triggs Esprit Chardonnay VQA BC, Sumac Ridge Estate Winery Tribute Sparkling Wine BC).

Adam Smith, Vincour’s representative at the event, drew the crowd to Olympics labels. Vincour is not only Ceili's wine supplier, it is the largest producer and marketer of wine and related products in Canada. It is also the official Olympics wine supplier. 

I awaited the arrival of my friend, Anne Watson, a Salt Lake City-based arts foundation executive director who I know through my New York City friend Lynn Schnurnberger (author of Botox Diaries and Mine are Spectacular). 

Anne, an artist in her own right, had just received landed immigrant status, with the help of Zool Suleman's law firm, and had traveled to Vancouver  to deconstruct the city's neighborhoods and schools with the mission of finding the best possible educational placement for her nine-year-old daughter, Chloe.

Staying in a West End apartment-hotel with a friend from New York, Anne had discovered the allure of living next to one of the most beautiful urban parks in the world..

"What better way to celebrate her landed immigrant status and my good fortune at her imminent move than a complimentary gourmet cocktail hour at a great Vancouver pub,"  I said on the phone to our mutual friend in New York.

Full disclosure: I don't get out much. Two kids and the Vancouver Observer to manage don't leave a lot of time for cocktail hour. It made the night truly special. And, it was free.  So I was not neutral about what happened that evening. I was influenced by the quality of the food and the wine and by the fact that it was free. Also, I had hosted the Vancouver Observer relaunch party at Ceili's only three weeks before and found everyone from the bar staff to the marketing people to be incredibly supportive and easy to work with, which made me partial to wishing Ceili's the best. 

That said, plug number 2, and I mean it: Got a big event you want a beautiful space for? Consider Ceili's. When I did my event there, I got to talking to Kim Barker about how some of the restaurants and bars in the area around Smithe and Granville near Ceili's had already accepted Olympic-period buy-out offers. Rumours were that establishments in the neighbourhood were being offered between one and $1.5 million by corporations, organizations or countries to buy them out for 32 days starting February 1st.

She mentioned that Ceili's management had to decide whether to take an offer to be rented and close for The Games, or to stay open. She said she had no idea how much Ceili's had been offered or by whom.

A few days after digested the delicious wine and canapés, I made an appointment to talk with Lesley Bidlake, Ceili's beautiful, vivacious Olympic Sales and Marketing coordinator and Corporate Accounts Manager about whether Ceili’s will remain open or not, and which option offers the biggest financial upside. 

"It's a gamble," Bidlake said.

Bidlake graduated from University of Victoria only a year ago with a business commerce degree and said she came to Vancouver intent on finding an Olympics-related job. She couldn’t be more pleased with the job she’s found. She's been at Ceili's for about a year. 

"It's an amazing opportunity to have such an incredible athletic competition come to your city that's of the highest caliber," Bidlake said over lunch at the empty Sushi restaurant we chose after being told we'd have an hour's wait at Earl's. "So it's an honour to be participating in this.

"You get to talk to people from all over that are affiliated with the games and they're all here in Vancouver to put on the most amazing athletic competition in the world."

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