“He was the one who brought it all together,” says Downtown Surrey Business Improvement Association CEO Elizabeth Model, sitting in a corner of Dominion restaurant in Surrey. Model, wearing a bold emerald suit and drinking black coffee, describes to an intimate group the work of the late Lower Mainland architect Bing Thom.
“He really had the vision of the area, of creating a downtown,” she says, pointing over to the Thom-designed City Centre Library across the way. The contemporary shiny glass structure curves around Surrey’s new civic hub. Inside, much like New York’s Guggenheim Museum, floors and stairwells blend together into a white space-like illusion; amongst the stacks, cozy couches are situated next to potted plants.
With a reputation for being a suburb of sprawling houses and high crime rates, Surrey needs something of a rebrand. Its attractions to date have mostly been its lush green parks and farmland (along with the rugged yet quaint village of Crescent Beach), but now the city also boasts a very urban experience—when looking in the right places.
A visit to the shiny new Surrey Central (also known as Surrey City Centre, Civic Centre, Central City, or the Plaza) is a strategic place to start. The upscale Dominion Bar + Kitchen opened here earlier this spring inside the Civic Hotel, a new chic Marriott Group Autograph Collection property. “We’re very proud to be in Surrey,” says restaurant manager Darren Pierce in a rich accent (one he brought over from Ireland when moving to Canada five years ago). “But the whole aspect of being social is really what we want to showcase here.” There is a great selection of approachable dishes on offer, including Scotch quail eggs with Spanish chorizo, chicken wings with Gochujang red chili sauce, and Korean beef ribs. All fresh, and all a very nice representation of Surrey’s, if not Canada’s, depth by way of food.
The city is often divided by the North and the South, and in the middle, Panorama Ridge sits on the mouth of Surrey’s vast agricultural land. Up until recently, Panorama Ridge was a stereotypical suburban village with big-box stores. Then West Village Café opened up.
Easily comparable to a coffee shop found on the streets of London’s Mayfair or New York City’s Soho, West Village is a hip place to grab a bite. The decor is subtly sweet, with subway tile meeting wooden windows, and pink pastel accents on the walls that work beautifully with the teal and copper lighting. For food, enjoy the grilled cheese with Swiss, cheddar, and basil on sourdough, or dishes like the Paneer Tikka Wrap that are inspired by the owners’ Indian roots.
Surrey is also home to one of the original five craft breweries found in the Lower Mainland: Central City Brewers and Distillers. There is a secondary location in Vancouver, but the Surrey flagship is where it all began. “We’re sort of a little bit more of an experience rather than just dropping in for a quick flight,” says assistant brand manager Jeremy Nemanishen, showing off the rows of tanks filled with beer, whisky, and gin. Award-winning Lohin McKinnon single malt Whisky and Queensborough Gin can be enjoyed in the tasting room, or a six-pack of the classic Red Racer IPA can be purchased to take home.
Whether it be through craft spirits or a nice hotel, it seems Surrey may have finally gained the momentum to lead as the Lower Mainland’s next urban destination. Take it from Model, who says Surrey is “a changing place”—or better yet, head out here to experience the transformation firsthand.
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