Stepping into Save On Meats is meant to feel like stepping into the diners of yesteryear. One red brick wall is lined with booths complete with aluminum-trimmed tables, while the opposite wall is one long wooden bar with soda-shop style padded stools. Hanging above the bar are the feature design element of the restaurant, cartoon representations of the food done in simple 50’s drive-in style.
The cartoons grace the cover of the menu as well, acting as branding along with the restaurant’s famous flying pig, which hangs outside in fluorescent pink, just as it did in 1957 when the butcher shop first opened. After a brief closure in 2009 when its original owner retired, it was reopened with the restaurant in 2011 by Gastown restaurateur Mark Brand.
This isn’t the East Hastings Street of the 1950s, however, when it was the upscale shopping hub of downtown – and Save On Meats reflects that. The butcher shop employs some of the disadvantaged East Hastings Street residents, people who find it difficult to find employment even in their own neighbourhood. More recently, Brand introduced sandwich tokens that customers can purchase to hand out to panhandlers instead of money. And overall, the restaurant’s menu, which features a handful of filling items for under five dollars, is designed to feed people for cheap.
Late on a Saturday or Sunday morning, this place can be a nightmare for a group trying to find a seat, but when four of us walked in on a Wednesday evening, we had our choice of booths. We chose the “VIP” booth at the back, which can seat around eight people, because we were expecting a few more to join us. We immediately flipped to the back of the menu, because we knew what we were there for: boozy milkshakes.
The restaurant has four signature alcoholic milkshakes, plus the option to create a custom combination. Wanting to maximize our milkshake flavour exposure, two of us settled on splitting two milkshakes: the Rumnana and the Warm Polar Bear, both $10. The Rumnana is a classic banana milkshake with a shot of white rum, while the Warm Polar Bear tastes like a candy cane, with peppermint schnapps and Kahlua. The Rumnana was the less rich of the two, which – trust me – is a good thing. By the end, the richness of both milkshakes was weighing me down and made the final sips almost a chore. On top of the plate of bacon-chocolate cookies, the milkshakes certainly made the trip downtown worthwhile.
The décor and the menu recalled a time when curvy women in polka dots graced drive-in movie theatre screens and pin-up posters
When we finally managed to gather the willpower to stand up, the bill was a reasonable $25. As the last people to leave, we found that we were holding up progress on a photo shoot – voluptuous women with giant hairstyles had indeed been walking past us to and from the washroom-turned-changeroom for the past 20 minutes. It’s easy to see why Save On Meats would be an ideal shooting location for retro plus-sized clothing. The décor and the menu recalled a time when curvy women in polka dots graced drive-in movie theatre screens and pin-up posters. It may seem like a leap to say that that aesthetic can be revived with a milkshake, but the tall, frosty aluminum cups in which our drinks arrived could beg to differ.