Vancouver has always been a drinkers’ town. Even before the craft-cocktail movement kicked into high gear, you could easily find a decent tipple. Now, of course, the city boasts many fine bars and has its own satellite Tales of the Cocktail conference, which took place last week. I was at the event and got to check out the local mixological scene again. Here are the establishments I recommend visiting. Cheers!
Whether you want a Belgian beer, a big Bordeaux wine or a stiff drink, Chambar has it all. It also offers unpretentious fine dining. Barman Jacob Sweetapple, recent winner of the Beefeater 24 Gin and Tea Cocktail Competition in London, creates a warm and welcoming environment for patrons.
What to Drink: The Bitter Saint (rum, La Chouffe Blonde Ale, passion fruit, fernet)
The Diamond is the bartender’s bar. (It helps that it has a variety of classes for pros as well as home mixologists.) Its sharp cocktail list groups drinks under the headings “proper,” “delicate” and “notorious,” plus punches.
What to Drink: Diamond Cup (Cinzano Orancio Vermouth, Amaro Montenegro, lemon, ginger ale, fruit)
The Fairmont Pacific Rim Hotel was the host of Tales of the Cocktail on Tour, and its Lobby Lounge (pictured above) definitely upped its game for the occasion. The extra-special treats, including barrel-aged creations and Perlini-carbonated concoctions, are still available.
What to Drink: Sniper (Mount Gay Rum, apricot, Yellow Chartreuse, house-made pimento dram)
This tavern is run by the Donnelly Group, which operates 13 establishments around Vancouver. The whiskey-heavy menu is long and detailed, and has both classic staples and recipes from acclaimed bartenders like Kirk Estopinal of Cure in New Orleans, and Audrey Saunders of Pegu Club in New York.
What to Drink: Old Pal (Alberta Premium Rye Whisky, dry vermouth, Campari, lemon peel)
You can find culinary star David Hawksworth’s eponymous restaurant in the recently refurbished and legendary Rosewood Hotel Georgia (it counts Elvis Presley, Katharine Hepburn and Nat “King” Cole as former guests). Bar manager Brad Stanton is in charge of the cocktail list, which features house-made bitters and syrups.
What to Drink: Georgia Flip (whole egg, Madeira, Havana Club Añejo 7 Años Rum, spiced fig syrup, pimento dram)
A large sign at this joint reads “Medical Center,” which pretty much sets the overall tone. The Keefer Bar is located in the heart of Chinatown and its elixirs are inspired by traditional Eastern medicine. You can even request that an essence to give you energy, clarity or confidence be added to your tipple.
What to Drink: Zen and Love (rum, Giffard Apricot Liqueur, lemon, astragalus syrup, egg white, bitters)
L’Abattoir is a forward-thinking French restaurant in the Gastown neigborhood. It combines West Coast cuisine with a nose-to-tail philosophy, which pays homage to the area’s meatpacking origins. The intelligent cocktail list was designed by Shaun Layton and consists of both old standards and new drinks. This is a great spot if you want to pair good food with good beverages.
What to Drink: Gassy Jack Flip (Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon, Gosling’s Rum, Cynar, house-made Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout liqueur, egg, citrus, nutmeg)
This comfy Gastown watering hole, near the historic steam clock, is decorated with dark wood and brass fixtures. Your choice of cocktails is relatively simple, but wonderful: 10 drinks—five shaken and five stirred, plus some seasonal historic specials. There’s also decadent comfort food, a famous burger and a fantastic yet eclectic array of spirits.
What to Drink: Donald Draper (Buffalo Trace Bourbon, pineau de charentes, apricot de rousillon, Peychaud’s Bitters, absinthe)
Uva Wine Bar is popular with local foodies and is known for its charcuterie and artisanal cheeses. Bar manager David Bain has also put together a modest list of excellent original libations, and his bartenders are also more than happy to fix your favorite modern or pre-Prohibition recipe. Great food, wine, beer and cocktails guarantees something for just about everyone.
What to Drink: Honey Ryder (Plymouth Gin, Père-Magloire Calvados, Tantalus Riesling, Strega, black pepper-coriander syrup, lemon juice)
It is impossible to talk about the city’s watering holes and not highlight the destination restaurant West and its pioneering, award-winning barman David Wolowidnyk. He produces an incredible range of ingredients—everything from pickled onions and stuffed olives to falernum and even a chocolate bourbon.
What to Drink: Vancouver (Plymouth Gin, Punt e Mes, Bénédictine, Angostura Orange Bitters, lemon zest)
Warm up by the fire or grab a seat at the beautiful bar, which houses an impressive collection of premium spirits and bitters. You may need a minute to read the menu—which includes classic, Champagne and original concoctions—and soon you’ll be able to try Yew’s barrel-aged White Manhattan.
What to Drink: Low Thai’d (vodka, Green Chartruese, pineapple, yuzu, coconut, sugar, club soda, fresh mint)
Looking for more great watering holes? Check out our bar guide for the best bars in the world.
Simon Ford is an award-winning bartender and director of trade outreach and brand education for Pernod Ricard USA. He is also a Liquor.com advisor.