Our great city has a vast number of bars and restaurants that have embraced the growing trend towards cocktail culture.
Vancouver is also home to numerous industry pioneers who have made it possible for enthusiasts to enjoy high-quality, innovative craft cocktails. They’ve inspired countless bartenders (like myself), and provided valuable history lessons along the way. Many of the cocktails we enjoy today come from recipes pulled from the dusty pages of cocktail books printed in the 1800s, and the techniques they employ are as relevant now as they were then.
I’ve had the opportunity to work and compete alongside a few of these “bar stars,” attend seminars they’ve hosted and follow their careers over the years. I’ve also been lucky enough to have each one of them make me a cocktail. Their meticulous attention to detail and respect for their craft — and for their guests — are the reasons they’re the very best at what they do.
However, there are only a small handful of bars and restaurants that really get it right when it comes to craft cocktails.
Aside from the fine bar at Boulevard Kitchen & Oyster Bar, which I humbly head up myself, here is my personal top 10 list of Vancouver’s best bars, bartenders and cocktails (in no particular order):
L’Abattoir gets it right on so many levels. While known for their French cuisine, impeccable service, romantic ambiance and extensive wine list, it’s their head bartender Shaun Layton who makes this one of the best cocktail destinations in the city.
Shaun has competed locally and nationally with great success, and has become an influential cocktail and spirits writer. But most notably, Shaun is extremely humble, and understands that a cocktail isn’t right until the guest is completely happy.
Next time you visit, I highly recommend trying the ‘Federales’ — a beauty of a libation that mixes mezcal, amaro, Bigallet China-China (he has a knack for the rare and obscure) and orange bitters.
Address: 217 Carrall Street, Vancouver
Located in historic Gassy Jack Square, The Diamond has a bird’s-eye view on Gastown. So does Thor Douglas Hannibal Paulson, a rising star in Vancouver’s wealth of cocktail talent who heads up this renowned establishment. The Diamond space has a very storied past, and has been home to some pretty dodgy bars, but now it stands as one of the finest places in the city to enjoy craft cocktails.
A dedicated student of the craft, Thor’s delicious retakes on 1980s ‘mistakes’ are truly amazing, and his menu is loaded with tantalizing prohibition-era cocktails.
Next time you climb the stairs to The Diamond, ask Thor to whip up his signature ‘Panna Scosso’ — a wine pairing in a glass, if you will, loaded with honey, berries and cream.
Address: 6 Powell Street, Vancouver
Located in the iconic Rosewood Hotel Georgia, Hawksworth Restaurant is one of the top fine dining establishments in the city, and home to bar star Cooper Tardivel.
Cooper boasts what is one of the best back bars in the country, and his sprits collection is the work of a very dedicated bar team. Cooper’s dedication to his craft puts him at the very top of our country’s talents — his cocktails are made with precision and executed to perfection. Everything from the ice, to the vessel and the flavours you taste have all been meticulously considered.
Next time you visit, sample ‘The Other, Other Way’ — a reinvention of last year’s entry for Diageo World Class Canada Bartender of the Year competition.
Address: 801 West Georgia Street, Vancouver
The Keefer Bar is home to Gez McAlpine, a native Australian who is killing it on the world stage. Gez is returning from London as our Canadian representative at the BEEFEATER MIXLDN competition, and rumour has it that he fared very well.
An exceptional host, Gez works behind one of the most creative bars in the city, headed up by cocktail legend Danielle Tatarin. Everywhere you look there are funky elixirs and infusions, mad-scientist potions and rare, unique bottles.
I recommend sipping on ‘The Underground Fog,’ Gez’s BEEFEATER MIXLDN entry. Take off your hat and sweater vest, because this tea-infused libation will definitely warm your soul.
Address: 135 Keefer Street, Vancouver
The Lobby Lounge at the Fairmont Pacific Rim has been a cocktail destination since its inception. Some seriously pedigreed bar stars have come through its doors, including Absolut Ambassador Jacob Sweetapple.
The Lobby Lounge is now home to Grant Sceney. Hailing from Australia, Grant is a creative genius and arguably the hottest bartender in Canada, with a top-six finish at the Diageo World Class Canada Bartender of the Year competition, and countless other victories to his credit.
Next time you stop by, ask him to shake up his medal-worthy cocktail, ‘Embers at Dawn,’ which is comprised of maple wood-smoked bourbon, apple, ginger and cinnamon — perfect after a chilly walk around the seawall.
Address: 1038 Canada Place, Vancouver
Class is now in session. Notturno is home to the man known simply as “H,” world renowned for his mastery of spirits and scientific approaches to cocktails. H shares his talents with the up-and-coming bar stars of tomorrow during his “Sunday School” cocktail seminars, where he teaches not only the fundamentals, but the very things that can set you apart from the class.
H is a master showman, and to sit at his bar and enjoy a cocktail should be on your bucket list of things to do in Vancouver.
When at Notturno, ask for a ‘Duck Duck Bang Bang!’, which is comprised of duck fat-washed Calvados, fig lemon and black pepper, sea salt and a molecular apple foam. Or choose from any of H’s monthly menu selections for a truly unique cocktail experience.
Address: 280 Carrall Street, Vancouver
The Oakwood Canadian Bistro is one of my favorite places to indulge. Kelsey Ramage has cultivated an amazing yet unpretentious cocktail program, and her dedication to Canadian and local ingredients separates her from the pack.
Kelsey’s ‘Hastings Mill’ cocktail is a must for the people looking for a flavour explosion, but her ‘Vis Major’ represents what cocktail experimenting is all about. A self-proclaimed “shrub” experiment gone wrong, this drink has quickly become one of the best selections on the menu. Rich with mezcal, sweet vermouth, sherry, orange bitters and the aforementioned shrub gone wrong, Kelsey shows her mixing talent by perfecting balance in the glass.
Address: 2741 West 4th Avenue, Vancouver
Tucked inside the Moda Hotel, you’ll find Lauren Mote, Bar Manager of the funky UVA Wine & Cocktail Bar and her talented team of bartenders. Considered one of the finest bartenders in the country, Lauren is also a very savvy entrepreneur and is the creative genius behind Bittered Sling Extracts (with partner, Chef Jonathan Chovancek), a high-quality line of boutique cocktail bitters produced right here in B.C. and that are finding their way into bars across the world.
In the age of social media, nobody gets their brand out better than Lauren — she has completely changed the game for bartenders in this city.
The next time you find yourself at UVA, try Lauren’s cognac-based ‘Charentes Chanson.’ Rich with Italian vermouth and local raspberry liqueur, this cocktail will keep you around for more. Don’t forget to grab a bitters kit for your at-home mixing pleasure.
Address: 900 Seymour Street, Vancouver
West has been a staple of excellence in Vancouver for well over a decade, and so too is its bar manager, David Wolowidnyk. David is, in my opinion, the ultimate authority on cocktails, spirits and service in this country, and his encyclopedic knowledge on the topic is truly astounding.
I highly recommend a visit to West to have David take you on a whimsical trip of cocktail lore while enjoying his world-class libations. Not only is David a master at making cocktails, but he’s also one of the most gracious hosts — he’ll truly make you feel like royalty. Start with his world-famous and award-winning cocktail, ‘The Beldi.’ Mixed with Bombay gin, this Moroccan-inspired, tea- and ginseng-infused libation will immediately transport you to Marrakech.
Address: 2881 Granville Street, Vancouver
Where would I be without this one? I began my stint at YEW seafood + bar at the Four Seasons Hotel Vancouver over a decade ago, and although I was already in love with the service element of bartending, my time there gave me the platform to hone my craft. As Head Bartender for more than five years, I worked tirelessly alongside my amazing team to help solidify YEW as a premier cocktail destination.
Behind the wood, they have a rising star in the very talented Phil Srigley. A dynamic character, Phil’s ‘on the fly’ ability to adapt his cocktails to each and every guest is truly remarkable. Give Phil and his team a few tidbits to work with, and they will create magic. Or, just sit back and order Phil’s signature ‘Bella Dama’ — a tequila, cilantro and ginger libation that will absolutely knock your socks off.
Address: 791 West Georgia, Vancouver
What are some of your favourite spots in Vancouver?