By Henry Allan
Vancouver arguably has the best cocktails in Canada: many local creations go on to win national awards, several get recreated the world over — and, to boot, we have the last two National Bartenders of the Year here.
So if you’re looking for a cocktail that’s as much an experience as it is a drink, there’s no shortage here to choose from.
But amongst all the options, there are the industry icons, the handful of drinks that define Vancouver’s cocktail landscape, which quite frankly, if you want to gauge just how good the drinks are here, you simply need to try.
Here are 21 must-try cocktails in Vancouver.
1. Inception Negroni at Prohibition
To experience one of the city’s most creative drinks, head to Prohibition for their cocktail within a cocktail: a White Negroni (gin, bianco vermouth, and bitter gentian liqueur) holding a classic Negroni in a hollow ice-sphere, which eventually cracks and bleeds into the drink outside.
Address: 801 West Georgia Street, Vancouver
2. Ancho Old-Fashioned at La Mezcaleria (Gastown)
La Mezcaleria’s new Gastown location serves a stellar range of mezcal and tequila themed cocktails. To get the best of both worlds, go for their boozy Ancho Old-Fashioned, made with smoky mezcal, aged tequila, and Ancho Reyes (a spicy chili liqueur).
Address: 68 East Cordova Street, Vancouver
3. Dark and Stormy at Calabash Bistro
Visit this Caribbean bistro in Chinatown for spicy jerked food, a rum-heavy drinks list, and one of the best classic cocktail riffs in the city. For their Dark and Stormy, Calabash mixes their own ginger beer (infused with cardamom, vanilla, and nutmeg) with ginger-infused Goslings, and then tops it off with ginger ale and cinnamon-dusted coconut.
Address: 428 Carrall Street, Vancouver
4. My Private Tokyo at Kissa Tanto
Kissa Tanto won national Cocktail of the Year honours for this take on the Amaretto Sour, which balances out the drink’s classic sweetness with a tart plum-wine, dry vermouth, frothy egg whites, and a sour plum-salt rim.
Address: 263 East Pender Street, Vancouver
5. Avocado Gimlet at L’Abattoir
Few local cocktails come as highly recommended, or embody the zeitgeist of the city as well as L’Abattoir’s Avocado Gimlet. For this (healthy?) cocktail, L’Abattoir combines an olive and rosemary infused gin with creamy-fresh avocado, lime, and apple liqueur.
Address: 217 Carrall Street, Vancouver
6. The Executive at The Clough Club
Many think of only pubs and clubs when it comes to the Donnelly Group, but they also own two of best cocktail bars in Vancouver. Head to the Clough Club in Gastown for The Executive, a bitter and boozy mix of rye, dark rum, Campari, Fernet, and vanilla liqueur.
Address: 212 Abbott Street, Vancouver
7. The Gerard at The Gerard Lounge
The Gerard Lounge is a local landmark and throwback to old-world luxury with it’s wood-panelled walls, fireplace, and leather club chairs. To celebrate the lounge’s legacy, Justin Taylor created this bold, yet elegant mixture of peaty scotch, fernet branca, and maraschino liqueur – Gaz Regan (an international cocktail authority) named it of the world’s best new cocktails in 2014.
Address: 845 Burrard Street, Vancouver
8. Opium Sour at The Keefer
Frankly, everything at the Keefer is a must-try. Many of their asian takes on classic cocktails are considered local legends in their own right. But to best get a sense of what the Keefer is all about, try their Opium Sour: a bourbon sour with the addition of tamarind syrup, poppyseed tincture, and grapefruit.
Address: 135 Keefer Street, Vancouver
9. Chartreuse Milkshake at UVA
Lauren Mote is basically the face of Vancouver’s bar scene right now: last year she won National Bartender of the Year, was named Canadian Ambassador for Diageo, and is currently the co-proprietor of the Bittered-Sling brand found all over the city. To truly experience this city’s best, you need to try one of her drinks, which are still being served at UVA (though the talented Sabrine Dhaliwal is running the bar there now). Start with one of Mote’s most successful creations, the Chartreuse Milkshake, which mixes gin, Chartreuse, chocolate liqueur and chocolate bitters, with citrus and egg-whites.
Address: 900 Seymour Street, Vancouver
10. Expat Booster at YEW seafood + bar
Want to try one of Mote’s cocktails on a budget? Then head to YEW (where she acts as beverage consultant) during Reverse Happy Hour, when you can try five of her creations for just $10 each! Mote suggests her unique combo of Irish whiskey, banana, black tea and espresso.
Address: 791 West Georgia Street, Vancouver
11. Wind-Up Bird at The Acorn
The Acorn on south Main is one of Vancouver’s premier destinations for vegetarian food, but they deserve just as much praise for their short list of creative cocktails. Try their Wind-Up Bird, a mixture of Hennessy and plum jam, with yuzu liqueur and shiso-infused dry vermouth.
Address: 3995 Main Street, Vancouver
12. The Shrubbery at The Oakwood
The Oakwood in Kits is a great spot to enjoy fine fare and craft cocktails in a casual atmosphere. Try their spicy, award-winning take on a pineapple margarita, which uses grilled-pineapple infused tequila, Aperol, and a smoked chili-salt rim.
Address: 2741 West 4th Ave, Vancouver
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13. Vancouver Cocktail at The Cascade Room
If you’re simply looking for a classic done right, Main Street’s Cascade Room is a safe bet. Amongst a list of over 60 iconic mixtures, you’ll find Vancouver’s boozy namesake cocktail (invented at the Sylvia Hotel in the 50’s) that combines gin, sweet vermouth, Benedictine, and orange bitters.
Address: 2616 Main Street, Vancouver
14. Post Opium at Bambudda
Bambudda’s complex take on the daiquiri has sold over 10,000 times, and even bars in LA and Scotland are requesting the recipe. Their Post Opium (which they claim is “better than dope”) adds passionfruit puree to the classic rum, lime-base, and tops it off with a white chocolate, sherry and calvados foam.
Address: 99 Powell Street, Vancouver
15. Candour and Valour at AnnaLena
If you’re looking for the high-end cocktail experience in Kits, head to AnnaLena, where you can try award-winning bartender, Kevin Brownlee’s creations. Fans of Akvavit have got to try his herbal, floral mixture of the spirit with Chartreuse, coffee, black tea and lavender.
Address: 1809 West 1st Ave, Vancouver
16. Femme Fatale at Nomad
Nomad’s stellar list of original cocktails earned the people’s choice award for best bartender in Vancouver this year. The must-try is one of their best sellers, a floral mix of lavender vodka, essence of rose, ginger syrup, and sparkling wine. Bonus: it’s just $6 during happy hour.
Address: 3950 Main Street, Vancouver
17. Tabernacle at Chill Winston
To celebrate their 10th anniversary, Chill Winston is releasing a cocktail menu that honours their best-sellers over the last decade. You might say they’re all must tries, but if you only have one, go for their festive take on the bourbon sour, which adds cinnamon, nutmeg, and fresh pressed apple-juice to the mix.
Address: 3 Alexander Street, Vancouver
18. Wuyi Sour at The Union
The Union is one of the lesser known cocktail spots in Vancouver. But they offer a great list of very reasonably priced cocktails, which utilize exotic syrups, fruits, herbs, and juices. Give them a visit for their smoky sweet scotch sour, mixed with passionfruit, lapsang syrup, orange bitters, lemon and egg-whites.
Address: 219 Union Street, Vancouver
19. Tommy “Buns” Bundy at Crowbar
One of the latest — and best — additions to the local cocktail scene sits over at Kingsway and Fraser. Opened by L’Abattoir and Wildebeest vets, Crowbar offers unassuming eats and killer cocktails named after famous figures from the 90’s. If you’re looking for something bold and boozy, go for their Tommy “Bun’s” Bundy, made with rye, mezcal, amaretto and absinthe.
Address: 646 Kingsway, Vancouver
20. Barrel Blended Sazerac at Pidgin
Pidgin adds complexity to the simple Sazerac by blending 9 different bourbons and 7 different cognacs with Angostura, Peychauds, and cardamom bitters in an oak barrel — which they then let sit for a week before serving.
Address: 350 Carrall Street, Vancouver
21. Checkmate Caesar at Score on Davie
You can’t have a list of “must-try” cocktails in Canada without including at least one Caesar – and why not go with the most legendary Caesar in the city? Score on Davie’s Checkmate Caesar is literally a three-course meal with a 4oz cocktail underneath (which means you’ve got to share). It costs $60, but for what you get, it’s a steal.
Address: 1262 Davie Street, Vancouver
Henry Allan is a freelance journalist/copywriter based in Vancouver. Formerly a local bartender and bar-school instructor, he now writes about booze on his easy-to-make cocktails blog Craftable Cocktails. Twitter: @craftacocktails.