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Vancouver's Drinks Scene

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By Judith Lane

The 'Fresh Bar' at George

Although it may not seem opposite of Vancouver’s perceived healthy, outdoor lifestyle, the city's vibrant bar and cocktail scene probably jibes more with that ‘Lotusland’ tag that we’re often labelled with. (In fact there’s a Fraser Valley winery called Lotusland Vineyards that’s organic, sustainable and as green as can be.) Vancouver had revelled in the ‘art of the cocktail’ for several years when bartender Jamie Boudreau (now at Seattle’s Tini Bigs) kicked off the classic cocktail renaissance at Lumière, seriously raising the bar. We’re talking far beyond the sweet and fruity ‘martini’ style cocktails prevalent in bars and nightclubs. You can check out Boudreau’s blog to see what this celebrated Canadian is up to. (Boudreau regularly visits ‘home’ to see what his buds are up to and to judge cocktail competitions.)

Actually, we’re blessed with a raft of talented bartenders (note: bartender is the preferred term in Vancouver rather than 'mixologist') all grounded in the classics—Sazerac, Black and Tan, Ramos Gin Fizz, and the Martini –and are on the cutting edge of contemporary cocktail craft.

Some of the current crop of star contenders—the names are lauded on the cocktail circuit—include Jay Jones and Brian Grant of Voya, JT aka Justin Tisdall of MARKET (Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Vancouver restaurant and bar), Cameron Bogue and Dani Tatarin at db bistro moderne, Boneta’s Mark Brand, Chambar’s Tannis Ling and Wendy McGuiness, Josh Pape previously at Chambar, Sophie Taverner and Steve da Cruz both ex Boneta, Cascade’s Nick Devine, Trevor Kailles of the Granville Room, David Wolowidnyk from West, and Shaun Layton of George Ultra Lounge to cite a few.

Part of the scene are the dozens of cocktail competitions each year, many sponsored by spirit companies like Grey Goose and Giffard, which keep local bartenders on their toes and the industry fresh, sharp and in the spotlight. I recently attended the First Annual Greenhouse Cocktail Throwdown, the latest cocktail competition sponsored by picture perfect Vista D’Oro Farms & Winery in the Fraser Valley. Five Vancouver bartenders trekked out to the farm to see who slay the judges with a summer cocktail using feature ingredient D’Oro, a fortified walnut wine. The competition was in a large, very warm greenhouse (rain was expected but it turned gloriously sunny and warm). Jay Jones’ easy drinking Bourbon-based Gold Fashioned took the prize.

Competition is friendly but fierce in this town and bartenders are continually pushing, whether it’s sourcing unique ingredients, making their own bitters and syrups, honing and evolving the classics, or devising harmonious new drinks. And lucky for us, there are four new bar-centric restaurants opening in quick order, all with bartending partners. The Diamond’s Mark Brand, Sophie Taverner and Josh Pape are all bartenders and their establishment is just days away from opening in Gastown at 6 Powell Street. Asian-influenced plates and cool cocktails are planned, and it will stay open late. The Corner Suite Bistro Deluxe helmed by bartender Steve da Cruz, front man André McGillvray, and chef Anthony Sedlak from the Food Network’s 'The Main' in behind the burners. Jay Jones and chef Chris Irving’s Pourhouse opens in Gastown in the fall, about the same time as bartender Tannis Ling’s Bao Bei (meaning precious, honey, darling) opens in Chinatown. Ling’s menu will focus on Chinese comfort food and tasty cocktails.

Tara Thom and her gang at just-opened Maenam Thai Restaurant have some cool Asian drinks that incorporate lemon grass, Thai basil, chili, and ginger, and Nick Devine at the Cascade Room brings a dash of English wit to his drinks. Both are favourites of mine.

And, of course, there many evenings when I'd just like a glass of wine. Au Petit Chavignol, a new charcuterie, cheese and wine spot, has a killer selection of bubbles, Rieslings, Spanish and French wines, many by the glass. And there are also a few interesting off list wines to check out—just ask. Yew in the Four Seasons will open any wine on its expansive list as long as you order two glasses. If you’re not up for that, check out what’s already uncorked. Cost is 20% of the listed bottled price. Raincity Grill has a vast selection—usually around 100—of Pacific Northwest wines by the glass and a fab view of English Bay. On a sunny day, nothing beats bubbles and oysters on C Restaurant’s False Creek-side patio. Le Gavroche is famous for its very deep cellar of French and B.C. wines. Hop on a bar stool and see what proprietor Manny Ferreira is pouring. His wine picks are always worth exploring. Boneta’s sommelier Neil Ingram stocks a fabulous, esoteric selection of wines. Put yourself in his hands and enjoy.


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