Cocktails and Spirits with Paul Clarke: Where to Drink in Vancouver

Cocktails and Spirits with Paul Clarke

Weekly insight into the world of drinks with Paul Clarke from the Cocktail Chronicles and Imbibe magazine.


[Postcard: Jasperdo on Flickr]

The Winter Olympics start in just a few days, and even now, thousands of visitors are descending on Vancouver's snowy streets—er, make that "basking in the sun in Vancouver's unseasonably warm weather"—to see what Canada's largest West Coast city has to offer.

There are plenty of recommendations of where to go to enjoy what this food-centric city has to offer. But as I wrote in the current issue of Imbibe, Vancouver also has a craft-cocktail scene that is just now reaching critical mass, and the city now has a number of places where you can find ambitious, creative drinks unlike those found anywhere else in the world. I spent two weeks in Vancouver last summer, hitting some of its best bars and wondering why this city wasn't yet on the global radar for good drinks. If you happen to be in Vancouver for the Olympics—or for any reason in the months to come—here are a few places to enjoy some of the city's best drinks.

The Diamond (6 Powell Street, Gastown): The Gastown neighborhood has several of the city's best bars, and the Diamond is one of the mainstays. Opened and staffed by a team of veteran bartenders, the Diamond serves drinks in the classic-cocktail tradition; my favorites included the Tequila Martinez, and the Right Hook, made with Canadian whisky.

The Pourhouse (162 Water Street, Gastown): Near tourist-central in Gastown, the Pourhouse takes an approach to cocktails similar to that of Drink, in Boston: rather than dazzle customers with an array of bottles and a voluminous bar menu, bartenders try to determine exactly what a particular customer is in the mood for and create a drink especially suited to the situation. It's a beautiful bar, too, with plenty of reclaimed old cedar timbers utilized in an expansive space.

Boneta (1 West Cordova, Gastown): Boneta continues the classically styled cocktail trend in Gastown with a menu that leans toward big, flavorful drinks made with tequila or Alberta Premium, a rye-heavy Canadian whisky that disproves the notion that all Canadian whiskies are bland, and with ingredients such as Cinzano Orancio, an orangey vermouth unavailable on this side of the border.

West (2881 Granville Street, Granville): West already has a reputation as one of the best restaurants in Canada, but the bar is just as dynamic and impressive. Bar manager David Wolowydnik regularly raids the kitchen to create market-fresh cocktails such as Clearly the Heir, a fantastically spare take on the Bloody Mary made with tomato water and celery bitters. Shed your fear of drinks made with golden beets, curry, or jalapeños; while these can be gimmicky touches at some bars, West is on the level.

Market by Jean-Georges (1115 Alberni, downtown): In the Shangri-La Hotel, Market has a ho-hum bar menu that's pretty much identical to those of other Jean-Georges establishments. That's okay; push the menu to the side and let the bartenders show you what they can do. Market-fresh and custom ingredients are also the hallmarks here, and the drinks have a rich complexity and a notable balance of character.

George Lounge (1137 Hamilton Street, Yaletown): One caveat: go early. Bar manager Shaun Layton has one of the most ambitious setups in town, with a big work space filled with fresh fruit and herbs, and the staff's dedication to detail results in some of the most spectacular classic and contemporary drinks in town. Visit George after the boisterous late-night Yaletown crowds move in and you'll likely wish you hadn't, but catch the bar while it's still quiet and you'll have one of the most sublime cocktail experiences in the city.

Alibi Room (157 Alexander Street, Gastown): The Alibi Room demonstrates what can happen when a restaurant gets taken over by craft-beer fanatics. With 25 taps featuring pours from some of the best breweries on the West Coast, plus three cask ales and an aging room downstairs, the Alibi Room simply doesn't serve bad or even mediocre beer. You'll find craft brews from Vancouver Island and other Canadian breweries that you won't find back home; aim for the seasonal and monthly beers for an in-depth brew experience.

There are other great places in town (check out my Imbibe story for more recommendations)—do you have any favorite Vancouver watering holes you'd like to suggest?