First Look: Southeast Asian Cocktails at The Union Bar in Vancouver BC

[Photographs: Melody Fury]

The Union Bar is named after its location on Union Street in Vancouver, BC. Ask a Vancouverite where Union Street is, and you may receive a dumbfounded look in response. Explain that it's where the Jimi Hendrix's shrine is, and you may get a few acknowledging "aahs." If you elaborate that it's "that sketchy street in Chinatown next to the Georgia Viaduct", most locals will be able to pinpoint it.

Until recently, Union Street was known for little more than where not to park when it gets dark out. But now there's The Union Bar.

Executive chef Lisa Henderson also owns Latitude on Main Street, which focuses on South American fare and has an impressive tequila selection. Her new spot, the Union Bar, serves casual Southeast Asian specialties such as Malaysian satays, Vietnamese banh mi, and Indonesian nasi goreng to snack on alongside an inventive cocktail list.

Head barman Arthur Wynne was an award-winning coffee barista before switching gear to become a bartender. Wynne, who's originally from the Phillipines, brings warm, tropical flavors into his creations, relying on the distinct scents of fresh herbs such as Thai basil and roots such as lemongrass and galangal to set his cocktails apart.

The Pandan Fashioned Cocktail hits the tongue with familiar bourbon and bitters, followed by the nutty pandan flavor that lingers. This simple drink is made with only 3 ingredients, including a pandan-infused simple syrup, but it's surprisingly complex.

The other cocktails on the menu are lighter and less liquor-forward. The Khe Sanh Sour, a rum cocktail shaken with ginger, lime, chili water, and eggwhite for body, is easy-sipping and smooth. The subtle heat from the chili creeps up slowly as the glass empties. The lime leaf placed at nose level provides a citrusy and floral aroma.

Arthur only uses fresh fruit—these aren't the syrupy, artificially-flavored drinks that one might associate with "tropical cocktails". Take the banga (which means "jar" in Filipino)—these are literally drinks made with a jar and a stick, inspired by the fresh fruit drinks served in plastic bags in Asia. The bartender combines liquor with a variety of fruit and herbs in a jar, muddles it up, twists on the lid and shakes it hard, then serves it with crushed ice and a straw.

Going along the line of lighter cocktails, the Oolong Island Iced Bubble Tea is a rum iced tea shaken with calamansi vinegar for tang and savoriness. Barely sweetened, the cold brewed tea stands its ground. The tiny coconut bubbles (made from the spherification method) gives the drink an amusing texture without screaming "molecular mixology".

Check out the slideshow for a closer look at Union Bar's drinks, plus a few easy recipes to make at home.

The Union Bar

219 Union Street, Vancouver, British Columbia (map) 604-568-3230;