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Vancouver is crazy for cocktails, and our local bartenders — they hate the fancypants terms “mixologist” or “bar chef” — are among the best in the world. They are obsessed with fresh ingredients and classic techniques, and bring a creative sensibility to both. Little known fact: According to cocktail historians Jared Brown and Anistatia Miller, it was a Vancouver bar, Delilah’s, that started the 1990s North American craze for massive lists of inventive cocktails. (Unfortunately, the current incarnation of Delilah’s is a sad, watered-down imitation of its former self, though it inexplicably still finds its way onto “best cocktail” lists created by people who clearly have no idea what they’re talking about.)
If you’re craving a great whisky sour or properly made Avation ort something new and breathtakingly fresh, these are the Top 10 places to go:
1. Pourhouse Restaurant, 162 Water St., 604-568-7022
Barman extraordinaire Jay Jones recreates the golden age of the cocktail in this lovely little space. Pull up a stool at the hand-planed wooden bar and let Jay and his talented team take you on a nostalgic liquid journey — and enjoy the kitchen’s modern comfort food while you’re at it.
2. The Diamond: 6 Powell St. (no phone)
This funky, vintage bar-restaurant is the dream project of three of the city’s best bartenders — Mark Brand, Josh Pape and Sophie Taverner — and the closest things Vancouver has to a real speakeasy. Terrific cocktails, equally good Asian street food-style menu.
3. Corner Suite Bistro Deluxe: 850 Thurlow St., 604-569-3415
Vancouver’s newest lounge opened just in time for the Olympics under the helm of star bartender Steve Da Cruz, celebrity chef Anthony Sedlak and manager Andre McGillivray. Only a block from trendy Robson Street, this is a luscious space with fantastic food and stellar cocktails.
4. Yew Restaurant + Bar at the Four Seasons: 791 West Georgia St., 604-692-4939
Posh cocktailing at its best. Unlike many hotel bartenders, Jason Taylor, Jordan Moore and the rest of the team at Yew are always coming up with something new. It helps to have an apparently unlimited budget for quality spirits, a management that encourages new ideas and terrific cuisine to back you up.
5. The Cascade Room: 2616 Main St., 604-709-8650
Slightly off the beaten track in the funky SoMa (South of Main) neighbourhood, you’ll find this casually chic bar-restaurant and its rumpus-room-style sibling Habit. Nick Devine, who was one of the first bartenders to start shaking things up in the city, is the guy behind the big, beautiful coccktail list.
6. George Ultralounge: 1137 Hamilton St., 604-628-5555
The beautiful people flock to this Yaletown boite to sample multiple-award-winning bartender Shaun Layton’s endlessly creative cocktails, many of them created for cocktail competition and others learned from bartenders he’s met on his international travels.
7. Chambar: 562 Beatty St., 604-879-7119
This charming and always-popular Belgian-by-way of-Africa restaurant may specialize in beer, but a surprising number of the city’s top bartenders also worked behind the wood. Now handling the shaker is Wendy McGuinness, a talented bartender with a love for deliciously unusual spices like saffron and sumac — you will never taste anything else like the drinks she makes.
8. West: 2881 Granville St., 604-738-8938
Bar manager David Wolowidnyk was named Vancouver’s bartender of the year in 2009, and little wonder. As passionate about cocktail history as he is about trying new techniques and ingredients, his drinks at West are always an amazing flavour journey, complemented by one of the most impressive fine-dining menus in the city.
9. The Refinery: 1115 Granville St., 604-687-8001
The rest of Vancouver’s bartending community is convinced that Lauren Mote never sleeps. The endlessly inventive bartender and restaurant manager is always coming up with something new, whether it be her housemade bitters, molecular techniques or a conviction that cocktails can be good for you. Hey, we’re buying!
10. The Granville Room: 957 Granville St., 604-633-0057
Trevor Kallies runs the bar in this chic little space that somehow manages to appeal to everyone from the staid symphony set to club kids to the guys in suits. He brings a fresh, creative approach to cocktails, so just ask for whatever is in season, and you’ll be good to go.