More insider guides for planning a trip to Vancouver
Although short-lived, British Columbia’s tangle with prohibition (1917-1921) cast a long shadow over alcohol regulation, which bars still wrestle with today – for instance, the ban on barrel-aging or infusing spirits was only lifted in 2017. Thanks to most licenses being ‘food primary’, the city has a raft of small restaurants with superb bars – but little in the way of traditional pubs. However, Vancouver has transformed into a drinker’s paradise over the past decade – thanks to a revolution in craft brewing, distilling and cocktail culture – with many of its bartenders reigning champions on the world stage. Expect universally excellent service and delicious drinks.
Look for the green light above an unmarked wooden door on Howe Street at the side of the Rosewood Hotel Georgia to find this speakeasy-style basement bar. Prohibition is a stylish nod to the Roaring Twenties, with twinkling chandeliers, teal leather banquettes and a beautiful backbar. Buy a token to use the Moet vending machine, which dispenses chilled mini bottles to sip while you decide which of bartender Robyn Gray’s spectacular cocktails you’ll have first. Splurge on the Inception Negroni, a drink-within-a-drink, or maybe try a savoury blue cheese Martini. Music comes from the house band or DJs playing a blend of jazz, soul-funk and contemporary hits to a grown-up crowd.
Contact: 00 1 604 673 7089; rosewoodhotels.com
Opening times: Fri-Sat, 7pm-2am
Getting in: No shorts, baseball caps or activewear
One of the few places in this casually dressed city that has a dress code, so look and feel your best in this elegant bar in Hawksworth restaurant. Pose in a leather banquette under a Damien Hirst’s Big Love print, stop by after a visit to the neighbouring Vancouver Art Gallery for a Happy Hour sherry-tonic or negroni (4pm-6pm), or after dinner, savour a Hotel Georgia, a bright and silky citrus stunner with gin, almond syrup, orange flower water, lemon juice and egg white, served in a chilled coupe.
Contact: 00 1 604 673 7000; hawksworthrestaurant.com
Opening times: Daily, 5pm-12am
Getting in: No shorts, baseball caps or activewear
Uva’s bold décor of black, scarlet and white with a fuchsia flock wallpaper accent sounds clashing, but very much like many of the beautifully balanced cocktails on its menu, it absolutely works. By day, Uva operates as a very good espresso bar and café with small plates from its neighbouring sister-Italian restaurant Cibo, and from 2pm-5pm, there’s an excellent Happy Hour menu of cocktails, beer, wine and bar snacks. But it’s as a wine and cocktail bar that Uva excels; its whisky list is a thing of lengthy beauty, and the wine flights a great way to taste around different styles and varietals.
Tap & Barrel, Convention Centre
Blessed with a panoramic view over the North Shore mountains, Burrard Inlet and the Jack Poole Plaza 2010 Winter Olympics cauldron, it’s easy to imagine the downtown outpost of this restaurant mini-chain is just a pretty face, but the all-B.C. menu tells a different story. All wine, beer and ciders are on tap, thus significantly reducing the carbon footprint; many of the beers and wines are exclusively made for the brand, and the entire list is comprised of small, artisanal producers. Try a flight to get a taste of B.C. grapes and grain, and pair with their tasty wood board pizzas or instantly addictive pretzels with a beer and cheddar sauce.
Contact: 00 1 604 235 9827; tapandbarrel.com
Opening times: Sun-Wed, 11am-11pm; Thu-Sat, 11am-12am
After posing for a selfie with the illuminated artwork in the entrance, climb the wooden stairs to this Gastown landmark, take a centre seat at its elegant bar or one of the cosy booths, and flip through the menu of ‘boozy’, ‘elegant’, ‘delicate’ and ‘overlooked’ cocktails, which pay homage to the classics and modern creations. A thirst-quenching Bicicletta No. 2 is the perfect place to start. Early evening brings excellent people-watching opportunities over Gastown through the large windows, but as night falls, the focus is back in the bustling room, with vinyl DJs playing a feel-good mix every Thu-Sun from 9pm.
Address: 6 Powell St
Opening times: Daily, 5.30pm-late
Getting in: Reservations not necessary, unless you’re with a group of four or more in peak bar times
Excelling as both a standalone cocktail bar and Asian-French fusion restaurant, Pidgin deftly gathers together French culinary techniques, Asian flavours and the seasonal bounty of the Pacific Northwest to create something entirely new and so very Vancouver-ish. Cocktails are thrillingly innovative, using ingredients such as matcha tea, smoked maple syrup and toasted rice rum. Look out for the fun and quirky installation pieces, such as local artist Ricky Alvarez’s gleaming cleaver behind the bar and the claw handles for the on-tap sake. Snack on oyster shots or spiced kara age (fried chicken) at the bar or indulge in their ever-changing eight-mini-courses prixe-fixe menu.
Contact: 00 1 604 620 9400; pidginvancouver.com
Opening times: Daily, 5pm-12am
Getting in: Reservations recommended for Fridays and Saturdays
The Alibi Room
The catalyst behind Vancouver’s craft beer revival. Join fans of B.C. craft brews in this friendly beer hall, with a lovely view through arched windows over the railways tracks and mountains. On the bar, a rotating list of 50 different local breweries with occasional guest appearances from US micro-breweries. The back bar is piled high with whiskies and awards, and the kitchen offers an excellent supply of gastro-pub cuisine with locally sourced, free range and ocean-friendly proteins (the house burger is known as one of the city’s best). The place in town to start your discovery of B.C. beer before heading out to visit your new favourite brewery’s tap room.
Step inside this narrow room, lit with subdued suspended lighting and adorned with Chinese anatomical diagrams and antique glass collections; take a seat under the ‘Medical Centre’ sign and prepare to indulge in some of the city’s very best original cocktails. Inspired by traditional apothecaries, the Keefer specialises in ‘prescriptions’ created with house-made bitters, teas, syrups and infusions with herbs drawn from the world of traditional Chinese medicine and exotic fruits from Chinatown. Try an old Keefer favourite the Dragonfly with dragon fruit-infused gin, sake and magnolia bark tincture or a new creation from their seasonal menu. The dim sum dumplings and Peking duck crêpes are worth snacking on, too.
Contact: 00 1 604 688 1961; thekeeferbar.com
Opening times: Sun-Thu, 4pm-1am; Fri-Sat, 4pm-2am
Shameful Tiki Lounge
Leave your cynicism at the door and dive into an unashamedly kitsch and totally tropical night out in the city’s finest retro tiki bar. Once your eyes adjust to the darkness (there are no windows), the room, complete with raffia chairs, masks, carvings and pufferfish lights, slowly hoves into view. Take a seat at the scarlet-lit bar with a tufted roof, where surf movies and 1950s horror films play to a soundtrack of surf classics and Hawaiian guitars. On the menu are pitch-perfect (and seriously strong) Tiki classics: order up a Mystery Bowl for two which arrives announced by a gong. Check listings for live hula shows and bands.
Contact: 00 1 604 999 5684; shamefultikiroom.com
Getting in: Reservations recommended for Friday and Saturday nights; casual dress and Hawaiian shirts welcome
Opening times: Daily, 5pm-late
This Mount Pleasant hipster spot is located in a repurposed porn cinema, now thoroughly cleaned and home to everything from Prince tribute nights, 1990s vs 2000s dance parties, drag and burlesque shows and up-and-coming bands. The Fox is the perfect spot to recapture that teen spirit energy, dancing under the twinkling disco ball. There’s a packed program of live music, cabaret, club nights and comedy, spread over two floors. Upstairs, the Projection Room hosts its own twice-weekly comedy nights, BYO vinyl open mic DJ sessions and free Thursday club nights.
Contact: 00 1 604 875 8001; foxcabaret.com
Opening times: Check calendar for listings