A splash of nostalgia, a dash of dark spirits and a pinch of good old-fashioned fun complete the recipe for vintage cocktails in Vancouver. Singapore sips the slings and Moscow makes a kicking mule but this West Coast city has spawned its own signature drink.
The Vancouver (gin, vermouth, Benedictine and orange bitters) anecdotally started life in the ‘50s at the city’s first licensed cocktail bar; The Sylvia Hotel. In 2006 barman Steve Da Cruz said he was passed the original recipe on a napkin, written by Scotsman Josiah Bates, who frequented the Sylvia in the ‘50s. Da Cruz re-introduced the cocktail and now serves it up at his veggie restaurant The Parker on Union Street.
Bartender Grant Sceney mixes up a Manhattan in the Lobby Lounge © Fairmont Pacific Rim
The Lobby Lounge at the Fairmont Pacific Rim features a Canadian take on a classic. Their Sugar Shack Sour, based on the whisky sour mentioned in The Bon Vivant’s Companion (1872), uses Canadian whisky and maple syrup for a Canuck twist.
When the historic 1920s Hotel Georgia reopened as Rosewood Hotel Georgia in 2011, the bar team at Hawksworth Restaurant reimagined a retro recipe from Ted Saucier’s Bottom’s Up (1951) cocktail anthology. The Hotel Georgia cocktail originated in Vancouver in the ‘40s and Hawksworth’s modern version mixes Plymouth Gin, Giffard’s orgeat, egg white, lemon juice and orange blossom water topped with nutmeg.
Fifties fans drink traditional tiki cocktails at the newly-opened (April) Shameful Tiki Room on Main Street. Owner ‘Rocket Rod’ runs the Modern Bartender shop hidden away in Chinatown, which sells vintage glasses and bottles of bitters.
Bitters were a key ingredient in vintage cocktails. Nowadays The Refinery on Granville Street serves up homemade versions and fermented sodas concocted by Graham Racich, whilst over at The Keefer Bar manager Danielle Tatarin creates an apothecary of cocktails featuring old-fashioned herbal remedies sourced from their Chinatown neighbourhood.
Vancouver’s oldest district, Gastown, retains a sense of yesteryear. The Pourhouse, decked out in antiques and housed in a 1910 heritage building, features traditional drinks such as the Toronto cocktail (Rittenhouse Rye, Fernet, sugar and Angostura bitters); originally noted in Cocktails and How to Mix Them (1922).
The Diamond, hidden in the second floor of a Gastown heritage building, has a historic heart and serves vintage recipes like the gin-based Twentieth Century (1937) and tequila-tastic Michelada (1940s).
Dark spirits, drinkable and invisible, lurk amongst the shadowy corners of The Clough Club; named after John Clough who oversaw Gastown’s jail here a century ago. Their classics menu harks back to a bygone era of bourbon and brawls with cocktails dating from the 1850s to the 1930s.
Celebrity spirits haunt the city: legend has it that The Sylvia was the place where Errol Flynn died. His final drink? A Vancouver Cocktail.
Virgin Atlantic operates seasonal flights to Vancouver from London Heathrow, resuming 14 May 2013.
Have you sampled the cocktails in our pick of Vancouver's bars or do you have other nightlife recommendations to share? Spill the beans in the comments below.
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About the author: AmyWatkinsAmy Watkins
Amy Watkins (www.amywatkins.com) is an award-winning British travel journalist who has lived in Vancouver since May 2012. Whilst on assignment for UK newspapers and magazines she has eaten thousand-year-old eggs in Hong Kong, swam with crocodiles in Australia and braved a week in the Caribbean with a celebrity chef.