Though short-lived, British Columbia’s tangle of prohibition (1917-1921) cast a long shadow over alcohol regulation, which bars still struggle with today – for example, the ban on barrel aging or infusing spirits it was only revoked in 2017. Thanks to most of the licenses being ‘primary food’, the town has a number of small restaurants with great bars, but little in the way of traditional pubs.
However, Vancouver has transformed into a drinkers paradise over the past decade, thanks to a revolution in craft brewing, distilling and cocktail culture, with many of its mixologists reigning champions on the world stage. Expect universally excellent service and delicious drinks.
Below, our insider shares her recommendations for the best bars in Vancouver. For more inspiration, she checks out our guides to the city’s best hotels, restaurants and attractions, plus how to spend a weekend in Vancouver. If you plan a longer trip, plan the ultimate itinerary on Canada’s west coast with our expert guide.
One of the few places in this casually dressed town that has a dress code, so look and feel your best at this stylish bar in Hawksworth restaurant. Strike a pose on a leather bench under a print of Damien Hirst’s Big Love, stop by after a visit to the nearby Vancouver Art Gallery for a Happy Hour $7/£4 martini or negroni (4-6pm), or after dinner, savor a Hotel Georgia, a bright and silky citrus stunner with gin, almond syrup, orange blossom water, lemon juice, and egg whites, served in an ice-cold coupe.
Contact: hawksworth restaurant. com
Enter: No shorts, baseball caps or sportswear
Tap & Barrel, Convention Center
Boasting panoramic views of the North Shore mountains, Burrard Inlet, and the Jack Poole Plaza 2010 Winter Olympic Cauldron, it’s easy to imagine this mini-chain restaurant’s downtown outpost is just a pretty face, but the wine and the BC beer menu all tells a different story. All wine, beer and cider are on tap, thus significantly reducing the carbon footprint; many of the beers and wines are made exclusively for the brand, and the entire list is made up of small, artisanal brewers. Take a flight to get a taste of BC grapes and wheat and pair them with their savory wood-board pizzas or instantly addictive fried pickles.
If you miss the feel of a proper pub, the Pourhouse offers a relatively close facsimile, albeit better service, twice daily happy hour (3-6pm, 10pm to close) and one of the best burgers in town. Located in the heart of Gastown, a stone’s throw from the Steam Clock tourist magnet, the Pourhouse boasts a gleaming 120-year-old reclaimed Douglas fir bar that runs nearly the entire length of the room, lots of gold, and a team of merry bartenders in waistcoats. Classic cocktails and innovative riffs are on the menu, as well as a small but perfectly formed list of BC-heavy beers and wines. Drop by on the weekends for their boozy brunch (the burger benny with fried meatballs, bun, hollandaise sauce, and spiked tater tots and coffee is especially good). Summer sees the return of live music every Thursday and Sunday from 7-10pm.
After posing for a selfie with the illuminated artwork at the entrance, walk up the wooden stairs to this Gastown landmark, take a seat in the center of the elegant bar or in one of the cozy booths, and peruse the menu of ” spirits’, ‘refreshing’ ‘mild’ and ‘classic’ cocktails, pausing to consider whether to add hand-cut crystalline Kodama ice for a dollar more (the answer is ‘yes’). A thirst-quenching Tommy’s Margarita is the perfect place to start. Early evening offers excellent people-watching on Gastown through the large windows, but as night falls, attention has returned to the bustling room.
Enter: Reservations not necessary, unless you’re with a group of four or more at peak bar times
Excelling as both a standalone cocktail bar and a French-Asian fusion restaurant, Pidgin deftly brings together French cooking techniques, Asian flavors, and the seasonal bounty of the Pacific Northwest to create something entirely new and very Vancouver-like. The cocktails are extremely innovative and use ingredients such as matcha tea, smoked maple syrup and toasted rice rum. Look for the fun and whimsical installation pieces, like local artist Ricky Alvarez’s glittery cleaver behind the counter and claw-like handles for the sake on tap. Snack on oyster shots or spicy gochujang chicken wings at the bar, or indulge in their ever-changing seven-course prix fixe menu.
Enter: Reservation recommended for Friday and Saturday
Enter this narrow room, illuminated by soft hanging lights and adorned with Chinese anatomical diagrams and collections of antique glass; sit under the “Medical Center” sign and get ready to indulge in some of the best original cocktails in town. Inspired by traditional apothecaries, Keefer specializes in ‘prescriptions’ created with homemade bitters, teas, syrups and infusions with herbs from the world of traditional Chinese medicine and exotic fruits from Chinatown. Try an old favorite of Keefer’s, the Dragonfly, with dragonfruit gin, sake, and magnolia bark tincture, or a new creation from their seasonal menu. The dim sum dumplings and Lapsang pork tacos are also worth a snack.
Delightful entertainment awaits you at this casual bar and restaurant on Main Street, which is the sister restaurant to the award-winning Michelin-starred restaurant posted on Main. Susu has also earned “recommended” status in the Michelin Guide, and you can feast on crispy Michelin-themed chicken liver-stuffed rosettes, along with other extravagant and tasty dishes (yes, those are 3D printed jicama and jade radish dinosaurs). on kale salad) along with a regularly changing list of low-intervention and natural wines, bitters, cocktails, and vermouths.
Shameful Tiki Lounge
Leave your cynicism at the door and dive into an unashamedly kitschy and totally tropical night out at the best retro tiki bar in town. Once your eyes adjust to the darkness (there are no windows), the room, complete with raffia chairs, pufferfish masks, carvings, and lights, slowly opens up to view. Take a seat at the scarlet-lit tufted-roofed bar, where surf flicks and 1950s horror films play to a soundtrack of surf classics and Hawaiian guitars. Perfect (and really strong) Tiki classics are on the menu: order a Mystery Bowl for two that arrives announced by a gong. Check out the listings of live hula shows and bands.
Enter: Reservations recommended for Friday and Saturday evenings; casual wear and Hawaiian shirts are welcome
This Mount Pleasant hipster venue is housed in a repurposed, now completely cleaned-up porn theater and hosts everything from Prince tribute nights, 90s and 2000s dance parties, drag and burlesque acts, and up-and-coming bands. The Fox is the perfect place to recapture that teenage spiritual energy, dancing under the glittering disco ball. There is a rich program of live music, cabaret, disco nights and cabaret, spread over two floors. Upstairs, the Projection Room serves as a cozy cocktail bar and often hosts comedy nights and BYO vinyl open mic DJ sessions.
Strange spirits of society
One of the city’s original craft distilleries that opened in 2013 after an update to antiquated post-Prohibition liquor laws. vermouth and a range of excellent peated, rye and single malt whiskies. Start your visit with a guided tasting and test drive some spirits, then sit back and order a handcrafted cocktail in their distillery lounge, located in a converted motorcycle garage. East Van, or Yeast Van as it’s known, is also the city’s brewery hub, so after your cocktail, you’re just minutes away from half a dozen craft breweries.
Contact: oddsocietyspirits. com