As much as us food folks love to talk food, photograph food and, after all of that’s over and done with, actually eat food, it goes without saying that we all love a well-made cocktail too. Refinement levels of cocktails can differ from city to city across Canada, but no matter where you are there’s likely a good drink just waiting to be sipped. Here are 10 great places to enjoy a drink if you find yourself in these neighbourhoods.
1. L’abattoir (Vancouver, BC)
Now almost five years old, L’abattoir is still one of the top-rated restaurants in Vancouver’s food scene that seems to grow exponentially by the month. The service is always spot on and the food as well, but any cocktail lover will tell you that a seat at the bar with a Donald Draper in-hand (the bourbon cocktail, not the man) is one of the best places to be in Vancouver.
2. Anejo (Calgary, AB)
Much like Uva, Anejo isn’t necessarily known for their food, but certainly is for their massive tequila selection as well as their long list of tequila cocktails. The lively dining room is a fun place to spend your time, especially on the weekends. And it only gets more exciting after a few sips on one of their tequila negronis.
3. Bar Isabel (Toronto, ON)
I’ve eaten at this restaurant a number of times and I have a hard time finding any faults. Delicious food aside, the bar team really knows what they’re doing when it comes to cocktails. If only for the name, try the “Witch, Please” for starters, made with gin, lillet blanc, celery bitters and an absinthe rinse. A little bird once told me the restaurant is still consistently so busy that they’re looking at allowing people to make reservations for their bar seats. If that’s not a sign of a restaurant doing cocktails right, I’m not sure what is.
4. Field Guide (Halifax, NS)
There are a lot of fun places to go grab a beer in the heart of this east coast city, but only a few that can guarantee a great cocktail. This intimate open kitchen and bar concept is a go-to for anyone in Halifax looking for a well-made drink. Order the “I’ll have another” because it pretty much describes drinking anyway.
5. The Grazing Goat (Saskatoon, SK)
This city has seen a massive revitalization of its Riversdale area over the past three or so years and with Goat moving into the neighbourhood just under a year ago, it’s gotten even better. The joint is surprisingly spacious for a more hipster-chic sort of establishment, but having that roomy feel in a cocktail-forward restaurant is definitely a rarity these days.
The Harbord Room
6. The Harbord Room (Toronto, ON)
Again, a restaurant of many accolades, The Harbord Room places as much importance on their cocktail development as they do on their food menu. Bar manager Evelyn Chick is a Vancouver native, who’s spent time stirring and shaking with award-winning west coast mixologist Lauren Mote. It’s nice to see talent moving eastward as I’m sure Toronto is all the better for it.
Krafty Kitchen + Bar
7. Krafty Kitchen + Bar (Kelowna, BC)
It’s no secret that wine rules the roost when it comes to the libation scene in Kelowna, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t delicious cocktails to be had here too. Top Chef Canada season three alumni Chris Shaften puts a strong emphasis on showcasing Okanagan ingredients, but the bartenders are crafting drinks worthy of the spotlight as well. If you’re just stopping by for some drinks, try the vodka-forward carrot and cumin sour. I mean, bourbon sours are so 2013 anyway.
8. Model Milk (Calgary, AB)
One of Calgary’s best restaurants, built into one of the only heritage buildings on 17th Avenue (also known as the red mile now that it’s playoff season), has been a frontrunner in both the food and cocktail scene since it opened in 2011. Their cocktail program has really evolved over the past four years, but the restaurant’s most popular signature cocktail is, without a doubt, The Black Manhattan — a combination of whiskey, averna amaro and chocolate bitters. On Thursday nights, people can also experience Model Milk’s next-door space called “PDR” (which stands for private dining room) that offers a more intimate drinking experience with tasty bar snacks.
The Shameful Tiki Room
9. The Shameful Tiki Room (Vancouver, BC)
Spend a half hour in this dimly lit, island-themed bar and I think you’ll agree this country needs a whole lot more tiki bars. Everything from the interior design to the menu and service exudes an unabashed fun and playful atmosphere. Punch-bowl cocktails are a great idea for sharing (like that giant blue cocktail from Wayne’s World), while classics like Mai Tais go down much, much easier than they should. Be careful though. Having more than a couple of these extra boozy drinks and you’ll find yourself falling down a rabbit hole…and likely purchasing the ceramic tiki mug your drink comes in too!
Uva: Vieux Canadien (left) and Gin Donkey (right)
10. Uva (Vancouver, BC)
Not as well known for their food, this wine and cocktail bar in the Yaletown area of Vancouver is home to one of the country’s most well-known mixologists, Lauren Mote. Mote was just named Vancouver’s bartender of the year for 2015, which isn’t really surprising seeing as the cocktail program at Uva is nothing short of extensive. You’ll find seasonal cocktails, classic drinks, signature cocktails and zero proof ones too (i.e. non-alcoholic).
Dan Clapson is a food writer and culinary instructor based out of Calgary. He is constantly creating new recipes and striving to expand his culinary horizons. He thinks yam fries are overrated.