Where to Drink in Vancouver

We've rounded up our five favourite places to pull up a stool and sip

Credit: Adam Blasberg

These five Vancouver drinking establishments serve up tantalizing tipples in intoxicating environments

On the 11-minute walk from Cambie and Water Street to Columbia and Keefer, you’ll find a concentration of outstanding watering holes: L’Abattoir, The Keefer Bar, The Diamond, Bambudda and Pourhouse. With inviting atmospheres and talented bartenders at the ready, Vancouver’s reputation as a no-fun city disappears faster than affordable downtown condos when you grab a stool at one of these world-class bars – especially if you visit them all in one night (we strongly recommend this).

Click through for Vancouver’s best bars and their signature drinks.


Go behind the scenes of our cover and cocktails shoot

Credit: Adam Blasberg; Cocktail by Clinton Hussey

L’Abattoir, 217 Carrall Street

Don’t be intimidated by the name (translation: slaughterhouse). This contemporary and cool establishment is plenty inviting.

A quick glance around when arriving at L’Abattoir will make you simultaneously feel right at home and like you’ve discovered someplace special. The mosaic tile, a combination of a posh Parisian café and your European aunt’s foyer, is the anchor of this romantic space. But don’t worry: unlike when you’re visiting relatives, you don’t have to be on your best behaviour. Brick walls, the liberal use of warm woods and details like Mason jar chandeliers fill out the room and keep things from feeling stuffy. Essentially, this is the ideal first date spot – it’s impressively thoughtful without coming off as pretentious.

Head bartender Shaun Layton believes that laid-back atmosphere is what keeps people coming back. “We offer something for everyone. Some people just come for drinks, some for food, some for both. It’s definitely not your typical once-every-six-months special-occasion place. Come in for weekend brunch, stop by for a cocktail at happy hour or for dinner on date night.”

The look and feel of L’Abattoir should be admired, but it’s the remarkable cocktails that will keep you coming back. Layton has assembled a drink menu that honours the classics yet provides a playfulness that sparks one’s adventurous side. When a menu features both a Banana Daiquiri and a cocktail called the Donald Draper, you know it’s versatile.

It’s that constant tension between the casual and exceptional that makes L’Abattoir an ideal destination on any night of the week.


Order this: Avocado Gimlet

Rosemary and olive infused gin, fresh avocado, Apfelkorn schnapps, fresh lime juice

“It has a great texture and is like an adult breakfast smoothie. It has fresh avocado, house-made olive and rosemary gin, fresh lime and Apfelkorn, a German apple schnapps. It is the most popular drink at L’Abattoir with over 5,000 sold last year. People love it.” –Layton

Credit: Adam Blasberg; Cocktail by Clinton Hussey

The Keefer Bar, 135 Keefer Street

Step inside The Keefer Bar and you might think you’ve stumbled into an old-style apothecary, cluttered with an assortment of bottles, lit candles and an exotic atmosphere that makes it seem very plausible that a sort of witchcraft takes place here. But instead of eye of newt on the shelf and a wayward collection of cure-seekers clamouring for an antidote, you’ll find one of the city’s finest drinking establishments – and there’s a different kind of magic that occurs in this Chinatown gem.

“I like to say when you walk into The Keefer Bar you could be anywhere in the world,” says award-winning head bartender Danielle Tatarin. “The door opens and you’re transported into a place where you can escape everyday reality and get lost looking at the odds and ends of glassware, herbs and other trinkets lining the shelves of every wall. The drinks are strong, the staff is friendly, and the crowd is as eclectic as the music selection.”

That dark, chaotic layout, the funky music (you’re never quite sure just what is going to be thumping through the speakers) and the closed, cramped-in-a-good-way quarters give The Keefer an almost electric charge, as if a storm is in the air and you’re going to celebrate the coming thunder with a drink. And the drinks, they will come.

The Keefer’s cocktail menu is as well-respected as it gets, with concoctions crafted from tinctures, bitters and syrups that have been created with ingredients sourced right in Chinatown.

If you’re up for a night filled with infinite possibilities, The Keefer Bar is the place to start.


Order this: Dragonfly

Dragon fruit gin, pearl sake, lemon, ginger syrup, magnolia bark tincture

“I was playing around with making tinctures, bitters and herbal syrups from all sorts of ingredients in Chinatown. The drink became a concept for a unique digestif-style cocktail. I had a dragon fruit that didn’t taste like much, but I loved the colour of the skin and decided to see what happened when I infused it into gin. The result was a bright, fuchsia-coloured gin that had a little bit more of a velvety feel.  All of the ingredients together don’t immediately seem like they work, but I found the sweet spot and voila!”  –Tatarin

Credit: Adam Blasberg; Cocktail by Clinton Hussey

The Diamond, 6 Powell Street

If you’re trying to describe the drinking scene in Gastown to an outsider, stop. Instead, take them to The Diamond. It will save you a lot of time and energy.

Overlooking the neighbourhood from its second floor perch (through the abundant windows you can see Gassy Jack himself), the room has a warm and inviting feel, like walking into a friend’s place – that is if your friend has an incredible loft with exposed brick, wood floor planks and an awesome bar filled with attractive people. Now imagine that fantastic-sounding friend was really, really good at making drinks. Like, really good. Get the picture?

The good news is that a place like this exists, even if that imaginary friend doesn’t. And if all of this sounds like a hefty bit of woolgathering, you’ll be happy to know bar manager Thor Paulson’s philosophy is about as grounded as it gets.

“The Diamond is a no-nonsense cocktail bar. We make classic cocktails quickly, with the freshest and highest quality ingredients. We’re here to serve you, whether you want to try something new and expand your spirits-related knowledge, or you simply want to party with a big group of your friends, or anything in between.”


Order this: Jazzy Belle 

Sparkling wine, peach, cinnamon pastry syrup, bourbon, lemon

“The Jazzy Belle is a fruity, bourbon-based take on the classic French 75. Taking advantage of classic flavour pairings, peach purée, lemon, bourbon and sparkling wine come together with our house-made cinnamon pastry syrup. By infusing the cinnamon syrup with the caramelized sugars of baked pastry, it adds a novel biscuity flavour. This cocktail highlights the philosophy of our bar: making classic cocktails and their variations with fresh ingredients in a timely fashion.” –Paulson

Credit: Adam Blasberg; Cocktail by Clinton Hussey

Bambudda, 99 Powell Street

Sit down at Bambudda’s bar on a warm afternoon and you’ll enjoy an experience unlike any other in the city. When the front doors open up to Powell Street and the fresh air blows in, there’s no better place to forget about your day. Especially once bartender Tarquin Melnyk places one of his tasty cocktails in front of you.

With only 12 seats at the bar, the coveted teal stools are worth fighting for. After you’ve successfully secured your spot, enjoy the Asian-influenced decor – from red lanterns floating above the green jade marble bar to the palm-leaf wallpaper. You won’t be blamed for assuming you’ve temporarily been transported to another place. And isn’t a bit of an escape the very reason we go for a drink?

Melnyk says that the team does everything in their power to give you a vacation from regular life, if only for a few hours at a time.

“We strive to be benevolent hosts with quick-snap service and answers at the ready. We take effort and care to ensure the drinks look great and taste balanced, and provide value to get people into sipping drinks, trying the food and respecting the space. It’s fun and relaxed but lively.”

So when it’s 3 o’clock in the afternoon and you’re staring out the window dreaming of getting away, know that you just have to head down to Powell Street to find a new perspective.


Order this: Post Opium

Three-year-old rum, passion fruit purée, kaffir lime bitters, zephyr white chocolate apricot brandy float

“This drink has a tart, refreshing base and a sweet foam cap. The inspiration for the Post Opium came from a desire to honour the daiquiri as a style, and create a variation that suits the tastes of many imbibers.” –Melnyk

Credit: Adam Blasberg; Cocktail by Clinton Hussey

Pourhouse, 162 Water Street

Do you have an interest in turn-of-the-century history? Then Pourhouse would like to make you a drink. A throwback to the golden age of bartending, this pre-prohibition-inspired restaurant transports you back to a different time, when the drinks were strong and Red Bull wasn’t stocked at the bar.

That feeling of old fashioned-ness permeates the room, helped by the fact that the building was first erected in 1910 and that many pieces, including the 38-foot bar handcrafted from 120-year-old Douglas fir, are custom created to pay homage to an era more than a century old.

But nowhere does this classic attitude shine through more than in the cocktail selection. The drinks are strong, simple and devoid of any infusions, herbs, fruits (aside from citrus) or flavoured spirits.

Bar manager Rhett Williams says the philosophy of the cocktail menu is to keep things uncomplicated. “The more simple your dish or drink is, the more important becomes the quality of every ingredient. Everything is as fresh and as handmade as possible, and ingredients that don’t hold up in simple drinks should never be used at all. Our style of drink is ‘spirit forward,’ meaning the main flavour should be the spirit and all other components should complement it while maintaining dryness, never being sweet or cloying. There is never an excuse for a sweet drink.”

This pursuit of quality in the name of simplicity is admirable. There’s a certain sense of pride in doing something simple, really, really well. You’ll find that Pourhouse has it down to a science.


Order this: The Old Fashioned

Raw cane sugar cube, bitters, distilled water, spirit (brandy, gin, rum, bourbon, rye, tequila or mescal, for example), lemon twist, orange slice, Amarena cherries

“The Old Fashioned is not specifically one drink but rather a huge range of them, employing any type of spirit (even mezcal and akvavit work well) and any type of bitters. Structurally, the combination of alcohol, sweet, bitter and dilution is the basis upon which we build all stirred drinks. What better choice for a bar program based on quality, simplicity and history, than the most simple and old of all cocktails?” –Williams