Vancouver doesn’t quite party like it’s Vegas or Ibiza. People often come to the west coast metropolis to ski, mountain bike or attend a sustainability conference, but the city offers its own brand of after-dark adventures. Nightlife here is intimate and creative, with an emphasis on new experiences. Many of the most innovative establishments hover in the space between bar and restaurant, so visitors can often get something good to eat while they drink, or vice versa.
Here are Culture Trip’s picks for the 10 best bars in Vancouver.
Botanist Cocktail Lab
Cocktail Bar, Canadian
Well-heeled adventurers jet to the Fairmont Pacific Rim Hotel, where the Botanist Cocktail Lab explores the weird, whimsical and wildly experimental. The bar’s team of mad scientists takes inspiration and ingredients from British Columbia’s coastal setting to craft elaborate, botanically themed wonders. The Cocktail Lab shares its name and elevated culinary approach with the adjacent Botanist restaurant, utilizing rotary evaporators, centrifuges and band saws to bring fantasies to life. Order a Candy Cap Magic cocktail and the bartender will conjure up a terrarium that houses a glass of mushroom rye with vermouth and spiced maple, hidden in a cloud of fog and nestled on a bed of forest moss.
Locally made craft beer is flowing once again in the historic Brewery Creek neighborhood, more than a century after the area first earned its name only to close its taps in the 1920s. Ten tasting rooms have sprung up within stumbling distance of one another in recent years, but our favorites are 33 Acres Brewing Co. and its “laboratory,” 33 Brewing Exp(eriment), next door. The vibe at both is bright, west coast minimalist and casual, full of white surfaces, blond woods and pastel surfboards adorning the walls. The beers are lively and playfully crafted. 33 Acres’s signature schwarzbier, 33 Acres of Darkness, tastes rich with chocolate and caramel. In summer, try something light and fruity, like a pomegranate session saison.
Vancouver bootleggers spent the 1920s running liquor down the coast when U.S. lawmakers banned booze during Prohibition. Today, revelers can relive the sinful glamour of that era at Prohibition, a sleek speakeasy lounge in the Rosewood Hotel Georgia’s basement. The building first opened in 1927, but the bar’s interior plays with the spirit of the times, rather than aiming for pure historical accuracy. Taste classics from another age like the Hotel Georgia cocktail, drawn from the hotel’s archival recipe cards. Or poke fun at the past with new drinks like the Machine Gun Kelly — made with bourbon, sassafras smoke and dark chocolate.
Royal Dinette won Vancouver magazine’s Best New Restaurant award in 2016 for its contemporary farm-to-table food, served in a polished diner setting. Meanwhile, Kaitlyn Stewart runs Royal Dinette’s bar, and is equally celebrated, having won the World Class Bartender of the Year award in 2017. Her concise cocktail menu features 11 drinks with names like Kumbaya and Fade to Black. Guests are sure to experience flavors they’ve never tried before, as Stewart mixes far-out ingredients including burned cinnamon marshmallow, white peppercorn honey mezcal and blackberry shrub. The Royal Dinette closes at 10pm most evenings, and at 9.45pm on Saturdays, so come for lunch or dinner rather than to party all night.
Sometimes you just want to relax with friends — not deal with line-ups, dress codes or menus requiring Google to decipher. BREWHALL, a fast-casual brewery/beer hall in Olympic Village, is built for just that. Rebuilt from a 1918 steelworks building, the cavernous interior can seat 400 customers at its communal tables and bar. Guests can order drinks and food at the counter, then have it delivered wherever they sit. BREWHALL rotates 22 beers on tap, eight of which are made in-house; the rest are curated from other breweries in the province. The food sticks with the burgers-pizza-and-wings genre.
The dark, stylish Keefer Bar lies on the edge of Chinatown, both geographically and spiritually. Outside its doors, a few shops still sell dried ginseng, dong quai, yun zhi mushrooms and other traditional cures to a dwindling handful of Chinese seniors. Those same ingredients show up on the Keefer’s cocktail menu in funky concoctions with cheeky names like Boss Lady and Opium Sour. The kitchen continues the bar’s homage to the area’s historic culture, offering pan-Asian-inspired small plates like tuna tataki and Peking duck crepes. The Keefer’s careful execution prevents the fusion from becoming a kitschy disaster.
Opened in 1929, Commodore’s stage has hosted the world’s hottest musical acts from the big band era until today. Cab Calloway, James Brown, David Bowie, the Clash, the Pixies, Snoop Dogg and Lady Gaga are just some of the superstars who have brought fans onto the Commodore’s famously bouncy ballroom floor. The hardwood owes its trampoline effect to horsehair-stuffed tires laid underneath it as springs. When a lively act sets the crowd and floor in motion, it creates an especially moving experience, both literally and figuratively. With bars throughout the venue, the Commodore is one of the more storied places in the city to grab a drink, but because of that visitors will need to buy tickets in advance.
“Irasshaimase!” That’s the welcome people will hear staff shout upon entering Guu, Vancouver’s original izakaya. Opened in 1993, four more Guus have since sprung up in the city, plus one in Toronto, but this boisterous pioneer remains the closest facsimile to the traditional Japanese style of a tapas bar. Guu is a casual joint where locals join Japanese expats and exchange students to unwind after-hours over sake, beer and fruity vodka cocktails. But small, shareable plates of hot food play a central role at izakaya, so be sure to sit at the counter for the best view of the cooking fireworks as chefs juggle orders of karaage and pumpkin croquettes. No sushi here.
Key Party is the mullet of speakeasies — business in the front, party in the back. The ’70s-style lounge comically hides behind a faux office storefront that has “Zottenberg & Sons Accounting” stenciled on the window, and is furnished with dated artefacts like a rotary phone, Rolodex and fax machine.The retro theme continues into the bar, which is decorated like a swingers’ den with dark woods and red velvet curtains. Lubricate your libido with champagne Jell-O shots or era-inspired cocktails like B-52s, coconut grasshoppers and cherry coco paralyzers. Drinks come, appropriately enough, with complimentary party mix.