Think about Whistler drinking and images of craft beers on sunny patios and fragrant steaming mugs of après ski Glühwein inevitably come to mind. But for some reason, Whistler has never traditionally conjured up much in the way of cocktail culture. Fortunately, the wave of thoughtfully crafted drinks and micro-distilled spirits has finally made its way up the Sea-to-Sky, and bars across town are shaking and stirring up some decidedly delicious creations.
You’re essentially looking at three categories of cocktail bar in Whistler: the fancy, the funky, and the tried-and-tested favourites. My picks for fancy would be the Fairmont’s Mallard Lounge and Sidecut at the Four Seasons. Both have reassuringly plump lists covering everything from classics to twists through to hot, spiked beverages. Both have the space for vast back bars and both have thoroughly knowledgeable staff able to whip up your top tipple.
If you spent your youth getting twisted on Malibu, you’ll love the more grown-up Snowstorm at the Mallard Lounge (Upper Village) which mixes coconut and ginger with a pleasingly punchy rum float, or try the Rooftop Feature which changes daily, depending on which fruits, flowers or herbs the bar team have picked—or preserved—from the garden.
Over at Sidecut (Upper Village) the bar menu is based on local ingredients and plenty of tasty shrubs and infusions. House-made vermouth, using a base of Lillooet’s Fort Berens wine, features in the beautifully bittersweet Joffre Lake, served with a fat wedge of frozen pineapple melting slowly to add sweet complexity. Bacon-infused rye is a serious showstopper in their creamy hot chocolate — which could just be my absolute new favourite thing.
For funky, head to the main village for the Bearfoot Bistro, Araxi, Alta Bistro and gin-soaked newcomer, Bar Oso. Sure, it’s easy to overlook the Bearfoot’s cocktails for its exuberant sub-zero Ketel One Vodka Room, but look again: thoughtful touches such as local Murray River salt, and house-made vinegars make this a solid pick. Crisp and deceptively boozy, try the Guy On A Buffalo with Zubrowka vodka, or the Flying Solo with Deep Cove’s savoury gin for a tart, herbacious sour.
Although a Spanish-style GinTonic at Bar Oso is always an excellent idea, plan to try their house cocktails too, in particular the Oso Sour, a silky citrus with a double-bacon hit of infused Bulleit and a candied maple bacon garnish. B.C. booze gets a good showing here with Long Table, Sheringham and Victoria Distillers all represented.
At Araxi, the bar menu is approached with the same cheffy consideration of balance and flavour as practised by the restaurant kitchen. Their Firecracker Margarita switches up simple syrup for agave to create something smoky, bright and table-bangingly wonderful. Or order the Plum Old Fashioned and discover the unconsidered joy of bourbon meeting Japanese umeboshi plums.
Mirroring their food menu, Alta Bistro’s tight list focuses on what’s local and seasonal — while giving a nod to the classics. Offerings change depending on what’s available, but, if you can, you must try their beautiful Douglas Fir Sour for a taste as marvellous as a walk in the forest after the rain.
And the old favourites? First: frozen margaritas at The Mexican Corner (Village) which are consistently excellent and always made using double shots of Cazadores Blanco, fresh-juiced lime and seasonal fruits. Their $8 Happy Hour from 5-6:30 p.m. is likely the best deal in the Village.
Finally, at the Rimrock Cafe (Creekside) you’ll find no jarring notes on their cocktail menu, just classics done wonderfully right — and with approachable, creative twists. My tip? The Pomelo — which blends tequila, mezcal, grapefruit, egg white and Aperol — for a guaranteed good time in a glass.
Of course, after this bacchanalian exploration of the Whistler cocktail scene it’s possible you may wake with a touch of what P.G. Wodehouse described as “a morning head.” The cure is simple: find your way to Stonesedge Kitchen (Village) and make it the full Canadian — a bacon-infused Caesar with a bacon straw.
Trust me on this; I’m an expert.
ON THE ROAD: If you thirst for a drink on the way to Whistler, drop into The Salted Vine in Squamish, where Araxi alumni Jeff Park and Pat Allen serve up sophisticated cocktails.
—by Nikki Bayley