Gourmet ingredients meet global inspiration in the neighbourhood’s best drinks
Think Kitsilano and you’re likely to think yoga pants and granola, luxe hippies and sandy beaches, vegetarian cafés and cosy pubs. Cocktails? Not so much, right?
Well, yes – and no.
Over its history, this neighbourhood between the beach and 16th Avenue, Burrard and Alma streets has been a forest, an industrial site and a beach getaway. Most famously, though, in the 1960s, this was where Vancouver’s counterculture made its home.
Back then, the aromas of patchouli and exotic spices hung heavy over the ’hood. The city’s first vegetarian restaurant, The Naam, opened here. Greenpeace began here. Some of the province’s first pubs opened here.
That groovy zeitgeist still lingers, albeit in somewhat pricier environs. It’s still a progressive, health-conscious and social neighbourhood – the epitome of the Vancouver lifestyle. And it’s just the kind of place Kevin Brownlee likes to work.
“They’re a really fun crowd. Exceptionally laid back, but with high expectations and really well educated,” says the bar manager at AnnaLena, the multiple-award-winning restaurant helmed by chef Michael Robbins on West 1st Avenue.
AnnaLena, which opened in 2015, is just one of several chef-driven restaurants with stellar cocktail programs that have sprung up in Kits over the last few years.
“I’d say Kitsilano, especially the strip where we are, there was not a lot going on then,” Brownlee says. “We just came in at the right time.”
The first was Maenam, Angus An’s exceptional Thai restaurant on West 4th, which replaced his modernist experiment Gastropod in 2009. It features a sleek cocktail bar where guests can enjoy elegant cocktails with flavours inspired by Southeast Asia – fragrant, delicate, bursting with freshness.
It was joined in 2015 by AnnaLena and Mission, where chef Curtis Luk creates innovative Pacific Northwest fare from local ingredients, and the bar does much the same, leaning towards the woodsy and herbal, complex and delicious.
In 2016, a Mexican concept restaurant from James Iranzad and Josh Pape (who also own Wildebeest and Bufala) replaced Supermarine on Yew Street. Lucky Taco is a destination for juicy margaritas and mezcal-based drinks. No surprise the cocktails are this good when barman extraordinaire Pape is on the job.
That same year saw one of the city’s most adventurous chefs, Jefferson Alvarez, find his sweet spot at Cacao, across the street from AnnaLena. His progressive Latin cuisine is exceptional, but so are the cocktails from the highly talented bar manager Sergio Gandolfo. Sneak upstairs to find one of the funkiest little not-quite-secret bars in town.
What all of these cocktail programs have in common is an adventurous spirit, global inspiration and a passion for top quality, local, sustainable and seasonal ingredients.
No doubt more great establishments will open as Kits discovers the treasures already in its midst.
“We still get a lot of new guests in from the neighbourhood,” Brownlee says. “It’s fun when you get someone in for the first time and blow them away.”
Five places for cocktails in Kits
1809 W 1st Ave., annalena.ca
To sip: Seaforth Swizzle (see recipe) or La Libertad (mezcal, dry curacao, chilli liqueur, hopped grapefruit bitters).
1898 W 1st Ave, cacaovancouver.com
To sip: Guarapita (aromatic wine, rosemary-infused gin, guanábana molecular foam).
1685 Yew St., luckytaco.ca
To sip: Electric Flamingo Margarita (blanco tequila, strawberry, basil).
1938 W 4th Ave, maenam.ca
To sip: Thai and Ginger (rye, cassia bark, passion fruit, galangal, ginger beer, Angostura bitters).
2042 W 4th Ave., missionkits.ca
To sip: Velveteen Rabbit (apricot-infused Sid’s vodka, cherry wood spray, sage, citrus, orange blossom soda).
—by Joanne Sasvari