Sipping la bella vita: Four places to drink Italian cocktails in Vancouver

Italian cocktails have taken over Vancouver

Bar manager Nico Tognon shakes up Italian-inspired cocktails at the new Tutto Restaurant and Bar in Yaletown. Supplied photo

Cocktail culture may be thriving in North America, but you could say Italy invented it with the aperitivo. Drawn from the Latin aperire, meaning “to open,” the term implies much more than a drink to whet the appetite; it’s a ritual of gathering with friends and unwinding after work over drinks and small bites and opening up conversation.

Here in Vancouver, several Italian hot spots are serving aperitivo-inspired cocktails, putting their own spin on la bella vita.

Tutto Restaurant and Bar

Tutto Restaurant and Bar, in a 1910 heritage building in Yaletown, is more upscale than casual with exposed brick walls, cream and red leather seats, and hardwood floors. Kitty-corner from the open kitchen’s cherry-red Marra Forni deluxe brick oven is the elongated oval bar where Nico Tognon serves classics like the Americano and his own signature drinks. Take the Playin’ Cello, in which he pairs bright raspberry and citrus flavours with gin and bitter Aperol, the aperitif originating in his hometown of Padua. Distilleria Varnelli L’Anice Secco Speciale Mistra Liqueur—clear, dry and intriguing with flavours of aniseed, cucumber and wild fennel—is the star ingredient in Anise Lips, supported by Flor de Cana 4-year White Rum Extra Seco and blood orange.


At Giovane. classic aperitivos like the Bicicletta are bottled and ready to pour. Mark Yammine photo

Giovane Café

Bottled cocktails—Americano, Aperol Spritz, Negroni and Bicicletta—are the thing at Giovane Café, which is in the Fairmont Pacific Rim Hotel and is now part of the Kitchen Table group of restaurants (which includes Ask for Luigi, Pourhouse and Ristorante di Beppe). “Our bottled cocktails are based on the tradition of aperitivo,” says chef Alessandro Vianello. “I remember walking the streets of Venice with my family and stopping at all the little bars along the way for a spritz or Prosecco and bitter. It’s about community and conversation, walking around having a quick spritz and saying hi to people you know or people you just meet along the way. Giovane captures the essence of that laid-back appeal.”


Violetta cocktail. Photo courtesy of UVA Wine & Cocktail Bar

UVA Wine & Cocktail Bar

UVA Wine & Cocktail Bar has been a staple of Vancouver’s cocktail scene for years, and it retains its cosy charm while keeping bartenders at the heart of the action. Most of the cocktails are vermouth- or amaro-based, and it offers an extensive Negroni list all its own. L’Essenziale is a spirited concoction of Bombay Sapphire Gin, Lillet Rose, Cocchi Americano and wild orange essential oil, while Stella features star anise-infused Flor de Caña 5 Year Rum Añejo Clásico, mango-infused Campari, and the distinct Bitter Bianco.

Make the Violetta cocktail. 


The Zonda—named for a famous sports car, the Pagani Zonda—is Jay Jones’ Italian take on a tropical drink at Artusi in New Westminster. Jay Jones photo


Jay Jones, bar development leader of JOEY Restaurant Group, created the beverage program for Artusi, a new, small, family-owned restaurant in New Westminster, where he lives. “I designed the bar program to complement their character of hospitality: simple, stylish cuisine based on traditional recipes and a warm authentic Italian dining experience,” Jones says. “Nothing too fussy, but with beautiful depth of eye-opening character and flavour.”

Signature cocktails are classically based, robust and easy for the team to produce quickly and consistently without a dedicated bartender in house. The tidy selection covers six distinct cocktail styles: spritzer, aperitivo, contemporary Martini, modern tiki, Manhattan and digestivo/Old Fashioned. There are signature renditions of Italian standards; the Artusi Spritz has apricot and St. Germain alongside Aperol, Prosecco and soda, while the Artusi Negroni brings in Medici Ermete Concerto Lambrusco with Bombay Sapphire Gin, Campari, and Maraschino Liquore.

—by Gail Johnson

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