Three new bars define cocktails, each in their unique way
There’s a special camaraderie between keen patron and impassioned bartender. The room design, flavour and atmosphere combine and create fertile ground for storytelling. Luckily, these three new cocktail-forward bars and restaurants that have just opened in Vancouver are more than happy to indulge us.
We stopped by these hot spots to get a taste of what they’re serving.
Carlino Restaurant & Lounge
Gianluigi Bosco is more than happy to walk me through the bar menu at Carlino Restaurant & Lounge, a Kitchen Table restaurant located in the Shangri-La Hotel. It pays homage to co-owner Nick Rossi’s paternal grandfather, Carlo, and the Friuli region of Italy he hails from. Friuli borders Slovenia, so the menu has both Italian and Eastern European influences and the cocktail menu in particular reads like a love letter to the culinary heritage of Italy.
Bosco, Carlino’s bar manager, says he feels a certain nostalgic affection for what they are making. It “reminds me of my childhood,” he says of the ingredients they pull together. Bosco’s parents think it’s strange that he’s serving the things they grew up with back in Italy and perhaps took for granted at home, but for me it’s a journey to a new place that has a rich culture expressed through spirits.
The Carlino’s Way cocktail is an elevated concept drink that imagines what Carlo may have been drinking in the countryside. The answer is grappa, and lots of it. But to temper the overpowering liquor for a Vancouver audience, Bosco turned to the jar of maraschino cherries every family had on their shelf. Sour cherry liqueur and house-made maraschino cold brew drops are added to completely change the flavour profile of this stiff drink, topped off with one of Bosco’s own maraschino cherries.
And, in another nod to Italian tradition, every day from 2:30 to 6 p.m., Carlino’s hosts an aperitivo hour. The aperitifs pull from the extensive Negroni menu and include cocktails and the sparkling Lambrusco as well as elevated bar snacks like the frico, a crisp, melty mix of Montasio cheese, onion and potato.
Copperpenny Distilling Co.
Husband-and-wife gin disruptors Jan Stenc and Jennifer Kom-Tong are also evoking a taste of place with their newly opened Copperpenny distillery and tasting lounge in North Vancouver. The former film set decorators have created a space that could easily be in London or New York. Kom-Tong designed the statement-making space while on tour with Magic Mike Live and the small details of her meticulous vision slowly reveal themselves the longer you look around.
Floor-to-ceiling windows connect the lounge to the distillery with its silver stills, which work according to the same science as copper pot stills, but produce a far more consistent product, Stenc says. Fluctuations in flavour may seem romantic and bespoke to some, but bartenders making high-level cocktails night after night would disagree.
For now, the duo is focused on gin. They have tasted gin all over the world, and their goal is to create their own interpretation of those global inspirations. Besides, it’s such a broad category that they can explore almost infinite combinations of botanicals.
“What’s unique about spirits to us is that they’re so representative of the cultures that make them,” says Stenc. “With gin you’re trying to create a snapshot of something.”
The pair are scrupulous in their process from sourcing to distilling, and that is reflected in their drinks. “It’s a science, let’s treat it as such,” says Kom-Tong of their grain-to-glass approach.
To communicate this ethos, guests are greeted with a straight-up taster of gin when they arrive so they can settle in and understand where they are.
“Coming here is an educational experience because we’re a distillery, not just a cocktail lounge,” she says. “It just so happens we have fabulous cocktails to go along with it.”
Joe Casson, the one-man bar team behind new natural wine pop-up Bar Susu, believes in an emphasis on doing one specific thing extremely well. “When you’re called a bar, people expect everything, but you wouldn’t go to a bowling alley and order a Boulevardier,” he says.
Bar Susu comes from the same culinary creatives that are behind Published on Main. The hanging-plants-and-vintage-coupes joint is casual enough for family-style dining, but elevated enough to put the concept of bar snacks to shame. The idea is to order a variety of dishes for the table to share and, at any given time, Casson says, they might have three or four bottles of wine open for an impromptu off-menu pairing experience.
Bar Susu’s drinks menu is broken up into “wine” and “not wine,” but the cocktail selection, while small, is spectacular. There are no brown spirits, but that goes back to Casson’s original point: You can cater to everything, but inevitably you may not execute it to the level that this type of room demands.
The profoundly complex Hive & Soul cocktail balances sweet and savoury flavours. As Casson makes, it he philosophises that bartenders either celebrate one ingredient or “layer a drink into a really beautiful complex expression of creativity,” which is exactly what this is.
For those who don’t like fruity cocktails, or those who love super briny Martinis, the Hive & Soul pairs perfectly with food by nature of the sweet and savoury interplay between an apricot liqueur, vernouth, aquavit, sour carrot-and-honey ferment, chive-dill oil and an aromatic mist.
It’s just another taste of Vancouver’s inventive cocktail scene, something that is very much on the menu at these three new bars—and with any luck, more to come.
—by Allie Turner