Setting the stage

At Published on Main, Dylan Riches performs cocktail theatre 

At Published on Main, Dylan Riches pushes boundaries with his creative cocktails. Sarah Annand photo

Ask Dylan Riches to trace his journey from the wilds of Prince George to bar manager at East Vancouver’s celebrated Published on Main, and he’ll ultimately suggest that he’s simply swapped one stage for another. 

“One of the things I love most about this industry is that the path is not the same for every single person,” Riches says at the award-winning restaurant. “I love talking to people in the industry, getting to know them, hearing about where they come from. Every person’s path has a different turn or twist.”

Today the wildly innovative Riches is one of the star players on a team that landed Published on Main the top spot on the Canada’s 100 Best Restaurants list for 2022. To sit down at the bar with him is to be paralyzed by indecision in the best of ways: Do you opt for the Dog Day Afternoon (hay-infused Buffalo Trace, barbecue Ambrato vermouth, charred corn syrup and Smoke & Oak bitters) or the Demoiselle (blanco tequila, kasu-tarragon Riesling, lime and absinthe)?

The Solstice, Riches’ summertime cocktail in two parts. Sarah Annand photo

As thrilled as he is by where he finds himself today—one of the city’s most respected young bartenders—life hasn’t exactly turned out the way Riches once planned. 

Raised in Salmon Valley on the outskirts of Prince George by a drama-and-film-teacher mom, he got the acting bug early, and then set about turning that into a career.

“As young as seven or eight I was in some of her shows that she put on through her high school,” he notes. “As a kid I loved being on stage and being the centre of attention.”

Convinced that acting was what he was born to do, Riches left Prince George at 19 and enrolled in the Vancouver Academy of Dramatic Arts, taking a six-month program geared to film and television. To pay the bills, he landed a day job bartending, for which he had zero qualifications or skills. 

“I remember the first time someone asked for a Negroni,” he says with a laugh. “I was like ‘I don’t even know how to spell that.’ ”

But the more time he spent behind the bar—often alongside fellow actors working a side hustle—the more he became deeply fascinated with mixology and the way it blended art, science and history. 

“I learned that I loved acting as a passion, not as a career,” Riches says. “And that was a hard pill to swallow for me, because for so long I had convinced myself that I loved acting more than anything.”

Riches brings beauty and balance to cocktails like the effevescent Eden. Sarah Annand photo

Instead, he started channeling his artistic side into making boundary-pushing cocktails, eventually building serious buzz at Vancouver’s Brix & Mortar, then having his mind expanded during a year-long stint at Hong Kong’s tiny but mega-influential experimental cocktail bar The Old Man. 

“Growing up, I always loved things I could be creative with and put my own stamp on,” Riches reminisces. “I started to realize I don’t have to make someone else’s recipes out of a book. I can have my own style. That was one of the last pieces of the puzzle to click in—where I was like ‘This is something I really, really want to do.’”

One of the things he loves best about the job that’s become both his passion and his primary love? Bringing things back around to his childhood acting in Prince George, every night is a different show when he’s behind the bar at Published on Main: “It’s kind of like being onstage in that you can’t hide.”  

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