The only tell that there is a sexy, intimate Japanese-inspired cocktail and raw bar tucked in the space above a bustling Fraser Street Greek restaurant is the clever metal sign positioned above eye level to the right of an unadorned orange-hued door.
Light filters through the sign (designed by Vancouver branding powerhouse Glasfurd & Walker) to press the word "AMA" in a shadow on the wall. Walk through the door into a dim antechamber where you'll open a second orange door before making your way up the illuminated staircase. An evocative black-and-white photo of a woman, her back arched as she is frozen in the frame while swooping towards the ocean floor, is the first sight that greets you.
Turn left and you've entered Ama, where a sushi chef and a bartender take centre stage in the middle of the dining room. The lights are low and the music pulses. You're set for an evening of Japanese-inspired cocktails and seafood-centric snack plates.
Space that was The Park at Graze transformed into modern, elegant cocktail bar Ama
Yianni Kerasiotis tells V.I.A. that he and his brother had long wanted to turn the upstairs of the Nammos building into a bar concept, and when the opportunity arose to team up with Motohashi and build a cocktail spot with a Japanese-focused raw bar food menu, they jumped at the chance to make a go of the project.
Fortunately, the space above Nammos was already set up to be a restaurant. The address' previous tenant, plant-based spot Graze, had used the room for its off-shoot hangout called "The Park at Graze." Both Graze concepts shuttered in November 2015.
Kerasiotis says the Ama space was used by Nammos for storage, but looked the same as it had for The Park - with a bold, bright, nature-themed kind of decor - think Astroturf and a wall painted to look like the perfect grassy spot for a picnic.
For Ama, the partners brought on &Daughters to create the perfect minimalist, modern, sexy interior. The walls are a similar rust colour as the gate on Fraser Street below, and the seating lines the side of the room, with the bar a central focus.
Ama's concept is based on the notion of the Japanese pearl divers, called "ama." Mostly women, they would wear very little to slip into the waters, holding their breath for extraordinary lengths of time, in search of pearls, or sometimes seafood.
Menu of mostly raw bar dishes designed as shared snacks; cocktails showcase Japanese flavours, spirits
The food menu at Ama is, naturally, predominantly seafood. The dishes are snack-sized and elegant takes on familiar Japanese fare; a tuna tataki draws also from the flavours and components of a gomae with greens and a creamy peanut dressing. Ruby-rose cubes of tuna tartare sit in house-made melt-in-your-mouth rice cracker cups and come topped with gold leaf. Though most of the dishes are from the raw bar, they do have a wagyu and foie "slider" on buttery toast that is, of course, cooked, as is the only oyster dish on the menu (the plump bivalve is served gently poached).
Designed for sharing and to go with drinks, the food at Ama matches the vibe - sophisticated and definitely not a meal you'd be having every day.
The cocktail program, created by Troy Resch, features drinks that showcase the flavours of Japan, like yuzu, jasmine, and wasabi, as well as Japanese spirits and ingredients. Sip on the Big Sea Buck (made with Masahiro Okinawa gin, sea buckthorn liqueur, mango nectar, lemon, and white chocolate) or the "milk-punched" Honey, Dew Me A Favour (with Nodo tequila, chili sake, honeydew juice, lemon, umeshu vinegar, Midori chia seeds), for example.
Ama is also doing drinks made for two imbibers to share, which plays perfectly into the bar's intimate setting. However, for those abstaining, there are some fun mocktails, like the fruity and bubbly zero-proof Jazz in Tokyo, or kombucha.
Currently operating for some invite-only events (private parties and "friends and family" test nights), Ama will open officially in early December, and reservations will be open soon on Resy. Ama, which is located on the second floor of 3980 Fraser St, will be open Thursday through Sunday from 6 p.m. to late.
Follow @ama.rawbar on Instagram.
Video: Peek inside Vancouver's new hidden cocktail bar, opening soon
@forkingawesomevia There’s a new hidden cocktail and raw bar opening soon in Vancouver! Here’s a little sneak peek at Ama, from the same people behind a Michelin Guide-recommended Vancouver restaurant. #forkingawesome #cocktails #vancouverbc #vancouverfoodie ♬ Drift Night - Alfianie
Find more delicious Vancouver food and drink video stories by following V.I.A's Forking Awesome TikTok account, @forkingawesomevancouver on Instagram, and signing up for our Forking Awesome newsletter delivered fresh to your inbox every Thursday.