By Gail Johnson
Vancouver is home to countless cool bars, some dive-y, some hip, some themed—and some full of surprises. A few house separate, completely different rooms that you might not even be aware exist. Here’s a handful of the city’s best bars within bars.
D/6 Bar & Lounge
Scan the D/6 Bar & Lounge at the JW Marriott Parq Vancouver (39 Smithe Street) and at first glance you might notice a massive bookcase beyond the pool table. That wall unit houses vintage tomes like The Solitary Horseman and The Book of Knowledge alongside trophies, vases, and other objects. Push against that bookshelf and look! It’s a secret door, swinging 180 degrees to reveal a hidden room like a scene from The Addams Family movie. There’s glitz behind that faux front: luxe furniture, modular golden chandeliers, and floor-to-ceiling windows. You have to order your drinks at the bar, but that just means more chances to slip in and out of the hideaway. Try the Estate Martini with Belvedere vodka and a blue iceberg cube.
Upstairs at Campagnolo
In classic speakeasy style, there’s no sign for Upstairs at Campagnolo (1020 Main Street). It’s not difficult, however, to find your way to this cosy, oddball nook with the feel of an old cabin. (It’s popular for dates, too—think low lighting, candles and just a single, small speaker, making conversation possible.) B.C. Sommelier of the Year Peter Van de Reep keeps the cocktail list clever and concise; just when you thought Negronis couldn’t get any more delicious comes Camp Up’s version, aged in and poured from mini oak barrels. His stellar wine list is ever-changing; you’ll find grower Champagnes, orange wines, idiosyncratic B.C. selections and more. Chef Robert Belcham’s all-natural Dirty Burger is non-negotiable. Check out the Fat Dragon sign on your way back down.
La Bodega gave birth to Bodega on Main (1014 Main Street), where brother-and-sister duo Paul and Natalie Rivas carry on the legacy of their late father, Francisco. Select remnants from the original tapas bar adorn the main dining room, while downstairs is Gran Reserva, a distinct, sexy space. Intricate Spanish floor tiling offsets the heritage building’s original wooden beams; there’s a DJ booth and VIP room, complete with giant posters of Salvador Dali and a black-and-white wall mural depicting the patriarch’s home city of Madrid. Behind the herringbone bar, you can find all sorts of Spanish cava, wine, beer and sherry. Lustau East India Solera shows up in La Chispa cocktail, assertively swirling with Old Forester Bourbon, Mia Amata Amaro and house-made pacharán. Cerveza Alhambra is on special on Thursdays.
With its authentic representation of all things Emerald Isle, the Irish Heather (210 Carrall Street) is one of a kind in Vancouver—or is it? Stroll through the gastro pub to the very back, out the door, and down a teeny, narrow alleyway to make your way to the Shebeen Whisk(e)y House. An official Ardbeg Embassy—a beacon for devoted fans of the Islay distillery’s spirits—the Shebeen houses proprietor Seán Heather’s private collection of rare, coveted whiskies. Flights are available, including one that focuses on scotch whiskies finished in sherry casks. You can order food (including build-your-own charcuterie boards) and other drinks off the Irish Heather’s regular menu; if you must, make it a Guinness.
You can’t miss the giant neon purple skull looming above the entrance to Cuchillo (261 Powell Street), but you could easily breeze right by the stairs that descend to the “Boogie Van.” Check out the bar built out of a Chevy van, the back panels emblazoned with the phrase “Black Knight” and an image of a crow slicing the night sky in front of a full moon. Rum’s the thing in this party place. Various vintages of Flor de Caña comprise the base of cocktails like the boozy Cormorant (with Laphroaig Select, dry vermouth, Amaro Montenegro and cucumber) or the fruity Shady Acres (brimming with brightness owing to the pear sake, lime and black-pepper syrup). Order the white-bean queso fundido to soak up the alcohol.
Overlooking Gastown’s cobblestone streets from its second-storey heritage-building perch, The Diamond (6 Powell Street) is indeed a sparkling gem: exposed brick walls, vintage windows and craveable creative cocktails. Pass through the sliding doors to the Elk Room, open Wednesday through Sunday, and while away the hours taking in all of its quirky knickknacks. Order a bourbon-based Royalist, a drink dating back to 1937, or a Diamond original like Corpse Rewired (mezcal, Cointreau, Lillet, absinthe, cava and lemon) and ponder the looming presence of Dewey the Deer.
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