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Top 10 Bars: Vancouver

TEXT
Nina Caplan
Photography
Courtesy Wildebeest, Belgard Kitchen, Welbert Choi, Grapes & Soda and  Botanist.
This coastal city in Canada’s British Columbia province is consistently voted one of the world’s best places to live, and a tour of its wine bars makes it easy to see why.
Winery Report
Wildebeest bar interior.
1

Look at the SHB list and you’ll understand why Matthew Landry recently won British Columbia Sommelier of the Year. Unlike many of his colleagues he’s an unashamed fan of European wines and there are at least 16 of them available by the glass at any one time in this South Granville bar. This simplicity extends to the wooden bar and plain light bulbs and to the food, which is mostly share plates of modern European delicacies created from locally sourced produce. For wine connoisseurs of broad curiosity and deep pockets, there’s a list to die for.

The Botanist bar and cocktail lab.
The Botanist bar and cocktail lab.
2

The bar here has a fine line in theatrical cocktails: they come out spinning defiantly above pouring smoke, beached on shapely pieces of driftwood. The verdant space within the Fairmont Pacific Rim hotel, with around 500 plants from 50 species growing up the walls, is also pretty distracting. So is the wine list: Wine Director Jill Spoor focuses on terroir-driven small producers and supports the underdog outside the bottle, too. Most recently, she has appointed an all-female sommelier team. As well as interesting BC choices there are wines from Europe’s artisan domaines.

The Botanist’s Smoke on the Water cocktail.
The Botanist’s Smoke on the Water cocktail.
3

This long, slender Downtown bar and restaurant is all about local produce, some so local they cure it in their own basement. This is the place to get your wagyu tartare with BC pine mushrooms or your hay-smoked heirloom carrots – and to wash them down Wine Director Christina Hartigan has assembled a lengthy and eclectic list that ranges from local heroes to international stars. The wines change frequently, but there’s always a number of reds and whites by the glass.

4

In a heritage brick building built in 1912, in trendy Yaletown, Brix & Mortar offers a very 21st-century paradise for wine lovers. There’s a smart, plant-bedecked dining room, a large glassed-in terrace, and a modern Canadian menu (with nods to France, Italy and Asia) of small plates made from local, seasonal products. The wine list ranges cheerily around the province but also hops over to Europe. To ease the pain of so much choice (there are around 60 wines by the glass), there are wine flights, and from Monday to Friday a happy hour (or two) during which 30% is knocked off the price of every bottle under C$100. It’s not hard to see why Vancouver’s smart set choose to hang out here.

5

Drop in at TWB early: their so-called Tappy Hour, from 3pm to 5pm, is an amazingly economical way to explore Canadian wines, most but not all from BC. Astonishingly, this offshoot of next-door restaurant Provence Marinaside boasts more than 200 wines by the glass: it’s the most extensive wine program in western Canada. There are wine flights and the accompanying bites come in three sizes and circumnavigate the Mediterranean – from grilled merguez sausages to spaghettini vongole – before veering off into New-World fusion; poutine doesn’t usually feature either beef or red wine peppercorn sauce, and no French native would acknowledge frog’s legs tossed with Jim Beam Bourbon.

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The frontage of Forage is blank and unprepossessing, so nothing prepares you for the light and enthusiasm within. It isn’t just following the trendy path of growing and gathering and sourcing: it’s leading the way. Our waiter’s passion for BC wines and homegrown food burned hot enough to grill our vegetables. Wines are exclusively from the province, and the list shows how many there now are – not all from Okanagan Valley, either. Divided into Sea, Soil and Land they, like the food, do a superb job of showcasing the west coast terroir.

Forage chef Welbert Choi.
Forage chef Welbert Choi.
7

Siôn Iorwerth’s unconventional bar is the preferred hangout for Vancouver’s natural wine lovers. Technically it’s a pop-up in Gastown cafe and bakery, The Birds & The Beets. The organisers hustle everyone into the back room and pull out the most under-sulphured, low-intervention wines they can find. It’s fun, with pizzas, good vibes and very low markups on the wines, which seems the best way to ensure visitors keep trying until they find a natural wine they really like.

8

This Italian bar in beachside Kitsilano advertises itself as ‘catering to the undecided’, which sounds like a good unique selling point for wine lovers who can’t help but be almost permanently torn between delicious decisions. The list is exclusively Italian, arranged by geography, which is an excellent solution to the problem of clarity: every region in the country makes wine, and with over 300 varieties and several tiers of arcane quality designations, it can be very easy to get confused. Food comes from L’Ufficio’s sister restaurant, La Quercia, and its small plates are ideal for the undecided.

9

G&S claims to be Vancouver’s first natural wine bar, although competition has sprung up since. A 30-seat space of stripped-back minimalism (dark walls, bare bulbs) that doesn’t take reservations, at G&S all the focus is on the bar, a beautiful polished slice of wood behind which bottles jostle for attention. Artful small plates go heavy on the local vegetables and an international wine list includes Sherry and sake as well as several interesting low-intervention reds and whites, plus a few skin-contact wines – naturally.

Satoshi Yonemori and Mioi Sawada of Grapes & Soda.
Satoshi Yonemori and Mioi Sawada of Grapes & Soda.
10

It’s not often that wine lovers eat dinner in a brewery – and even less often that they do so in a 1920s warehouse that started life as a metalworks facility. The Settlement Building, with its fabulous doors, high ceilings and vast interior, is a shared space occupied by Urban Winery, Belgard Kitchen and Postmark Brewing. The owners of Urban Winery source grapes from single vineyards in the Okanagan Valley and make a variety of wines in-house. Not all the wines here are theirs but they are all from BC, and a great accompaniment to Belgard Kitchen’s shareable pizzette.

Belgard Kitchen’s yam gnocchi.
Belgard Kitchen’s yam gnocchi.