Vancouver is no stranger to top notch cocktails—we have our fair share of bars and lounges that serve up impressive drinks.
So when a new spot offers alcoholic creations that others haven’t really dabbled with around town, you naturally turn your attention to them.
Tocador (2610 Main Street) recently opened up in the space formerly occupied by Charlie’s Little Italian. The new Mount Pleasant establishment offers a menu that features Cuban-style cocktails and cuisine.
Co-owners Dale Styner and Guy Stowell have been working in Vancouver’s food and beverage industry for many years, including bartending and managing well-known restaurants and bars. In their opinion, the city’s drinking spots seemed to lack vibrancy, so they decided to take action.
“We were looking for something that was very lively and colourful, and we just felt something Vancouver was missing was colour,” Stowell told the Straight in an interview at Tocador. “We felt that Latin culture had the feeling of just being alive, which we wanted to bring here.”
As soon as guests walk into the 1,700-square-foot space with 58 seats, they will be greeted by a multi-coloured hand-painted mural by Zoe Alexandra Glass (who is now part of Tocador’s team). The colour doesn’t stop there: greenery, tropical floral wallpaper, and brightly painted ceramic tiles at the bar will inspire you to book a flight to Havana.
The dark brown vinyl seats and tables are a nice contrast for the room, and a beautiful piece of reclaimed Douglas fir wood make up the 16-seat bar. But the stars of the show are the vintage vanity tables (tocador is Spanish for dressing tables)—the unique back bar that holds all the liquor and glassware.
“I’ve been collecting these pieces of furniture for 15 years,” Styner told the Straight in an interview at his new food and drink spot. “That was the idea I had in my head for what I wanted in a cocktail bar. The furniture fits so well with what you see in Cuba. That’s kind of where the vision started, and it sort of expanded off the furniture.”
Besides the interior, the co-owners made sure to create a Cuban-cocktail list that couldn’t be found anywhere else in Vancouver. They also wanted their food menu to be excellent, and not second-rate to the drinks.
“The first thing that we really to push was to be an energetic, lively, late-night cocktail bar, but not holding back on the food,” explained Stowell. “We wanted to really combine both, which I think we’ve done. We’ve had pretty good feedback so far.”
There are nine original cocktails on Tocador’s drink menu—including Bird Conspiracy (coconut-washed gin, white vermouth, lavender syrup, house made cardamom bitter, and lemon) and Cigar Festival (house smoked bourbon, mulled spice bitters, Ardbeg mist, and maple syrup)—each with a playful name inspired by travel anecdotes.
Its most popular signature cocktail has been the Electric Hot Tub (hop-infused gin, absinthe, Californian white sage, lime, peychaud bitters, and sugar syrup), but classic drinks like Mojitos and Daiquiris will also be on offer. “It’s an obsession, and you just keep going until it [the cocktail] is perfect,” said Stowell. “You keep trying and changing it until you get the perfect balance. A perfect cocktail will have four or five different things coming through it at different stages.”
“Cuban cocktails are almost a separate category and are rarely represented in Vancouver,” said Styner. “You see a lot of American classics, tiki [cocktails], and international drinks everywhere, but Cuban-style drinks are fairly underrepresented.”
In addition to beverages, Cuban-style food is available at Tocador. Guests can indulge in menu items like the Cubano sandwich (smoked ham, dill pickles, Swiss cheese, and house mustard), costillas de cerdo (slow-cooked pork ribs, tangy guava sauce, and jicama [Mexican turnip] slaw), and Cuba libre cake (Coca-Cola cake with rum and lime syrup, dulce de leche, and whipped cream).
“The menu is definitely going to change, especially the sharing plates. A lot of it is seasonal for sure, and we’re going to look into some really nice light seafood dishes for the summer,” said Styner. “The sandwiches will always be on the menu. We would like the greatest hits to stay on the menu for good.”
The co-owners are planning to launch a late-night happy hour in the near future, as well as drink specials. When the weather warms up, its modestly sized patio will definitely be filled up.
“We want people to come in here and order anything they want, and just know that it’s made well because we have top bartenders. We are 100% confident about our cocktails,” Stowell added. “Fun is what we’re selling…nothing too serious.”
Scroll through the photos below for a look inside the new bar and restaurant.