Gastown hasn't been this hot since the great fire of 1886. With a plethora of hip retailers, nightclubs, and high-tech businesses, the historic Vancouver neighbourhood has come a long way from the doldrums of the 1980s and 1990s.
It's also become one of the premier destinations for beverages. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Georgia Straight's 2015 balloting for the Golden Plates awards. Eight establishments cracked the Top 3 in our readers' choice awards, some more than once, in balloting from across the Lower Mainland. That never would have happened 20 or 30 years ago.
L'Abattoir (217 Carrall St)
L'Abattoir, centrally located in Gastown, is nestled between Gaoler's Mews and Blood Alley. Despite the grisly name, the feeling here is welcoming, warm, and sophisticated due to the open space, French tiles, ample lighting, and friendly waitstaff. Be ready to experience dishes like terrine of smoked pork hock and foie gras (served with sweet and sour beets and fried brioche), Dungeness crab, and chickpea toast (served with toasted brioche, light crab custard, and carrot pickles), and raw Pacific oysters (served with mushroom and marrow croquettes).
Straight food writer Gail Johnson has written that "chef Lee Cooper's French-influenced, consistently flavourful, unfussy fare" makes it one of the city's strongest restaurants. The drinks have also made a mark, including Slaughterhouse, which is a combination of cognac, sweet vermouth, Chartreuse and orange peel. For Mad Men fans, there's the Donald Draper, which features bourbon, apricot liqueur, Peychaud's bitters, and absinthe.
The Diamond (6 Powell St)
The Diamond serves up Asian-influenced cuisine and cocktails inside a century-old brick building in the heart of Gastown. The cocktails are rather cheekily categorized as Delicate, Proper, Notorious, or Overlooked, and are an eclectic mix of punches, highballs, martinis, and other mixed drinks. Beers come from around the world, as do the various wines and champagnes.
One of those Overlooked cocktails on the menu is the Perfect Adonis, which includes Cocchi Americano, sweet vermouth, Amontillado Sherry, and orange bitters. The Thermonuclear Daiquiri lives up to its name with London Dry Gin, green Chartreuse, banana liqueur, and honey. But probably the best name on the list is Penicillin. It comes with enough blended Scotch and peated Scotch—along with ginger, lemon, and honey—to live up to its name. It will kill any bug that might be lodged in your esophagus. Bar manager Thor Paulson told Straight wine columnist Kurtis Kolt that if he wants to stay home, he likes making curry and pairing it with Quails' Gate Gewürztraminer.
The Metropole Community Pub (320 Abbott St)
The Metropole has retained its name for decades, even as it's gone through several changes. In the early 2000s, former owner Amman Rawji discovered white floor tiles from the original room, which were hidden beneath several layers of carpet and a wooden floor. The original mosaic and exposed brick have helped restore the Met to its former glory.
What keeps the younger crowd coming back, though, are the cheap drinks, which are posted on its website. You can't beat $2 beers and $11.75 pitchers every Tuesday. These bargains—along with the Saturday dance parties, party-rock Fridays, and Thursday hip-hop and funk nights—keep things real in the neighbourhood.
Now part of the Donnelly Group, the Met is also a popular place for drinks before Canucks games.
The Charles Bar (136 W Cordova St)
This modern bar and kitchen is located in Gastown's iconic Woodward's building. Blueprint's V-shaped room features daily lunch specials, craft beer and cocktails, DJs, and late-night dancing on the weekends. Pork-belly flatbread, deep-fried pickle spears, pistachio-crusted chicken parmesan and rack of pork ribs smothered in bourbon barbecue sauce were added to the menu in the autumn of 2014. This provides more variety, moving beyond standard pub fare for people looking to dine before attending an evening event in nearby SFU Woodward's.
The Charles Bar sells Whistler Draft for $4 on Mondays and all domestic sleeves are available for the same price on Tuesdays. Featured beers and spirits can also be purchased for $4 on Wednesdays. A three-metre high-definition screen is ideal for bar patrons hoping to watch a game.
The Irish Heather Gastropub (210 Carrall St)
This Gastown stalwart serves traditional Irish fare along with Guinness on tap. The rustic brick atmosphere creates an ideal atmosphere to dig into its pub grub, including the trademark feature pot pie and bangers & mash. The sense of community is enhanced sitting at what might be the longest table in the city.
Happy hour drinks, including hot whisky and Irish coffee, are available for $5. There's also a great selection of draught beers, as well as 20-ounce mixed beer drinks. But what really sets the Irish Heather apart is its extensive whisky list, which features dozens of options.
In 2015, the Irish Heather launched Cask Nights offering sleeves for $6 of a featured beer producer every second Thursday through Sunday.
Pourhouse (162 Water St)
Handcrafted cocktails and a well-edited wine list are ideally suited for a comfort-food menu that includes beef-brisket sandwiches and Welsh rarebit. Pourhouse is situated in a historic Gastown building constructed in 1910. What stands out is the huge bar, extending nearly 12 metres, which was handcrafted from a 90-year-old Douglas fir. It's complemented by the wood pillars and brick walls.
The cocktails run the gamut from Brandy Crusta (cognac, curaçao, maraschino, lemon, and creole bitters) to White Negroni (gin, French vermouth, and Gentian liqueur) to Silver Spur (bourbon, lime, elderflower, and grapefruit bitters).
Salt Tasting Room (45 Blood Alley Square)
The Salt Tasting Room takes diners off the beaten path to Vancouver's infamous Blood Alley in historic Gastown. Housed in an open, exposed-brick room, the Salt Tasting Room is all about the art of pairing.
Patrons can decide on their own tasting plates from a selection of 10 cheeses, 10 meats, and 10 condiments listed on the giant chalkboard. If they're unable to make up their mind, the Salt Tasting Room offers three of its own options, including the Best of B.C. Plate, with three locally produced items and three condiments.
There are more than a dozen Sherries on the menu as well as white, red, and sweet wines. The beer, cider, and spirits are sourced both locally and from the United States and Europe.
Alibi Room (157 Alexander St)
You'll find one of the most extensive beer lists in town in the Alibi Room, which is located in a century-old Gastown building. With multiple taps and an ever-changing selection of casks, you'll find no shortage of craft beers here. U.S. microbreweries also approach staff offering one-off kegs for Vancouver residents to sample.
Nestled near the edge of CRAB Park and the rail yard, the Alibi Room also serves up locally sourced or free run or naturally raised meat and poultry.
More than just a beer hall, the Alibi Room has an extensive list of cocktails and local boutique and organically grown wines. The long communal tables help bring people in the neighbourhood together.