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As every former regular of the Golden Horn in Culver City will agree, bigger rarely means better when it comes to your favourite bars. So as much fun as the chaos might be at Pat O’Briens in New Orleans, give us the tiny night-bird obsessed Owl Tree in San Francisco or the Jesus-themed El Garlochi in Seville every time.
If the following Vancouver spots have something in common, it’s that they’re intimate. Sometimes they put a DIY-imaginative spin on your favourite dive bar, and sometimes they go all in on a theme. But whatever the direction, what’s pretty much guaranteed is that you won’t find yourself sitting beside some Howe Street loud-mouth in a suit, bro dude in a Señor Frog’s muscle shirt and flip-flops, or bronze-tanner addict obsessed with the Kardashians.
Soundtracking your nights at the rooms below, expect the likes of Massive Attack, Iggy Pop, the Pogues, Sonic Youth, and Bebel Gilberto, rather then Deep House Vol. 36, The Best of Ibiza Chillout, and Blues Hammer: Greatest Hits.
And, most importantly, there’s the vibe of the places here: small and intimate and unpretentious, which is shorthand for under-the-radar enough that you can usually get a seat, even if you have to stand for a bit. Just like the Golden Horn, God rest its beautiful soul.
Once famous for nothing more than the Dairy Queen where doomed Playboy Playmate Dorothy Stratten worked, East Hastings between Victoria Drive and Penticton has blossomed into a barfly’s mini-paradise over the past decade, with small watering holes dotting the south side of the street. One of the first was Jackalope Neighbourhood Dive, which proudly bills itself as “a rock n metal spot in Hastings-Sunrise to grab a drink and eat some food with a trailer park twist.” The decor includes the mounted heads of random animals (all hail the horned jackrabbit!) to outsider-art displays, the cocktails ranging from the Love Drive (Deep Cove vodka, lemon juice, soda, lavender syrup) to the Rocka Rolla (Jim Beam bourbon, Peach Schnapps, simple syrup, homemade sweet tea).
The best part of Jackalope’s might be that if you ask them to turn down Death Sentence’s “In Flames” or the Gun Club’s “Jack on Fire”, they’re probably going to crank it, mostly because everyone else in the place is already singing along.
Address: 2257 East Hastings Street, Vancouver
A lovingly constructed shrine to the transformative power of alcohol, or a beautifully rendered East Van affront to all that is holy? That’s for you to decide—and once you do, you’ll at least know which bathroom to use—the one labelled “Saints” or the one labelled “Sinners”. And let’s be honest, most of the time you’re going to have more fun being bad than good. As one might deduce from the name, Hail Mary’s is heavy on the Biblical decor, including stained-glass portraits, religious candles, and shrines to the immaculate conceiver who birthed the baby Jesus. (History’s original hippy/hipster also makes an appearance as the central figure in a TV diorama we’d give up our original copy of the Old Testament for.) The curtained booths are great for those who like to mix their cocktails with a confession session when out with friends. And, yes, whether you’re talking Blessed By the Fruit (Bacardi tropical rum, peach soju, simple syrup, and fresh lime), or The Exorcism (El Jimador tequila, Fandango mezcal, chili-infused simple syrup, grapefruit juice, and lime juice), or The Resurrection (Gosling’s rum, Tia Maria, Bailey’s, and JJ Bean Cold Brew), those cocktails are just a little south of a religious experience.
Address: 670 East Broadway, Vancouver
Even though they can be found in Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Peru, and even Africa, for most North Americans, flamingos are associated with one gloriously sun-drenched place: Miami. Located next to Havana on Commercial Drive, The Flamingo Room is inspired by the city famous for Hyman Roth, Art Deco architecture, and undercover cops with a serious thing for pink pastel Armani jackets. While you’ll find music and comedy on the stage, the big draw at this new 52-seat room is the cocktails like the Flightless Bird (Havana 7 Year Old, house-made rumless spiced rum, pineapple, lime, pineapple falernum, and Giffard’s bitter concentrate) and the Milano Vice (Licor 43, house moka pot rosso, Fernet Hunter BC, house-chocolate liqueur, Milano espresso, grapefruit, aromatic leaf, grapefruit, cacao bitters, grapefruit peel, and absinthe rinse). Tony Montana would approve.
Address: 1214 Commercial Drive, Vancouver
Here’s how badass Hyde on Main Street is: in an era when most of us can’t go 90 seconds without checking our phones, the bar’s Instagram account hasn’t been updated in 511 weeks, its last Facebook post was in 2021, and the hyderestaurant.com link leads to a “Domain for Sale” notice. Some people are careerists, and others just don't give a fuck. The walls at Hyde Restaurant are either a chalky none-more-black, or an impossibly deep purple (it’s hard to tell after four Red Truck Red Pilsners), and the food menu seems entirely unnecessary, mostly because sometimes the last thing you want is a sponge to soak up the alcohol. Yes, it’s that no-frills, fast-and-loud awesome. Once the Vancouver answer to Williamsburg, Main Street is these days building a reputation for some of the best (and sometimes Michelin-starred) restaurants in the city. Still, grungy favourites like the Hyde endure, as evidenced by Restaurant Guru comments like, “One of the few not-poser legit East Van spots on Main. Good food, music, and conversation without the TikTokness.”
Address: 2960 Main Street, Vancouver
Depending on the time of day—and how nice you are to the folks making your pre-Cantina 189 margaritas next door—you’ll either enter this edge-of-Gastown speakeasy through a fake walk-in-freezer facade in La Taqueiria Pinche taco shop, or a battered old door facing Hastings. Inside, the vintage light globes lining the bar are hand-painted with “Sour”, “Sling”, “Flip”, and “Fizz” (helpful if you’re stuck for ideas when it comes time to order), candles flicker on tiny wall-mounted tables, and if you’re lucky, you’ll score one of the two intimate window booths. Those who have the brightness turned to 11 on the iPhone, and need glasses the second the sun sets, should prepare themselves for a room best described as hyper-atmospheric red-light chic. Think: Lynch meets del Toro in back-alley Paris. Don’t miss the truly astounding Clarified Milk Punch (blanco Tequila, overproof rum, hibiscus, pasilla, chamomile, and nutmeg), or ask the ever-inventive bar team to surprise you—thanks to Cantina 189, our new favourite drink is a riff on the Last Word, where mezcal subs in for the gin.
Address: 324 West Hastings Street, Vancouver