By Brittany Tiplady
Picture this: it’s a bluebird spring day in Vancouver—a glorious reprieve from months of rain. You ditch the raincoat and Blundstones for something a little lighter, and take a stroll down the heritage cobblestone streets of Gastown. On the corner of Cambie and Water Street, the Water St. Cafe looks as inviting as ever.
You glance at your watch and would you look at that! It’s happy hour, and Amelia Jeong is working the bar at the perennial Gastown favourite. Lucky you, considering she was voted Best Bartender in this year’s Golden Plates Awards.
Jeong sat down with the Straight to talk mixology in an ever-coveted corner table at the downtown eatery. The street-level restaurant is a beloved spot for everything from casual happy hours to milestone celebrations.
Jeong’s philosophy is that serving a good drink is all about personalization.
“I always want to see a cocktail or a drink that’s not a basic, for-everyone kind of drink,” she says. “You’ve got to make sure that the drink is for that person. You’re interested in their taste buds kind of thing. Everyone has different taste buds, everyone has different preferences.”
If you ask Jeong what her favourite cocktail on the menu is, she’ll single out the Smoked Old Fashioned (a mix of Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark bourbons, orange, and cherry in a maple smoked glass).
“Even though it’s a pretty simple classic cocktail, the process of smoking the cedar chips and the glass—I just love it and it makes my bar smell beautiful,” she says. “It’s a nice comforting classic cocktail and I really enjoy that. I’m also a big sour cocktail drinker myself. It’s an art—being able to have the freedom to decorate and enhance each drink myself.”
Asked if she has any advice on what makes a beautiful cocktail, Jeong maintains that it’s all about balance.
“Keeping it simple, for sure, but not but keeping it simple,” she opines. “And not overdoing mixing a bunch of different things and making the ingredient list so long. Choosing what goes well with each other. Don’t be scared to mix and match. Try new things.”
Water St. Cafe also boasts a generous and BC-forward spirit, beer, and wine list (distilleries such as Odd Society, The Woods, and Sons of Vancouver are heavily represented) which pairs wonderfully with its Italian West Coast cuisine.
“I always recommend local beers, local wines, local spirits,” Jeong says. “It’s a story, it’s Vancouver, and you can get other drinks anywhere else but when I serve someone from out of town I always try to [encourage] our local options.” GS
Water St. Cafe located at 300 Water Street.
Check out the rest of our Golden Plates 2023 coverage here.