As much as we’re always up for drinks on Commercial Drive, what Vancouver’s coolest neighbourhood (sorry, Main Street) has always lacked is a room that seems exclusively cocktail-focussed. That’s made The Flamingo Room the best thing to hit East Van since Ken Lum’s iconic cross. The vibe is classic throwback Miami, to the point where you can see yourself hanging at a table for an hour or five talking art, fashion, architecture, and the meaning of life with Hymen Roth, Edna Buchanan, Donald Justice, and Purvis Young.
And then there are the drinks: innovative without coming across as highfalutin (hello, Flightless Bird), genuinely fun (don’t miss the Jiminy Crickets!, complete with a side of spiced cricket parts for snacking), and thrillingly exotic (Eats, Shoots, and Leaves, with its toasted sushi rice Thoquino cachaça, Sons of Vancouver Coconut liqueur, and sous-vide pandan syrup). The best part of the deal might be that you’re getting Yaletown-like attention to detail at East Van prices.
We talked to The Flamingo Room co-owner Reuben Major about the spot that’s about to become your new hang on the Drive—especially if cocktails are your passion.
“We are a small restaurant group that includes Belgard Kitchen + Vancouver Urban Winery, Havana, and now The Flamingo Room. In 2017, we were fortunate to acquire the iconic Havana restaurant on Commercial Drive. Havana came with a vibrant theatre space that provided space for a diverse variety of shows, including comedy, theatre, magic, music, and burlesque, et cetera. We have a dedication to always supporting local, and strive to celebrate our communities in the neighbourhoods we’re lucky to share space with. We’re a tight crew who care deeply about each other as well as what we do. Every guest is a part of our family and we strive to make them feel that way.”
“When the pandemic hit and put a long hold on our ability to use the space, we started to envision what the longer term possibilities would be. Here we had a space inside our footprint that was underutilized (and during COVID, not used at all) in its current form. We wanted to create a unique space that could be enjoyed by more people, more of the time. We also wanted to continue on with the stage and provide a great place for artists to perform and guests to enjoy.”
“This one is easy. It can be whatever you wanted the restaurant to be, whether it was an authentic old-school Italian nonna’s-style pasta joint, or upscale Brazilian meat-on-skewers barbecue, or French-Vietnamese fusion with a killer Hanoi-themed cocktail program. Given that we share a wall with Havana, the theme for the revamped space needed to align. And so it was born: The Flamingo Room, a Miami-inspired cocktail bar and live stage. Think: the after-dark, moodier big sister of Havana.
Once we had the concept ironed out, it was time to create the menus. And most importantly in this case, the cocktail menu.
This is how our beverage director Alexa Greenman describes it:
This vision for the menu, from my end, came from a desire to be able to just be yourself and have fun. The menu is designed to take the mystery out of ordering a cocktail that would otherwise hold you back, and gives you an opportunity to be as informed as possible about your decision! It’s supposed to be cheeky, engaging and, most importantly, authentic to who we are—a hard-working but nonsense-loving group of people. I always imagined and hoped the place would feel very joyful.
The room itself is stunning, so I wanted to make sure to add some humility into the menu and the space to make sure people always felt like it was approachable and fun. I tried to take the concept of hospitality to a degree where it informed every decision regarding the menu’s philosophy in terms of what we added to the list of drinks and how we presented them. Making sure people felt welcome, taken care of, and like they belonged—that was the vision! Beyond that, Miami and its diversity also inspired much of the ingredients and cocktails, of course!
From a food perspective: small plates inspired from our travels, Latin-inspired, thoughtfully prepared, and beautifully presented, designed to compliment the liquid offerings on the menu.”
“We’re committed to growing in the local restaurant scene. Growing within our own space, while a sizable investment, allowed us to dip our growth toe with a bit of a safety net during a time of challenge and uncertainty in the industry.”
“The main hurdle was the City. Unfortunately a lot of businesses experience similar delays and lack of communication like we did. It’s extremely costly, frustrating, and can put businesses under before they even get started. Simply put, the delays cost us no less than $500,000 in revenue and $100,000 in extra-cost—minimum.”
From executive chef Andrew Hounslow:
I was tasked with creating a seven-to-nine-item snacky menu to compliment the cocktail offering that was unique to the space, but had to come from the existing Havana kitchen space with no plans for extra storage space in the renovation plan. A drawing on a piece of scrap paper, demolition of a sink we deemed losable, an auctioned line cooler, and about $1,500 in patchwork welding, shelving, and metal work later, and we had created a Havana prep table by day and brand new The Flamingo Room line station by night!
On the stereo
“Not only do we have an incredible playlist, we strive to host live music every night. We take Latin-inspired pretty seriously and work to be thorough in every detail of the space—music is definitely a huge part of that. Latin music tends to be some of the most fun and beautiful music to listen to, which works for us! Though we try and change up some portion of what we want the ‘vibe’ to feel like depending on time of the night or occasion, we want cohesion in what we’re trying to accomplish, so our playlist is super important to us.”
Open for business
“We’re super proud of the product we’ve delivered. From the look and feel of the room, to the vibe and touchpoints, to the cocktail and food menu. Our team worked exceptionally hard to create this new concept and the result and reception has been incredible! You envision something, in this case two years out, and when it comes to fruition and exceeds expectations, there is nothing but pride.”
Where: 1212 Commercial Drive