No Reservations: Vancouver’s Please! Beverage Co. puts a cocktail-centred spin on the tasting room

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      First known for out-of-the-box bottled cocktails like Mango Sticky Rice and Green Tea Fizz, Please! Beverage Co. has made the move to a bricks-and-mortar location this summer. The ‘hood? That would be lower Mount Pleasant, once a light industrial ghost town at night and no fun during the day, and now populated by East Side-cool coffee shops, breweries, and restaurants.

      Located in a former auto-upholstery shop, the Please! Beverage Co. Tasting House features nearly 70 seats in a main lounge area, and a production facility in the back of the building. On tap (yes, you read that right—cocktails are on tap) include new Please! Beverage options like Rasberrry Smash and Full Moon Party as well as standbys like Rhubarb Fizz and Grapefruit Paloma.

      In an intervew with the Straight, company cofounder Noel Steen was happy to outline how he and partner Stephen Tufts went from bottled cocktails to a tasting room with a twist. 

      The team

      “My previous endeavor was a subscription-based, overhead music company for experiential experience-conscious retailers and hospitality called Music Direction. We did custom music programming sort of curation, licensing and playback solution for Canadian experience-focused brands like Lululemon and Cactus Club and Noodle Box. So I’m sort of a creative innovator, business innovator—someone finding a niche and making it come to life. I built Music Direction to be over 1,000+ locations, and then I sold it to another background music provider based in the US. Music Direction left me really sensitive about providing a guest experience. So what do you get when you cross creative innovator Noel Steel from Music Direction with Stephen Tufts of Dickie’s Ginger, whos’s an educated robotics engineer turned beverage innovator? You get Please! Beverage Co.”

      Mark Yuen. 

      The seed

      “The old auto garage is family-owned. It’s my father-in-law’s building­—it was previously home to his auto upholstery business. Upon him closing his business, I was like, ‘That’s the alcohol-production zoning.’ I’m a fan of the craft beer revolution and all of the craft brewery tasting rooms­—that’s sort of my my preferred environment for drinking and socializing. So, being super warm to that whole market, and aware of the opportunity of this family-owned space, it was sort of serendipitous.

      With Please! Beverage we saw an opportunity to elevate the ready-to-drink category by using real ingredients and innovative recipes and flavor profiles. We went out of our way to put the liquid in a bottle so you can see the separation of ingredients—the pulp and bits of mango and grapefruit and rhubarb was an important move. The space—the tasting house, the production filling facility—is special here. Look at beer and the breweries and the brewery tours, and the backend and the craft ethos and all that narrative that goes with it. That just did not exist for ready-to-drink cocktails, and we thought that having a physical brick-and-mortar space rooted in community and culture and neighborhood would be the backbone that would allow us to add some narrative.”

      The Vision

      “It’s an auto garage, you know, sort of a vintage patina auto garage with floor-to-ceiling windows on the north wall, as well as a large garage door and skylights. There’s an old-world kind of warehouse feel, and it was absolutely important to keep those sort of heritage elements. We have a lot of space. It’s a 6,000-square-foot building, but there’s a bylaw that limits the size of a tasting room at 80 square-metres. We maxed out at 80 square-metres and went out of our way to waste some space to make it feel more open and airy. We negotiated with the city for for large planter installations that would not be considered part of our usable space. And we won that argument, and that resulted in what we’re calling the jungle. We have a huge amount of tropical plants which are all real, and contribute to the idea of using natural ingredients, plants, and fruits in our cocktails.” 

      Mark Yuen. 

      The Plunge

      “Our goal is to elevate the aesthetic of a tasting room, but still remain within the category of tasting room rather than restaurant. How do you do that? We did some research into that, so we’ve got some nice long tables with plant dividers that can accompany large groups. We wanted to support arts and support artists and be and be associated with that. We worked with Mega McGrath, who is a local Vancouver artist and muralist. For our drinks we commissioned an original piece of art work to accompany each of our packaged bottles. The Please! Beverage tasting room is more aligned with the idea of an art show than a night club, so we wanted to support art and artists. Mega came in and did a big 36-foot-by-three-foot-tall mural along our back wall, all sort of illustrating abstract botanic ideas around florals and fruits and berries and stuff like that.”

      The Hurdles

      “The hurdles were significant. Just in general, repurposing a building from one use to another isn’t quick or easy. Licensing, bylaws, engineers over construction costs—everything you can imagine, we experienced it. And I will say this one thing: we would not be in that building with this prime location if it weren’t for special circumstances made allowable by my family.”

      On the stereo

      "If I had to come up with an artist that represents the musical aesthetic, it would be Flamingosis. He’s a producer who does funky quick mixes of soul funk­electronic programming with an element of tropicalness. The aesthetic of our sound is upbeat, funky, and dancy with sort of an overtone of elsewhere. We wanted to create a little bit of escapism in the room, which is welcome in the warmer months but I think might be particularly valued as the weather changes. We’re going to try to maintain a sort of a sunniness inside.”

      Open for business

      “We’re thrilled that we’ve partnered with Jamjar—modern Lebanese food is the perfect pairing for our drinks, and we couldn’t be happier with that. We’ve added two new drafts to our list of cocktails—a Raspberry Smash and a Strawberry Smash, both of which celebrate seasonal berries in BC. And we’ve been super excited to introduce lunch to our neighbouring businesses and community. Things have been going fantastic and are only getting better.”

      Mark Yuen. 

      Please! Beverage Co. Tasting House

      Where: 222 West 5th Avenue

      Hours: Tuesday-Saturday 12-11pm

      Instagram: @enjoy_please_

      No Reservations is a column where we look at how your new favourite spot got from the initial idea to opening day.