As you know, I have been devoting a few of my January posts to surviving the Ottawa winter.  So far we have talked about how travelling to tropical destinations (like Brazil) and how drinking hot toddies (fit for a ‘man’ cold) are going to bring you some relief from the godawful Ottawa winter.

And for this post, we are back to travel, with a business trip to balmy Vancouver (the ‘Hawaii of Canada’ as one Vancouver citizen told me) to help with the winter blues.  Last week I had the good fortune to travel to Vancouver for work.  It was a short three-day-two night trip to attend a meeting, so I had one good night to find THE best cocktail bar in town.  And ohhhh, did I find it!

Back in November, when there was a ‘Best Bars in the US’ list circulating on Twitter, I put the word out and asked for people’s recommendations on what bars would make the Canadian list.  And among the top five recommended (for Canada) was L’Abattoir in Vancouver’s Gastown.  And at the bar?  Oh, just Shaun Layton…oh, you know, just the guy voted by Vancouver Magazine as the 2010 Bartender of the Year.  Whatevs.

Friend/colleague/epidemiologist extraordinaire Julie and I wandered over to L’Abattoir last Tuesday night for a 6:30 dinner reservation.  Julie was going more for the food (she had perused the reviews on-line); I was going more for the cocktails (could have sat at the bar all night).  We were greeted by a smart, elegant, semi-formal vibe, and warm staff who showed us to our table, made us comfortable, and gave us a good orientation to the menu.

The cocktail menu at L’Abattoir is organized into two sections: the first being ‘Classic Cocktails’ that you have probably had before, or have at least heard of.  Our server at the restaurant told us that the classic cocktails on this list were the ‘modernized’ (my description, what a public servant) versions of what had been made in the past.  The other section being the ‘Original Cocktails’ crafted by the barman himself.  The ‘Original Cocktail’ list included such cocktails as the Slaughterhouse and Meat Hook – which likely pay homage to the former and long-ago history of the location as a butcher/meat packing district.   Note – there was a short description for each of the cocktails with the ‘story behind the cocktail’ which is always a nice touch (and which I cannot unfortunately, remember).

There was also a ‘Cocktail of the Day’ –  a tribute to a famous bartender (which I again, can’t remember) and which contained St. Germain (remember I got a bottle for Christmas?) and which I would have ordered if I hadn’t had to fly back to Ottawa the next day (total lightweight).

One of the very first things I noticed about the cocktail menu was the absence of vodka.  This was a very good sign.  To me, it meant that a great deal of time and effort went into crafting ‘complex’ (such an epidemiologist)cocktails that contained ingredients brought together for their distinctive flavours that would take you through the beginning, middle and end of the drink.  Far too often, I come across cocktail menus that rely a too much on vodka because of its er, ‘versatility’ and next thing you know,  you’ve got a Cotton Candy Martini on your hands.  Ew.

This is definitely not the case at L’Abattoir.  I was delighted with the number of gin-based cocktails on the menu (as well as bourbon), and had a hard time choosing between the cocktails.  I finally settled on the ‘Gastown Swizzle’ – containing Gin (yesss!  yesss!), Aperol, passionfruit, lime and a Fernet float (with a metal straw, ahem) and sipped away while Julie decided on what to order.

Julie was having a bit more of a difficult time deciding on what to order (feeling a bit overwhelmed by the menu), and worked with the patient staff (and yours truly) to find a cocktail that she might like.  She initially chose the Banana Daiquiri (Jamaican rum, Bananne de Bresil, fresh lime, Ardbeg 10 yr single malt scotch), but didn’t like* the peaty after taste (*Note: I could have drank it all night.).  The staff graciously and swiftly replaced her drink with a ‘Gastown Swizzle’ and all was well.  Talk about a class act.

My second (and sadly) last drink of the evening (see point above about being a lightweight and being cursed with next-day travel) was the Hanky Panky.  Made with Gin (yesss!  yesss!), sweet vermouth, Fernet Branca and an orange twist, I was happy to savour all of the flavours in this cocktail from beginning to end.

I’m not a great reviewer of food, and do not have the requisite vocabulary of adjectives to bring the food that was on my plate alive on the pages of a blog (and it is a blog about cocktails, after all).  So you’ll just have to take my word for it when I tell you that everything (everything!) we had was delicious.  This review from the Globe and Mail really does it better than I could.

At the end of the night as we were on our way out, I overcame my shyness (and fear of mixology incompetence) and introduced myself to Shaun Layton (the. bartender. of. the. year.).  I wanted to thank him for taking such good care with our drinks, and to express my appreciation for his cocktail craftsmanship.  In our brief chat at the bar, he shared with me how the Hanky Panky is also one of his favourite cocktails.  He also asked me if we were planning to hit any other bars that evening besides L’Abattoir.

Although it was our last stop for the night, Shaun passed on some other Vancouver bar suggestions for when I’m next in town, and I asked him if I could share it with you (we’re talking insider/expert information, here!).  Here’s his list of the Top 5 to visit when in Vancouver:

  1. L’Abattoir
  2. The Diamond
  3. The Keefer Bar
  4. The Pourhouse
  5. Boneta

So there you have it – a trip to Vancouver to help with your Ottawa winter, and five bars to visit when you get there (and DO start at the top of the list!).  But – it’s going to be hard for me (next time I’m in town) to venture out and try one of the others after having had such a fine time at L’Abattoir.

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2 Responses to classic cocktails in Vancouver – L’Abattoir

  1. Neil says:

    Did you try the daiquiri before it went back? I’d be curious about the effect of the single malt on the flavour….

    • Jen says:

      Oh, yes. I did try that daiquiri before it went back! And it was fantastic! The very most interesting thing about this drink is that you got a good banana flavour up front and then a smoky after taste! I really did think about telling the server to leave it on the table so that I could drink it, but I thought it might be well, er – a bit gauche!