Cross-Canada cocktail roundup


There was a time when cocktails (and we're not talking rum and Coke) were a phenomenon limited to urban hotel bars and their attendant sophistication. Times have changed. The spread of quality drinks has mirrored the expansion of inspired, high-calibre cuisine, and bars and restaurants in all Canadian cities are starting to get in on the cocktail act. Here, then, is a coast-to-coast collection of compelling cocktail bars and a sampling of their specialties.

Nu (Vancouver)

Sitting prettily alongside its older sibling C Restaurant on sparking False Creek, the new Nu follows in big brother's footsteps, crafting fine cuisine from regional ingredients, with an eye toward sustainability. The drinks are something fresh too. Bar manager Jay Jones has assembled a library of bottles not seen elsewhere in the city. The result? For one, there's the only authentic Sazerac in Canada, mixed with 18-year-old rye whiskey, Herbsaint and Peychaud's bitters (brought in specially from New Orleans). Also sublime is the Gauguin: 42 Below passion fruit vodka, Grand Marnier, Fee Brothers peach bitters and fresh grapefruit juice.

1661 Granville St., Vancouver, 604-646-4668

Wild Tangerine

Wild Tangerine (Edmonton)

The menu at this funky Asian eatery is built on bold flavours like red curry, Chinese five-spice and wasabi, and the Eastern influence also informs their signature cocktails. Try a Spicy Tangerine (mixed with tequila, spicy chilies, tangerine and orange juice) or a Ginger Comfort (with gin, jasmine green tea and ginger syrup).

10383 112th St., Edmonton, 780-429-3131

The Laurentian Room (Toronto)

The Laurentian Room

This Roaring Twenties speakeasy has been lifted from a history book and set down in hip Cabbagetown. The illuminated mirror behind the bar spells out specialties of a bygone era: “Alexanders, Caipirinhas, Coladas, Daiquiris, Juleps, Mojitos, Sours.” Try one of the classics or an original like the Ting Tini (Bombay Sapphire, Campari and Ting grapefruit soda) or the Ayla (gin muddled with cilantro and sugar and served on the rocks) – then dance the night away.

51A Winchester St., Toronto, 416-925-8680

Version Laurent Godbout

Version Laurent Godbout (Montreal)

Laurent Godbout's (of Chez L'Epicier) swank new room in Old Montreal is all about experimentation. Avant-garde Spanish cuisine from the kitchen is matched by far-out mixing in the bar. Sample one of the (occasionally wacky) originals like the Adam and Eve (calvados, amber rum, ice cider and white vermouth slurped through a cored apple “straw”) or a Kat Martini (pisco, muscat, white cranberry juice and muscat grapes).

295 Rue Saint-Paul E., Montreal, 514-871-9135

Onyx (Halifax)

The cuisine in this sleek Atlantic dining room may draw its inspiration from Asian and French cooking, but the cocktail list is guided by Maritime rumbullion. A whole menu of rum-based mojitos (described as “the classic twig drink”) features the spirit in all its varieties, matched with fresh fruits and herbs. Start simple with a Bamboo Mojito (mixed with white and amber rum, muddled mint leaves and soda); then lean in for a Spiced Kiss (Cuban and spiced rum, calvados, fresh apple, ginger and mint).

5680 Spring Garden Rd., Halifax, 902-428-5680

(Chris Mason Stearns invents, drinks and writes about cocktails for a living. His book Mason's Bar will be released by Douglas & McIntyre in Spring 2006, and his Mixology column appears in enRoute.)

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November 2005