Cocktails – Craft versus Cool




It was Saturday evening, in a city known for its (over)abundance of local character and characters. I was shopping for next season’s lipsticks, when a huge fight broke out at the department store’s entrance.

Shoppers inside and bystanders outside ran with their camera phones towards the drama. Security guards lowered the massive steel doors to keep rioters from breaking through the glass entrance walls, and looting the high-class, designer-label merch. An ambulance and cop cars showed up.

Helluva way to start a bar crawl.




The bar I went to for some post-riot Zen showcased their offerings beautifully. It was almost happy hour, and the place was filling up quickly. I managed to get a seat at the bar and ordered a dry martini with olives.




In under a minute, I felt that something was off. I looked around to see what it could be. There was no background music. The chatter was getting louder as more people arrived; the noise was crashing against the concrete walls and low ceilings. Plus, the lights were too bright.

I could usually chill at a bar with a normal-ish vibe, but somehow, this evening, everything and everyone at this particular bar was getting on my nerves. Maybe that adrenaline rush from the riot was making me crave another kind of cocktail experience – something odd/interesting/dangerous. And so I just didn’t have the patience for “normal” right now. I finished my cocktail and left.





I wandered over to a bar with a balcony like a stylish penthouse overlooking downtown, and had the Shen cocktail, an Asian spin on the Manhattan. Sipping it was like floating in a volcano-heated pool in the middle of a forest on a warm summer night. Pure bliss.

I was ready for my next experience.





Just for the sake of contrast, a dive bar was next on my list. In every Chinatown I’ve been to, I have always felt that walking alone in a sketchy part of town, surrounded by grime, crime and shadows was really stupid. And I was feeling all kinds of stupid now. I hurried over to the bar. The last thing I needed to be doing was standing alone in an alley in Chinatown, pulling out a camera phone in front of these staring, homeless men to capture this Instagram moment. If I kept moving, I might just be okay.





The bar was populated with beardos with attitudes, hipsters, sex industry workers and “tourists” who drove in from the west side for some atmosphere. The booze selection was limited to beer (NOT the craft brew variety), hard liquor shots and PBR. Their idea of a cocktail would be Jagermeister in a clean shot glass. I opted for good, reliable Makers Mark – also my bourbon of choice for Manhattans.

I love bars with an interesting history. Back in the day, guys who got falling-down-drunk at this and other bars in the area would be kidnapped and transported in underground tunnels. When the men woke up, they found themselves on a ship, out at sea, and forced into servitude.

I sipped my drink while trying not to stare at a couple of call girls, dressed like Barbie doll twins. They sat, silent and bored, next to a couple of young, clean-cut, obviously drunk guys dressed in business casual, talking and laughing overly loud about software companies and upcoming projects. Suddenly, one of the guys looked over at the two rent-a-dates, yelled “Yeah! YEEAAAAHHH!” and pumped his fist into the air. The girls looked at him briefly then away, still silent, still bored. I finished my drink, left quickly, and burst out laughing as soon as I was outside.




One of my girlfriends texted me to meet up at a downtown bar, one of her favorites. It was named after a thief that operated within a labyrinthian network of hideouts in the criminal underworld of 1930s Morocco. She was downstairs, saving me a seat.




The foyer was bright, but the lights got dimmer as I walked down a stairway to a small, subterranean cocktail bar. I spotted my friend waiting for me at a table in the far corner, glaring at me like some moody European when I walked over and took her picture.




The bar’s ceiling was curved, the walls decorated with tastefully framed porn, and I found “secret” meeting spots just around the corners. I was enamored with the place. The cocktail, though, was another story.




The drinks menu was a short but impressive selection of house cocktails and classics. According to my research, the bartender at Pepe Le Moko was outstanding, but he wasn’t working that night, unfortunately. Because I was enjoying myself so much and thought nothing could possibly go wrong, I decided to order off-menu. Nothing strange, just another classic cocktail.




I was sure a place with a reputation for cocktail greatness couldn’t possibly screw up the Corpse Reviver #2. I checked with the server, to see if the bartender had the knowledge and materials to create the cocktail I wanted. I was assured that she did.

And yet there it was, a very pretty cocktail that tasted like disappointment. First of all, the absinthe was missing. The cocktail should have had either a rinse or a dash of absinthe. There was no smell or delicate flavor of absinthe at all. After just a couple of sips, I pushed my cocktail aside.




Second, instead of fresh lemon juice the bartender used some liquid that poured suspiciously out of a white plastic bottle. And that citrus flavor – that wasn’t Cointreau or Triple Sec, plus there wasn’t an orange peel in the glass. Oh no…did they use… store-bought citrus instead of fresh??

I made the mistake of not observing the mixology and methodology before ordering my cocktail, like I would usually do, because I was busy chatting with my friend. But now, I watched the bartender as she used that citrus liquid to prepare other cocktails. When a classic cocktail recipe calls for fresh lemon juice, it must come directly from actual fruit.

My takeaway from this night’s final crawl is, a bar’s choices of liquid refreshment,  combined with its ambient offerings, can definitely affect your state of mind, what drink you order, and your level of enjoyment while sipping it.





However, a bar’s fun theme – sexy cool, edge-y, moody, freaky or quirky – will not make up for a cocktail’s poor execution. Ever. This is especially true if they’re charging a lot of money for it.

Ambience is just the opening act to the real star of the show – the cocktail. Bartenders should learn to create each and every cocktail on their menu to perfection, or be honest and offer an alternative if a special request is beyond their ability or expertise.

When it comes to the art of the cocktail, precision and mindful creativity are key.
Faking it ’til you make it just doesn’t cut it.



Corpse Reviver #2



Here’s are recipes for this delicious classic cocktail, courtesy of and Cheers!

Saveur’s recipe:

1 oz. gin
1 oz. Cocchi Americano or Lillet Blanc
1 oz. Cointreau
1 oz. fresh lemon juice
1 dash absinthe
Orange peel, for garnish

Shake all ingredients together in an ice-filled cocktail shaker; strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with orange peel.

Liquor’s recipe:

Absinthe rinse
3⁄4 oz Plymouth gin
3⁄4 oz Cointreau
3⁄4 oz Lillet Blanc
3⁄4 oz Lemon juice

Rinse a chilled coupe or Martini glass with absinthe and set aside.

Add the remaining ingredients to a shaker and fill with ice.

Shake, and strain into the prepared glass.



Stripper Nachos and the Margarita Lesson



What could possibly make quittin’ time even better? Happy hour!

My girlfriend Renee was meeting me after work. I worked through lunch so that I could leave early and snag us a table at the bar. Downtown bars filled up fast during happy hour with people trying to score cheap eats, house drinks, and someplace to go to wait out the horrible traffic.

Renee was my newest gal pal, so I wanted to pick out a nice bar for our first meetup, one with extensive happy hour offerings. She liked Mexican food, so I figured a nice, upscale Mexican bistro with a death fetish and flaming coffees would make for a great impression. I think she mentioned she was vegetarian, so I ordered non-meat nachos from the happy hour menu as our starter snack. And of course, a good, solid margarita (this place uses fresh lime juice, not sweet and sour mix) to celebrate the end of the day, and the beginning of a new friendship!





I chatted with the bartender a bit, told her I noticed they made margaritas with just tequila silver, a blanco, as opposed to a reposado or anejo. She explained that because the anejo and reposado were smoother and sweeter than the blanco, they would make the margarita too sweet and the tequila too difficult to detect. Plus the anejo and reposado, being aged and smoother, were more expensive than the blanco. Mixing them into margaritas would be wasteful, and should instead be enjoyed neat.





A few minutes into my margarita, I texted Renee to see if she was still coming. When I looked up, there she was with her sparkly hazel eyes and grinning red lips. Even after a full day’s work, she looked wide awake and unstoppable! I offered her the nachos while she was reaching for the cocktail menu. “Oh, I can’t.” Renee said apologetically. “I’m vegan, gluten-free and dairy-free.”

We scoured the menus for animal-free/gluten-free items and came up empty. “That’s okay,” she said. “I’ll just order a side of carrots.” This place was a fail and utterly unacceptable. I was open to suggestions.




Renee was familiar with the dietary restrictions food scene, and suggested a place I’d never heard of that was just a few minutes away. The entrance was in a narrow, seedy alleyway. Fortunately, it wasn’t completely dark yet. But at this time of year, 4:30 pm was sundown.





Looking at it from outside, I thought, “Wow, what a hole. Renee comes HERE?”. Walking in, I noted that the place was small but clean, and did have a respectable bar with a good liquor selection. The prayer candles were an interesting detail, too. There were lots of them, for whatever reason. I decided to trust and roll with it.





It was still happy hour, so we could get deep discounts on food, well drinks and cocktails. Renee ordered vegan nachos and I got tacos. In my experience, happy hour margaritas were mostly fruit-flavored sugar water with almost no tequila, and the one I had there lived up to all my expectations. Still, the food was really tasty.




Halfway through my drink, I needed the restroom, and was told to go through this strange door to get there. The signage confused me. No minors allowed in the restaurant, or no minors permitted to use the restrooms?




As I opened the door, the first things I noticed were darkness, and loud throbbing music. Not the clubby, dance-y kind you’d bounce to while sipping your appletini; more like the slow, grinding raw kind you listened to while sullenly throwing back shots. As my eyes adjusted, I noticed a silent crowd drinking, watching young pretty girls on stage writhing, swaying, and whipping their hair around.

On the dimly lit path to the bathroom, I had stumbled into a labyrinth of sin and nubile flesh that left nothing to the imagination. I watched as men walked up to the stage and shoved their dollar bills into unmentionable places on ladies bending, kneeling, waiting to receive their treat.

Where the hell was I??
Oh. Right. I’m at a Mexican restaurant that shares bathrooms with a strip club, of course.




I took no pictures of all this because the bouncer seated by the door was looking at me like that would be a really bad idea. Seeing the ladies prance and dance with money tucked into their naughty parts really made me think about the dollar bills in my wallet. Oh, the places that paper money may have been. I think I’ll be transacting on a credit card-only basis from now on.

From that day forward, to Renee and me, that restaurant was code name: Stripper Nachos.

You never forget your first time: A hard cider tale

One sultry Saturday evening, my besty and his partner invited me to join them on a neighborhood crawl. It was impossible to resist: summer, Saturday night, and a trendy ‘hood filled with quirky stuff/people – a winning trifecta I just couldn’t turn down.



I met D and G at their charming little downtown studio, conveniently located just a couple of blocks from hipster central. We were all hugs and chatter about shops and bars to check out that night. There were a couple of places on our radar, but the rest of the evening was wide open.




We bounced around like pinball triplets – an antiques store here, until we dashed over there to the chocolates specialty store, pondered a visit to the palm reader, went around the corner for adult costumes, which was near an exotic tea shop, next door to a place with soaps that looked and smelled good enough to eat, etc.




It was about 8 or 9 pm when we stopped at a pub for some refreshment before we continued exploring. The pub aspired to be unpretentious (which you can’t really be with such a strong hipster vibe), with lots of wood and brick, family-style dining tables, speakers playing random music genres, and a really friendly, young, tattooed/pierced wait staff. We went straight to the drinks menu, to get the really important choices out of the way, before considering any after-thoughts, like food.




By the way, this was years ago, before I was fully immersed and versed in the craft cocktail scene, and definitely long before I knew my limitations. D ordered a pint of their hard cider, and G decided on a crisp lager to cool off with on this humid summer night. Being new to the art of imbibing in boozey beverages, I played it safe and ordered a glass of dry white wine. When our order arrived, I kept eyeballing the others’ drinks. Such beautiful amber colors! G let me try his lager, which was refreshing and light, with a tiny bit of hopsey bite. D let me try his hard cider, and I couldn’t give it back.




I have never had hard cider before. D tried to explain the cider-making process, but I was too distracted to really listen. He may have also mentioned that it was pretty potent. But all my brain could hear was “MMMM it’s like…apple juice! But better! How can a process, with a few steps more or less here and there, end up producing either apple cider, apple cider vinegar or hard cider? Genius!” The hard cider was delicious, fresh, not too sweet, and lovely to look at. So golden. I just couldn’t put it down. It was like apple juice, but better, and with a kick! Realizing he wasn’t getting his hard cider back, D ordered another one.




Did I mention we forgot to order food? Hard cider on an empty stomach. Naturally, you know what comes next.

It’s funny how the booze gently flows into your bloodstream before sucker punching your brain. I recalled a quote from Jack Kerouac’s book “Dharma Bums”:

“The first sip is joy, the second is gladness, the third is serenity, the fourth is madness, the fifth is ecstasy.” He was talking about sipping tea, but it sort of outlined my stages of hard cider discovery:

1 – What is this tasty, amazing drink? MMMM
2 – I’ve discovered a new thing and it’s wonderful!
3 – Ahhhh, yessss, so delicious…hard cider….
4 – What?? No! You’re not getting this back!
5 – …



This is where my brain goes fuzzy, then the room, and everyone in it, gets that weird but wonderful haze around it. Like the lotion-on-the-camera-lens effect in a Star Trek scene when Capt. James T. Kirk notices an attractive female on-board. Cue the flutey seduction music.

G paid the bill, and we walked outside. I felt wonderful and float-y, I decided to do a pirouette I just learned in ballet class, when I suddenly felt a couple of firm hands on both my arms yank me back. Apparently, I almost danced into oncoming traffic.

I was insufferably silly, and D and G were losing patience. They outvoted me and called an end to our evening adventure. Spending the night with two lovely men in their cute downtown studio sounded, well, crowded. D, my wonderful knight in shining armor, decided to drive me home to make sure I got there safely, even though my apartment was just a bus ride away. G stayed behind to, I don’t know, fluff pillows or something.

D decided to take a shortcut through the hills. Unfortunately for me, they were winding hills. I opened the window, thinking the night air would get rid of my nausea. I unbuckled my seat belt. With every turn, the cider splashed around in my stomach, becoming increasingly volatile. And ready to erupt.
Splash. Splash.
And then…OMG.

Suddenly, I grabbed D’s arm and gripped it. Hard. I didn’t even have to say a word; he took one look at my face, panicked, slowed to a stop immediately. But it was too late. I lunged onto the door and shoved my head out the window. In my weakened state, I didn’t have enough lung power to projectile vomit a polite few inches away from the car. So it all slid down the outside of D’s car door in waves, as it gushed out of me. Wow. I hoped the stomach bile/hard cider upchuck wouldn’t take the paint off his car.




The next morning, I couldn’t tell which was worse, my loudly pounding head or my gut-churning nausea. I have never been drunk or hung over before. I prayed for death, but it would not come.
Damn it.
I dragged myself over to Hot Lips Pizza across the street, and forced foccacia bread down my throat, in an attempt to soak up the excess stomach acid (my brother said I’d feel better). I got it all down, and spent several minutes breathing slowly, focusing steadily, using all of my willpower to keep it down. I took some painkillers for my throbbing head, and waited for the food and chemicals to save me.


array of hard ciders.jpg

Never ever again. Oh man, I really think that cider fermented in my stomach overnight and I woke up with a belly full of vinegar. I had plans with D and G later that day. I felt slightly better in a few hours and headed over. G greeted me at the door and couldn’t get the damn shit-eating grin off his face. He and D probably laughed their asses off as they hosed the vomit. I mean, I managed to hold it just long enough to puke on the OUTSIDE of his car, instead of ruining his upholstery! Where’s the gratitude? Come to think of it, where’s the sympathy?? Aren’t they supposed to be my FRIENDS??

D came out of the kitchen with a huge smile, carrying a pitcher and a large glass.
“Cider, anyone?”


All pics taken by Alexandria Julaton, except for Star Trek screenshot

Distilled Discovery



It was a crisp spring morning in downtown Vancouver BC, perfect for another day of exploring. The overcast sky was getting brighter as the day was slowly warming up. Even better – it wasn’t raining.

Google maps showed a marina just a 10-minute walk away. On the map’s aerial view, I saw a ferry that took people across from the pier to Granville Island – VBC’s version of Seattle’s Pike Place Market. Today’s adventure was a ferry ride to Granville Island, and whatever was waiting to be discovered along the way!




The Discovery




Several hours later, I had a bag full of gourmet, artisan yummies, and headed back through the upscale waterfront neighborhood and flowering cherry trees. Suddenly, across the street, the clouds parted, the sun exploded and sweet melodies started playing in my head as I realized what was right in front of me!

The Distillery

Vancouver BC’s first microdistillery was tucked away from the downtown core, looking politely inconspicuous on the outside. Inside, customers were already celebrating handcrafted gins and other fine spirits in “a place where kindred spirits meet.” I sat at a corner table, which gave me a view of the whole room.



Bottom photo of distillery, courtesy of their website


The microdistillery equipment was in a large room, just to the other side of a glass wall, behind the bartender. I’m guessing the place was named after the long, beautifully-stained raw wood community table at the center of the room.



I waited for customers to leave so I could get this shot of the table


I noticed customers would occasionally walk back in from the fish and chips truck out front, bringing deep-fried delicious badness to enjoy with their craft cocktails. A Rubix Cube was placed in front of the order pick-up window, to distract you from the windchill while you wait.



The wall next to me was covered with framed articles and accolades about the new distillery. One article mentioned that it was a trip to Portland, Oregon, with its multiple distilleries within and just outside city limits, that inspired co-founder and master distiller, Charles Tremewen, to open Vancouver BC’s first microdistillery. He came over to say hello, and to chat with my server. That’s him in the picture, on the right.





The Gins

I had gotten there in time to order from their happy hour menu, and went straight to the Gimlet. One had the option to have the cocktail made with their Texada Vodka, instead of gin; I asked Colin, my gin experience guide and server, if “Texada” was a wordplay on Texas and Florida. Um, no.
#facepalm. Insert <shaking my head> emoji here.

According to one of the articles, their Texada Stoned Vodka was filtered and mineralized with Canada’s own Texada Island limestone, resulting in a “soft, almost oily, mouthfeel.” Lemongrass was added afterwards for a light touch of citrus. Interesting, but…nah! I’m sure they make a fine vodka, but I’m a GIN lover at a GIN distillery, here to try their premium-quality GINS.




The bourbon barrel aged gin, listed under the Anathema Devise and Wallach IX cocktails, caught my eye. I knew that with a whiskey, about 60% of its flavor comes from the barrel it was aged in.

But gin aged in bourbon barrels? Bourbon on top of botanicals? Huh!

I ordered a shot. It was sublime, smooth, aromatic and deep. Completely wonderful! I could bliss out with this, listening to some downtempo and ambient house, while looking out at the VBC skyline.




Excited, I put down my shot glass and looked for my next cocktail – Musashi’s Blade, with cucumber-infused gin, sake, vermouth, etc. Colin said the sake smoothed out the gin’s “edges”. My inside voice said, but isn’t that what the vermouth does already? Confused, I decided to trust, and ordered it anyway.




I took a sip and frowned. Hm. Here’s the thing.

The Do-Over

Their Musashi’s Blade cocktail recipe called for Nigori Sake, milky white due to its rice sediment. While appropriate when enjoyed on its own, this sake’s creamy richness and sweetness more than smoothed out the cucumber gin’s edges – it overpowered the gin altogether.

I apologized to Colin for the change of heart, and asked if I could have the cucumber gin as a martini instead of in a cocktail, which I should have done in the first place. I wanted to really taste the gin itself, and the sake was interfering with that. He smiled and said I shouldn’t apologize; when a customer says they want to taste and enjoy more of the product itself, that’s a very good thing. The cucumber gin was quite enjoyable – light, fresh and elegant!




Where to Get Them

Now that I’ve whet your appetite for some new, amazing Canada gins, here’s the catch: Along with their other award-winning spirits, Long Table Distillery’s gins can only be purchased onsite, at select stores in Canada, or online in the UK.

When I’m back in town, this place will definitely be on my list of must-visits.


Check us out on Facebook and Instagram

Photos of ferry and Granville Island Market by JE Alexandria Julaton

Long Table Distillery room, courtesy of their website

Various quotes from the distillery’s website and articles

Cocktails: How to fail at picking up ladies, and the fabulous flavored cube


There are so many wrong ways to meet women.

On our way to a cocktail adventure downtown, my gal pal and I added a few more to that list. Here’s one: A dark-colored car with tinted windows pulling up alongside us. Then an unseen driver slowly lowering his driver-side window to reveal a hand, palm up, and fingers beckoning in a “Bitches, come here.” gesture.

Here’s another: A guy stopping his car on the corner at a green light, angry drivers honking behind him, while he’s shouting lame come-ons at us with a huge, naughty grin on his face.
Really big nope!


Yeah, nope again. But kudos for originality!

I mean, what woman could resist a suave, fashion-forward icon like Austin Powers, am I right?

After that obstacle course of weirdness, we made it to the bar and grabbed seats in front of the bartender. We like to watch the magic happen.

Luc Lac bar

The Single Knight cocktail at Luc Lac’s bar was a game-changing, Whoa!-inducing twist on the Old Fashioned cocktail that made our tastebuds do a double-take. First, a large cube made of deeply smokey Lapsang Souchong tea was placed in the glass. This was followed with their sigh-inducing blend of bourbon, pho syrup, and angostura orange bitters. But wait, there’s more! The finishing touch was a lemon twist, wrapped around a blowtorched bourbon cherry and cloves! Daaaamn!


When I order cocktails that arrive with a large, slow-melting cube, I usually leave it alone for a couple of minutes before I take a sip. This is so a little of the ice will melt into the mix and make it less syrupy. One sip of the Single Knight and MIND BLOWN! The smokiness from the melting tea cube adding to the bourbon, further flavored by zest with burnt cherry and cloves – I was caught up in a swirl of amazingness.


Citrus with burnt fruit and spice was all kinds of nice (especially in a bourbon), but that giant cube made of smokey Lapsang Souchong tea made me realize flavored ice cubes that bring out another flavor dimension in cocktails is a thing!

Luc Lac single knight cocktail


Single Knight Cocktail at the Luc Lac bar

I wish I had the recipe for this cocktail. However, I do have the ingredients list:

Four Roses single barrel bourbon
Pho syrup
Angostura orange bitters
Lapsang Souchong tea ice cube
Bourbon cherry
Lemon zest



Mezcal: The Rockstar Agave


I was at a Mexican bar one evening. Late enough, and in a neighborhood cool enough, that Uber smacked me with surge pricing. Ugh.

Anyway, it was the kind of warm, late spring night that made it seem all kinds of wrong to stay home. I hooked up with several of my friends who suggested we go to a mezcaleria. I’ve never been to one and didn’t know what that was, but they lured me with sweet promises of an outdoor patio, tiki bar and fire pit. They did not disappoint! And even better, it was “international beats” night, so live deejays played Eurolounge, deep house, electronica, etc. – the good stuff!


One of my girlfriends turned to me. “You ever had mezcal?”
No, I said. What IS that?
It’s like tequila, she said. But more…interesting. Better.

And she was right. On her recommendation, I first tried the house special margarita – margarita made with mezcal – since I was told it was quite delicious. Plus, she said it was a good “gateway” cocktail to prepare my palate for direct contact with the strong stuff. That was probably the best margarita I’ve ever had, made by someone other than myself (I won’t even pretend to be humble. My margaritas as amazing!).


It intruiged me. I had to get to know this magical mezcal thing, one-on-one. Savor it more closely, intimately. I ordered a shot of one of their mezcals, asked the bartender to recommend one for me. The patio bar was wall-to-wall hipsters, gyrating, posing, being witty…is that “medicinal” herb I smell? But I was far from being distracted.


I sipped the mezcal, held it in my mouth and throat, inhaled and exhaled slowly, the way I do when trying a new whiskey. Then swallowed. It was dark, smokey and there was something else. Tobacco? Leather? It was just that complex and yet utterly fascinating. Mezcal, like tequila, is made from the agave plant. But while tequila can only be made from the the blue agave, mezcal can be made from different agave varieties, which accounts for its array of flavors.

Preparation is another way mezcal distinguishes itself from tequila. To make tequila, the agave heart is baked and steamed prior to its juice being extracted. With mezcal, the agave heart is instead roasted underground with wood charcoal and hot rocks prior to juice extraction, resulting in its smokey taste.

If you love tequilas, you have to try mezcals. Just look out for the worm when you get to the bottom of the bottle.



The Mezcal Margarita
(From article “The Perfect Margarita Is Made With Mezcal”)

Salt (Recommended: A half-kosher, half-wood-smoked salt blend from Mountain Rose Herbs)
1½ oz. Del Maguey Vida mezcal
¾ oz. green Chartreuse
¾ oz. lime juice
½ oz. agave nectar

Lightly moisten the rim of a glass with a lime wedge, then roll it in salt. Combine remaining ingredients with ice in a shaker, give it a couple of hard shakes, then pour into the glass and top off with fresh ice. Garnish with a lime wedge and a sprig of mint.