When reading through the list of Canada’s Best Bars 2019 you might notice a curious prevalence of speakeasies – cozy haunts hidden down narrow passageways that require passwords for entry.
The team at Canada’s Best Bars assures you that there are expertly crafted drinks being served beyond those unmarked doors, their appeal reminds us that the lively cocktail culture we enjoy today didn’t just materialize out of thin air.
Though some might scoff when they hear about the days when there were separate bar entrances for men and women and beer had to be poured in tiny draught glasses, the dark ages aren’t too far behind us. Most of us can still recall when it was nearly impossible to get a decent cocktail in Vancouver without also ordering food (less than a decade ago), and brasseries in Montreal could be fined for spiking sangria with hard liquor (2017).
That the Canadian bar scene has thrived despite a provincial patchwork of archaic regulations that have hobbled its growth is a testament to the spirited people who have made it happen. This book is meant to celebrate excellent cocktail lounges, wine bars and craft-beer destinations from coast to coast while making it easier for all of us to find exceptional places to drink and socialize.
At Canada’s 100 Best, our idea of a great bar starts with a compelling setting and an outstanding beverage program.
We think excellent cocktails are like the best food: they should respect the past but do more than simply repeat it. And any good bartender should be able to pull off that trick with a non-alcoholic mix, too. Great bars needn’t be chic or luxurious, but they must be comfortable retreats. The service should be hospitable, the atmosphere convivial, the attention to detail meticulous.
In assembling our second annual ranking of Canada’s Best Bars, we asked our judges to consider all of this, with a few restrictions. Mainly, we discouraged them from voting for restaurants or bar seating therein. Our goal was to find the greatest places to meet someone for a drink or two, and nothing more.
As we see it, a bar along one wall of a dining room is not a bar—it’s part of a restaurant. If it’s in a separate room, with its own distinct identity, it qualifies as a stand-alone watering hole. We realize that many of the country’s best bartenders work in restaurants and that an excellent cocktail program has become an essential element of a great restaurant, and you will find many of them highlighted in our sister publication, Canada’s 100 Best Restaurants.
We have done our very best to adhere to these criteria and proudly present to you our findings. Best-of lists are always contentious, even more so in an industry that is constantly evolving. We look forward to hearing your thoughts, preferably over a perfectly chilled martini.
— Alexandra Gill, Canada’s Best Bars
Alexandra Gill has the been the Globe and Mail’s restaurant critic in British Columbia since 2005 and is the owner of Dine Like A Critic food tours. She is also a judge for The Food Network’s Iron Chef Canada and the Vancouver-based Chinese Restaurant Awards. She has been a contributor to Canada’s 100 Best since the beginning.