DIVE BARS | Sneaking Cheekies At “Gringo”, The Gastown Eatery That Can LOL At Itself

September 5, 2014 


by Shaun Layton | “I’ll be back in fifteen, going for a cheeky…” is what you’ll hear in Gastown bars whenever there’s a lull in the action. In this job, we don’t get one hour lunch or coffee breaks. Because I don’t smoke, the only time I have for quick refreshment is after the dinner rush ebbs. The spot where I used to end up was Boneta (RIP). Now it’s around the corner in Blood Alley at a place called Gringo.

Now one year old in the space formerly occupied by Sean Heather’s Judas Goat, Gringo is now bursting at the seams on most late nights. It was started by Vancouver service industry vet Shoel Davidson, and the “Queen of Gastown”, Christina Cottell.

From where I stood, it looked as if the little lighthearted Mexi-Cali hole-in-the-wall sort of stumbled out of the gate. I think it took people (including myself) some time to understand where they were coming from and what they were trying to do. They didn’t spend a cent on PR, so it’s been a word of mouth trade to date. Online and print reviews – some funny, others scathing – probably helped, too.

“I always believed that if good people came in and enjoyed themselves, then they would tell their friends and so on,” Shoel says. “Now, low and behold, we have an ever-increasing circle of incredible patrons. It’s they who’ve really given Gringo its fun and laid back vibe.”

Speaking personally, the thing that keeps bringing me back isn’t the nachos or the slim draft beer options ($3.50!), it’s the great staff that Shoel has put together. They always remember me by name, and they know what I like to drink. While it’s true that I know nearly everyone in the industry hereabouts (which is to say that I sometimes get extra special treatment), I’ve been in a few times when a new guy doesn’t know me yet, and I’m still greeted with an introduction, a handshake, and a warm welcome.

I think this comes from Mr. Davidson’s hospitality background; he manned the wood at The Irish Heather for several years. “Treat people like people, not like a number. Especially in Gastown, which has such a tight-knit community” he says. Shoel’s also a clean freak, which I respect. He once sat and watched us clean down the bar at L’Abattoir one night and was the only bar nerd not admiring our Amaro selection. Instead, he liked how we scrubbed our stainless.

I hope that didn’t sound too creepy…

The branding (Christina’s department) literally shines. I see the bright neon trucker hats stumbling all over Gastown, and the staff all wear them with pride. They also have coasters with bad reviews printed on them — I love it when a place can LOL at itself like that. The music they play can be anything from rock ‘n roll to old school stuff like A Tribe Called Quest. There’s also a TV set showing some seriously arbitrary shit (I walked in one night and Star Wars was on).

I’m not going to talk about the food (monster size tacos, beer-friendly bites, etc) or the simply made, easy-drinking cocktails. The truth of it is that I’m there to drink beers after the rush. It’s the leading spot in the hood for kitchen staff, so that tells me the food is good enough. One thing to take special note of is Gringo’s ever-increasing bar of “haute” hot sauces. It’s similar to our collection of exotic tall boy beer cans at L’Abattoir, so if you want to drop them a bottle of something rare or interesting they’d likely be appreciative.


IMG_6220Shaun Layton has helped to maintain a top notch bar scene in Vancouver for ten years, and since day one at Gastown’s L’Abattoir, where he is the Bar Manager. He also runs his own consulting company, designing bar programs and training staff locally and as far away as St.John’s, NFLD. Layton has competed and travelled throughout the USA and Europe, touring distilleries, breweries and bars. He was recognized in 2012 as the Bartender of The Year by Vancouver Magazine.

DRINKER | Easy, Uncomplicated Summer Drinks For Grass, Meadow, Deck, Or Shore


by Shaun Layton | The sun is shining, cruise ships are arriving, and hop-on hop-off buses are flooding our hoods. That means it’s time to get the hell away to a beach, lake, forest, meadow, or patch of grass. If you’re like me and you love a good drink outdoors, then this article is for you.

First things first, none of these drinks will empty your wallet, take up too much of your precious sun-basking time, or make you feel like you need expertly quaffed facial hair, suspenders, and a professional bar kit to make them correctly. On my time off I just want something delicious, and if that means adding a few ice cubes and salt to something mediocre to make it tasty, then that’s what I’m going to do, especially when my chief concern in life (at the time) is bagging a prime spot to lay a blanket. It’s kind of like how most chefs prefer Old Dutch Salt & Vinegar potato chips to, say, housemade beet chips when they get home after work. The heart just wants what the heart wants.

Anyway, You’ll find several ideas/recipes for cheap, easy, cool summer drinks after the jump. Feel free to switch brands, citrus types, beer types, et cetera… Read more

DRINKER | How To Build An Excellent Home Bar, One Drink (And Five Bottles) At A Time


by Shaun Layton | This is the third in a series of posts on building a home bar, five bottles and one drink at a time. The brands I choose aren’t necessarily the best in their respective categories. I’m just trying to use unique, readily available and cost efficient bottles for readers to help you get started. I’ve listed bottles 11-15 below (see also 1-5 and 6-10). As your own home bar comes together, please share thoughts or photos, or ask any questions you like via @shaunlayton.

11. Sietes Misterios “Doba Yej” Mezcal – As mezcals can get very expensive, this is a cheaper ($56.00) copper pot still option. It’s great for cocktails, as one doesn’t necessarily need to use more than an ounce in a drink. Try it in a Last Word cocktail (gin, green chartreuse, maraschino, lime) replacing the gin with mezcal. Incredible!

12. B.G. Reynolds Falernum syrup – A fantastic mix of ginger, clove, almond, and lime that can be used for all sorts of tiki and tropical cocktails. These syrups are high fructose and preservative free, and are made by cocktail enthusiast Blair Reynolds from Portland, Oregon. Available at The Modern Bartender or Legacy Liquor store.

13. Havana Club 3 yr – A Cuban rum ideal for summer time cocktails such as the classic Daiquiri, or the Mojito. One of the best bang for your buck spirits on the market, available everywhere for $25.99. It makes for a great gift for American friends, but it’s contraband so be careful!

14. Aperol – Made by the Campari family, this is an Italian amaro that is more on the light and sweet side than most other amari. Think of it as Campari’s younger, hotter, sister. Flavours like rhubarb and strawberry predominate. This beauty is best in refresher such as the famous Italian aperitivo hour tipple, the Aperol Spritz. Available everywhere.

15. Cocchi Americano – A fortified wine made from Moscato di Asti. The Cadillac of its category, Cocchi is the closest thing to Kina Lillet, a now defunct aperitif used in a lot of classic cocktail recipes such as the Vesper and Corpse Reviver. Also great on its own in short glass filled with ice and a splash of soda and a slice of orange. You can find it at specialty liquor stores or quality cocktail bars.


A cocktail of mine (pictured bottom-right) inspired by the classic Aperol Spritz

30 ml Aperol
30 ml Cocchi Americno
10 ml Sietes Misterios mezcal
90 ml sparkling wine

Add ingredients in order to an ice filled wine or collins glass. Briefly stir and add a slice of ruby red grapefruit for garnish.


IMG_6220Shaun Layton has helped to maintain a top notch bar scene in Vancouver for ten years, and since day one at Gastown’s L’Abattoir, where he is the Bar Manager. He also runs his own consulting company, designing bar programs and training staff locally and as far away as St.John’s, NFLD. Layton has competed and travelled throughout the USA and Europe, touring distilleries, breweries and bars. He was recognized in 2012 as the Bartender of The Year by Vancouver Magazine.


FIELD TRIP #606 | On Drams Of Ardbeg And Drinking Songs On The Scottish Isle Of Islay


by Shaun Layton | Islay is a dream trip for whisky fans. It’s a small island – the southernmost of the Inner Hebrides (population 3,000+) off the coast of Scotland – about a 30 minute puddle jump from Glasgow. Its main industries are malt whisky, agriculture and tourism. Some people visit for the bird-watching, while others want to tour the Islay Woolen Mill, which dates back to 1833 and still uses huge old machines to make tartans. They remain the Royal Family’s go-to producer and help the wardrobe departments on films (eg. Braveheart).

But when you really come down to it, Islay is about whisky. Full stop. It’s world famous for its deliciously peated brown stuff.

On a recent visit with wingman/friend Keenan Hood (bar manager The Keefer Bar), we were taxied into town by a rather jolly cab driver, an Islay native to the bone. He was my kind of people. Upon discovering we were there to tour the distilleries he graciously pulled out a sample of 35 year old Ardbeg and insisted we all take sips. The generous act was a bit of foreshadowing. Every Scot we met on our trip was equally hospitable.

We stayed at the Bait & Tackle, a cozy little B&B in the small port town of Port Ellen, which is within stumbling distance of such legendary distilleries as Ardbeg, Lagavulin, and Laphroig. The B&B’s hostess, Mary, makes the best Scottish breakfast in all the land (black pudding, sausage, stew tomatoes, mushrooms, toast, bacon, eggs, baked beans, hash browns – the full deal). Port Ellen itself is a charming place with an intoxicating smell, a blend of ocean seaspray and burning peat. Unforgettable.

Across the road from the harbour is a simple, unassuming-looking pub – The Ardview Inn – and on this particular Sunday it was loaded with locals singing Scottish drinking songs. The songs stopped as soon as we walked in, however. The chaps in the bar took one look at us and said, “You two are way too posh to be in here. Where you from?” They insisted we join them and they buy the first round when they learned we were Canadian. It was such a cliche moment that I thought it could have been a set up, but alas it was just more of the same genuine hospitality. (If you ever make it to the Ardview and meet a mystical character that goes by the name of “Murphy”, by the man a drink or two and get him to sing.)

On to the whisky. Our tour was focused on Ardbeg, though we were also able to visit Laphroig, Lagavulin, and Bowmore (if you wanted to, you could see all eight distilleries in two or three days). On your way to Ardbeg, cattle and sheep literally rule the roads and hills, so be careful as they cross wherever they please. The distillery sits right on the rocky shoreline. The location might be pretty (and boy, is it ever!), but it’s also crucial for the aging process as the sea air blows into the warehouse where the whisky sleeps.

Upon arrival, we toured the grounds with a keen young guide who loved chatting scotch. Ardbeg was founded in 1815 by John McDougall, but illegal distilling had been going on at the site well before then. By the late 1800’s, the distillery was producing over a million litres of whisky per year. In those days the trade was a lot more labour intensive. For example, over 60 workers were needed in production back then. Now, it’s about 16 people. A lot of this has to do with modern day technology, and the fact that the malting process is now done at Port Ellen by a company that takes care of the malting process for a number of distilleries on the island.

By 1911, Ardbeg was registered as a trademark, and the distillery was again owned by the McDougall family (it had changed hands a few times since opening). It stayed family-owned until 1977 when Canadian company Hiram Walker stepped in. This was not a good direction for the brand as production went way down. Dark days loomed. The distillery was shut until 1987 when Allied Lyons stepped in and purchased the brand. But once again, in 1991, the doors closed and the stills were turned off. There was light at the end of the tunnel, however, as in 1997 the Glenmorangie Co. purchased the brand. This was the Renaissance moment for the prided malt. Within a couple of years the old malting floors were turned into visitor centres and a restaurant (that arguably cooks the best lunch on the island) was opened. The whiskies were winning awards, production was climbing, and malts like the flagship, peat-forward Ardbeg 10 yr and the beauty Uigeadail (named after the lake where the water is sourced) were established.

By 2005, LVMH (Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton) added The Glenmorangie Co. to its portfolio. The distillery was now back to its glory days hitting highs of over a million litres of whisky, the only difference being that the old malting floors were now the visitor centre. In the last decade, Ardbeg has gained a massive following and their unique releases sell out all over the world every year. If you are lucky enough to go to Islay, be sure to pick up their festival bottle, a yearly release that coincides with the island’s annual whiskey celebration. Every distillery does a special release that is only available for purchase on the island.

Our tour included a walk of the whole distillery. The majority of the malt comes in at a whopping 55 ppm (Phenol parts per million), which is the highest peat content on the island. At the moment, Ardbeg receives over 72 tonnes of malt per week. When it arrives, it’s put through the very rare and traditional Boby mill that lives at the distillery. This turns the malt into grist. The grist will be loaded into a huge mash tun, where water will be added three separate times at different temperatures to maximize sugar extraction. All waste from this process is turned into local cattle feed for some very lucky cows. The wort, as it now is called, will sit in huge wash backs made from Oregon pine, which is the best wood for the fermentation process. After yeast is added the magic process of fermentation begins. It takes over fifty hours. This is longer than most because of the higher than usual ppm. The “beer” is now at about 8% ABV (alcohol by volume). Two distillations follow. The first – through the wash still – condenses the liquid into vapour and then back to liquid state. This goes to the spirit safe where the distiller can monitor the proof and quality of the young spirit, which is now at about 24% ABV. The distillate now travels to the spirit still where the heads and tails (the parts of the distillate that are of low quality and possibly toxic) are cut out and the heart of the second distillation comes off at about 76%. This is reduced in the Intermediate Spirit Receiver to casking strength, which is 62.5%.

That was a distilled version of the process. It’s a lot more complicated, but I don’t want to get too nerdy. We were lucky enough to see the aging warehouses, too, which for me is always the best part of a distillery tour. This is where the magic happens – where the whisky sleeps for a minimum of ten years. It’s so quiet, and the smell of the wood and the young and old malts is just so serenely breathtaking. The initial resting period is done in used bourbon casks (prized for the quality American oak) whose charred interiors add great flavour and texture to the whisky. From there, different impressions of the malt are finished off in different casks with sherry butts and French oak being the most popular choices. After aging, the whisky will be cut with water or bottled and barrel-proof, and the next stop will be your glass. Cheers!



IMG_6220Shaun Layton has helped to maintain a top notch bar scene in Vancouver for ten years, and since day one at Gastown’s L’Abattoir, where he is the Bar Manager. He also runs his own consulting company, designing bar programs and training staff locally and as far away as St.John’s, NFLD. Layton has competed and travelled throughout the USA and Europe, touring distilleries, breweries and bars. He was recognized in 2012 as the Bartender of The Year by Vancouver Magazine.

DIVE BARS | Loving Cheezies And Pacificos After Work At “The Brickhouse” On Main St.


by Shaun Layton | “The Brickhouse? Wait, where’s that?” That’s the reply you’d likely get if you mentioned one of my favourite dive bars in the city. Still, on occasion, you might just get an enthusiastic “I fucking love that place!” in response. And for good reason.

The Brickhouse, located on Main St. between East Georgia and Union, has been pouring beer and whiskey to DTES, Chinatown, and Strathcona locals for around 25 years. It’s definitely one of my “go to” spots for an after work solo pint, a game of pool with the lads, or a stop on the list if I’m touring out-of-town industry friends around town.

When you walk in on busy nights you’re greeted by a hostess at the front door. On slow nights, you can enter through the back in the alley by the Jimi Hendrix shrine. Old brick arches carry you through the cavernous space through to the main room, where you’ll be delighted by the character bar. Expect big fish tanks, lava lamps, shitty old red couches, pool tables, dart boards — it’s pure magic. One should never be bored sitting in this spot; the walls are covered with so much nostalgia. I’m not sure what the space used to be, but let’s hope it’ll never be anything else. It has such an interesting layout.

The atmosphere is incredible during either busy or slow, and the service is as adequate and genuine as it needs to be (as sure a sign of a great bar as there is). I recently visited a new self-styled “neighbourhood dive” and experienced quite the opposite. The place was empty (early on a Sunday) and the cool kid staffers couldn’t have cared less about the four guests in the bar. Service was non-existent. But perhaps that’s what they were going for, that whole “you should be honoured to be in such a cool bar” vibe. Alas, this isn’t Bushwick, or whatever part of Brooklyn they were trying so hard to emulate. That shit doesn’t fly in Vancouver.

That being said, a good dive bar should never be concerned with doing anything especially well, except keeping glasses full, music flowing, and me (the customer) coming back. The Brickhouse does exactly that, all while being laid-back and completely unpretentious. The two bartenders I’ve encountered are a younger lady who’s been there for over 8 years, and the owner, “Leo”, whose reputation precedes him in industry circles. Both are great bartenders, but only one is a legend.

The younger lady is very friendly, remembers what you drink, and keeps ‘em coming. Leo, one the other hand, is just something else altogether; a three-way cross between Seattle’s favourite bartender, Murray Stenson (pouring for over 30 years), a very regimented and stern blackjack dealer, and the soup nazi. Leo epitomizes efficiency; he doesn’t even look like he’s moving that fast (he isn’t), but every move he makes is calculated and with purpose. He just gets things done. On a Friday night, watching this guy take orders from the weekend warriors is something else!

I prefer the place early week, and so should you. On a quiet Sunday you’ll find locals reading books, out-of-towers (who must have cool friends who told them about it), and industry staff enjoying their “weekend”, such as they are. A B & T crowd kinda spoils the joint on Fridays and Saturdays, but that’s true of most places worth going to city-wide.

Oh, I nearly forgot! The food. A great selection of bags of chips is on offer here; my favourite being a bag of Cheezies to go with my Pacifico. It’s the perfect combo as I wind down after work, listening to the oldies rock ‘n roll soundtrack. If you haven’t been before, bring only your worthy friends, and don’t tell too many people. Places like The Brickhouse need to stick around!

IMG_6220Shaun Layton has helped to maintain a top notch bar scene in Vancouver for ten years, and since day one at Gastown’s L’Abattoir, where he is the Bar Manager. He also runs his own consulting company, designing bar programs and training staff locally and as far away as St.John’s, NFLD. Layton has competed and travelled throughout the USA and Europe, touring distilleries, breweries and bars. He was recognized in 2012 as the Bartender of The Year by Vancouver Magazine.

DRINKER | Welcoming Patio Season With The Civilised Sipping Of Proper Pimm’s Cups


by Shaun Layton | Rejoice! Patio season is finally here, and though most of the better cocktail bars in the city don’t have patios, you can still order a Pimm’s Cup just about anywhere, or easily make one at home. I have fond memories of hanging out in pubs in London watching the odd punter walk away from the counter with a Pimm’s in hand to drink it on a street corner. On a hot day the pubs spill outside onto the curbs and there are no whistle-blowing inspectors ruining all the fun. Maybe one day it’ll be the same in Vancouver. And…maybe not.

In early 1800’s London, “Fruit Cups” (a mix of spirit, wine, spices, fruit) were sold as tonics with digestive health benefits. They were quite posh at the time. The enterprising James Pimm ran the Oyster Bar of Lombard Street, and his recipe got so popular that he had couriers on bikes selling it to other bars around the city. His highly secret recipe consisted of gin, quinine, fruits, herbs, and spices. In 1865, he sold the business to Frederick Sawyer, who sold it fifteen years later to the then Lord Mayor of London, Horatio Davies. Davies capitalized on its popularity and opened a chain of Pimm’s Oyster Houses.

The marketing around Pimm’s has always been playful and a reflection of the times. One funny slogan during bad economic times read: “We had to let the west wing go, but thank heaven we can still afford our Pimm’s”. Pimm’s continued strong until the 1970’s and 80’s when a lot of classic cocktails met their doom, along with fresh juices, etc. Guinness acquired the brand in 1986, and then merged with spirits giant Diageo ten years later. This is when the once iconic elixir made a comeback, as a “Hooray Henry” type ad campaign around the slogan “Pimm’s O’clock” emerged…

Pimm’s is the symbol of summer cocktails in England. The Kentucky Derby has the Mint Julep, and Wimbledon has the Pimm’s Cup. Every summer over 80,000 pints are sold over the two week period at the London tennis club. If you’re listening Diageo…we want the canned RTD (Ready To Drink) Pimm’s and lemonade on this side of the pond! It’s also the house favourite at the famed Napoleon House in New Orleans, where the owner (in the 1950’s) said that he didn’t want his patrons getting too hammered.

So, what to do with it? Classically, Pimm’s is served tall, with lots if ice, fresh fruit and lemonade. My recipe own is a couple ounces of Pimm’s, lots of ice, tall glass, cucumber slices, orange and lemon slices, and ginger beer. Others may want to try ginger ale, or even sparkling wine. The goal is a fun, no hassle, good-looking and refreshing highball-style drink with low alcohol. At parties, if you come equipped to whip up a batch of Pimm’s, you’ll be a lot more popular than the 7 layer dip guy!

A good tip is to let the fruit sit in the Pimm’s for a few hours in the fridge so the flavours can infuse. The best Pimm’s in Vancouver can be found at Pidgin in Gastown, where Barman Justin Darnes (yup, he’s English!) mixes his own Pimm’s recipe. What I love is how he dices the fruit, and the quality crushed ice they use. So with Wimbledon and the World Cup approaching, lets raise a glass to England!

A quote from Justin and his recipe below:

“The key to a good Pimm’s is fruit and plenty of it, this is not where you want to be penny pinching. Strawberries and cucumber are the absolute bare-bones, but if you really want to make a great one, you have to add mint and orange slices. I make mine with crushed ice and mix it hard with a spoon, I’m using fresh lemon juice and simple syrup and the dilution created when using crushed ice gives you a sublimely chilled lemonade to bring the Fruits, and of course Pimm’s alive.”


1/2 strawberry (chopped), 1 inch cucumber (chopped), 5 mint leaves, 1 wheel orange (in quarters)
20ml Lemon juice
7.5ml simple syrup (1 part water, 1 part sugar)
60ml Pimm’s

Build ingredients in an ice filled collins glass. Muddle through with crushed ice like a mojito, mix everything evenly throughout the glass. Garnish with lemon zest and a mint sprig.

SEEN IN VANCOUVER #497 | The “Barate Kid” Cocktail Competition At The Keefer Bar

by Shaun Layton | I was one of 16 bartenders invited to participate in the third annual Barate Kid Bartending competition at The Keefer Bar this past Monday, May 19th. It is what the majority of Vancouver bartenders consider to be the best competition of its kind, and I was glad to be in the mix again. If you recall, Josh Pape won the inaugural in 2012 (representing The Diamond) and Ben Champlain won it last year (representing Boneta).

The idea for it started when co-creators Keenan Hood (Bar Manager at The Keefer bar) and David Greig (my former sidekick/Jude Law lookalike at L’Abattoir) were getting tired of the same old competitions. Cocktail comps tend to drag on for hours, get way too serious, and the amount of homemade bitters, cedar-aged Chartreuse, barrel-aged moustache wax, and bow-tied bartenders can be a bit much. They’re not always the way every barkeep wants to spend their night off. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of these competitions are great and I have personally competed in many (and traveled the world doing so), but sometimes they just end up being like ego-stroking meetings of the Mutual Admiration Society, with the same old judges and the same top three finishers. So David and Keenan thought, I wonder how all these people would fair if they just had to make the drinks we all make on a day to day basis in a packed bar, a la minute, while being judged on timing, taste, and Barate skills (a mix of showmanship, style, technique, cleanliness, etc)?

The response, of course, has been incredible. This year saw a $50 buy in, winner take all, bracket-style competition. It was a one-on-one format where the judges would call out 4-7 classics. From the get-go, it was on!

It was so rad seeing guys like Nick Devine (Cascade Group), Steve da Cruz (The Parker), and Jacob Sweetapple (Absolut Vodka) come back behind the bar and throw down! A good mix of the new brigade also showed well (Grant Sceney of the Fairmont, you better watch your back). As far as I know, there was even a waiting list of people who wanted to compete, just in case there were any no-shows. Other competitors were JS Dupuis (Homer st Cafe), Evelyn Chick (Blue Water Cafe), Robyn Gray (Hotel Georgia), Cooper Tardivel (Hawksworth), H (Notturno), Josh Pape (Wildebeest), Gezza McAlpine (The Keefer), Dani Tatarin (The Keefer), Yours Truly (L’Abattoir), Jay Browne (Calabash), Ben De Champlain (Former Boneta), and Thor Paulson (Wildebeest).

This was by far the most fun bar-related event ever thrown in Vancouver (and probably the rest of Canada, too). The place was packed out the door and into the empty street from 5-11 on a long weekend Monday. Keeping spirits high were little side comps (free pour contests!), a mini back bar to help hydrate all the off-duty barkeeps not competing who showed up to watch, and a ridiculous DJ playing 80’s tracks from The Karate Kid soundtrack. Even the judging panel was great: Vancouver bar guru David Wolywidnyk; former Vancouverite and now owner of Canon in Seattle Jamie Boudreau (he’s so hot in Germany right now, even bigger than Hasselhoff), and Corby rep (ex-bartender) Casey Mackay, who generously donated a lot of booze for the event.

Highlights from the opening rounds included H dawning his high heeled boots (don’t ask), the Aussi vs Aussi matchup of mentor and student (Sweetapple vs Sceney), #BarateGate2014 Layton vs Tarvidel (wherein the scoring was originally counted incorrectly), and James Iranzad (natch) running a Vegas-style racket.

In the end it was down to Josh “cooler than the other side of the pillow” Pape versus The Keefer’s own Gezza “is this guy on P.E.Ds?” McAlpine. Gezza ended up taking the title in a performance that was fast, efficient, and with spot-on drinks. All in all, it was a totally legit comp. There was a clear winner, no tears, and most important of all, everyone had a great time on their day off. Cheers to Keenan and the Keefer Bar crew for this awesome competition. You should take it national!


DRINKER | How To Build An Excellent Home Bar, One Drink (And Five Bottles) At A Time


by Shaun Layton | Customers often ask me for guidance on building a home bar. My answers invariably depend on how much they drink at home, or how many deadbeat roommates they have, but the truth of it is that it can either take a long time to build or be done in a few trips to the liquor store. Basically, what I tell people is this: build your bar one or two drinks at a time.

This is the second in a series of posts on building a home bar (read the first here), so you might remember that the brands I choose aren’t necessarily the best in their respective categories. I’m just trying to use unique and readily available cost-efficient bottles. So here we go…

6. Buffalo Trace Bourbon | A great whiskey for “strong and stirred” drinks. It has enough of a backbone at 45% alcohol, yet it’s still elegant enough to enjoy on its own. It’s also priced decently at $41.99. Try it in a Boulevardier.

7. Punt E Mes Vermouth | An Italian sweet vermouth that has a bitter finish. The name translates as “point and a half”, which could refer to the fact that it’s one point sweet and a half point bitter. In my opinion, it’s the best bang for your buck sweet vermouth out there. You can easily find a bottle at private stores for around $30.

8. Luxardo Maraschino liqueur | I recently wrote about this great buy and it is now a LISTED product at the LDB! I’m taking full credit for that. Buy a bottle for $26.99. It will last you a while, as most recipes only call for tiny amounts.

9. Pierre Ferrand Dry Curaçao | This triple sec is made primarily from orange peels and Ferrand Cognac. It won “Spirit of the year” at the 2013 Berlin Bar show and is by far the best in show on the market. It’s great on its own, but even better in a Sidecar. Pick one up for around $48 the next time you’re in a private liquor store like Legacy or 16th Street.

10. Peychaud’s Bitters | Essential for one of my favourite cocktails, The Sazerac. Originally made in New Orleans, they are now made at Kentucky’s Buffalo Trace Distillery, where they make a lot of other magical things, too. It’s not easy to find here, but you’ll likely find success at the Modern Bartender in Chinatown. If you can’t any there, some barkeeps buy them in the US, get them shipped to Point Roberts P.O. boxes, or buy them off Amazon through private sellers…did I mention they are essential? If stuck, Bitter Truth Creole is the closest match and can be had for $8 to $14.

With your home bar now expanded, it’s time to make a drink… Read more

DRINKER | On Crafting The Classic Los Angeles Spring Cocktail, The “Brown Derby”


by Shaun Layton | As the seasons change, so do our choice of cocktails. With Spring is upon us, our tastes go from dark, strong, and stirred cocktails to those that are bright, refreshing, and shaken. Enter the Brown Derby cocktail…

Hailing from Hollywood in its golden years, the Brown Derby is one of only a few memorable drinks to have graduated from Southern California. Though not widely known for having a craft cocktail scene, LA did indeed have one, and if you know where to go, it still has one (avoid the “gimme a Goose and Red Bull, chief!” places that are a dime a dozen and check out place like The Varnish, The Roger Room, and Seven Grand).

The Brown Derby cocktail was named after the the famous hat-shaped watering hole in Hollywood that was founded between-the-wars by Wilson Mizner. The funny thing is that it got its name at another joint – the competition, so to speak – another LA celeb hotspot called The Vendôme Club, where stars like Canadian-born Mary Pickford and partner Douglas Fairbanks were regulars (they both also have cocktails named after them, but that’ll be another article one day). Legend has it that one night, Herbert Somborn, an ex-husband of Gloria Swanson, remarked how one “could open a restaurant in an alley and call it anything. If the food and service were good, the patrons would just come flocking. It could be called something as ridiculous as the Brown Derby…”

The Savoy cocktail book has a cocktail called De Rigueur that predates the Brown Derby and has the same ingredients, so purists (and nerds) may call the latter a copy. But you know what? It’s got a great story, so I’m sticking with it. Learn how to make it after the jump… Read more

DIVE BARS | On Cold Beer & 80′s Mash-Ups At The West End’s Mythic “Bayside Lounge”


The magic words “a good dive bar” might sound a little oxymoronic to most people fond of nights out, but we tend to like dive bars just as much – if not more – than cocktail bars. This new series will shine some light on bars in Vancouver that are great to drink in on any day or night of the week but are all too often overlooked on account of their decor, “dive” reputation, or location (usually all 3).

by Shaun Layton | Hidden upstairs above the corner of Denman and Davie is The Bayside Lounge. Their website claims that The Bayside is a “trendy martini bar” and “the place to see and be seen in Vancouver”. It’s statements like these – so incredibly way off! – that make me love the place.

First things first, any bar or restaurant that publicly claims to be the place “to see and be seen” is instantly taken off my radar, as they usually end up being the gathering places of Hummer-driving Ed Hardiots, bottle service chicks, and Jager bombers. Yes, you can get “martinis” here, but this is a victim of the “Martini List” craze I talked about in my Martini article. I’ll stick with a G and T or a cold beer, thank you very much.

There are many reasons why I love the Bayside, and not one of them involves food or drink. Don’t get me wrong, they have a decent list of pub-style appetizers that go great with cold beer, but it’s the neon sign that still glows all over the room on late nights that I love. I love that they’re open until 2am every night and until 3am on weekends. And I love the hell out of the sunken circular bar (one of the coolest in the city). I know a few of my barkeeps who have dreamt about taking over the bar and not changing much. It sort of reminds me of the legendary Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone in New Orleans. Though this one doesn’t slowly rotate in a circle while you sip a Sazerac, it’s still pretty swanky. I’ve even heard that there used to be phones on the tables…for what reason, I have no idea. The huge windows and banquettes that surround the room and offer a million dollar views are real beauties and probably vintage 1980′s. The stories they’d tell! Fair warning: it can be pretty magical to day drink here.

Exhausted industry staff, myself included, like to go to The Bayside after work, especially those times when all you need is a frosty beer and something deep fried. The best is the late nights when you look around the room and see the mixed bag of people it attracts while listening to a DJ spinning appropriate 80’s mash-ups. The staff are as classic as the decor, with most of them having been there for a while (they’re always prompt and personable).

And don’t forget about the view. It’s definitely one of the best in the city as it overlooks English Bay from an elevated vantage point. Overall, The Bayside is a great spot to relax with a sunset and watch all the people waiting in line for over an hour to sit at the other nearby restaurants that serve basically the same food. If only they knew!


IMG_6220Shaun Layton has helped to maintain a top notch bar scene in Vancouver for ten years, and since day one at Gastown’s L’Abattoir, where he is the Bar Manager. He also runs his own consulting company, designing bar programs and training staff locally and as far away as St.John’s, NFLD. Layton has competed and travelled throughout the USA and Europe, touring distilleries, breweries and bars. He was recognized in 2012 as the Bartender of The Year by Vancouver Magazine.

DRINKER | Building An Excellent Home Bar, 5 Bottles And 1 Quality Cocktail At A Time


by Shaun Layton | Something that I often get asked about is the building of a home bar. Depending on how much you drink at home, or how many deadbeat roommates you have, this can either take a long time to build or be done in a few trips to the liquor store. What I tell people is this: build you’re bar 1 or 2 drinks at a time.

This is the first in a series of posts on building a home bar, five bottles and one drink at a time. I will also provide some tips along the way, so please let me know (@shaunlayton) how your own home bar came together, share thoughts or photos, or ask any questions you like.

The brands I choose aren’t necessarily the best in their respective categories. I’m just trying to use unique, readily available, and cost efficient brands. So here we go…

1. Broker’s London Dry gin - A good London dry gin, which means a classic style of gin with a heavy juniper profile. I choose Broker’s because it has great value ($27.99) and it’s great for classic-style drinks like the Negroni.

2. Dolin Dry Vermouth – Essential for classics like The Martini. I choose Dolin, my favourite of its category. Located in Chambery, France, it’s been a producer of fine fortified wines since 1821. Dolin is well worth the $28.00 price tag. Tip: this is a wine, so please keep it capped in the fridge! You will have to go to a specialty store like 16th St. Liquor in West Van or Legacy liquor in Olympic Village to find your bottle.

3. Campari - A “potable” Italian bitter which is great for cocktails, or sipped on the rocks with a splash of soda and a slice of orange. At $26.99, a bottle should last you a while. People either love or hate Campari. It’s also fashionable, so a lot of who don’t particularly like it pretend to.

4. Rittenhouse rye – A good rye is essential for classic cocktails like the Sazerac. For me, American rye is best when mixing drinks. Canadian whiskeys are great in my opinion for sipping. Rittenhouse ($44.99) is 101 proof so it has a strong presence and spicy finish – ideal traits for a proper drink.

5. Angostura Bitters – The essential bottle of bitters for any home bar ($12.00). You will find this in any decent bar anywhere on the world. Seriously, if the bar you walk into doesn’t have any, turn around and start running! Literally hundreds of cocktails call for these bitters, which are made in Trinidad.



A strong, bitter, dry, bold cocktail. Serve to gentleman with beards and ladies who like Negronis.

45 ml Rittenhouse rye
25 ml Campari
25 ml Dolin Dry Vermouth

Stir ingredients with ice in a mixing glass then strain into a chilled cocktail coupe. Garnish with lemon twist.

IMG_6220Shaun Layton has helped to maintain a top notch bar scene in Vancouver for ten years, and since day one at Gastown’s L’Abattoir, where he is the Bar Manager. He also runs his own consulting company, designing bar programs and training staff locally and as far away as St.John’s, NFLD. Layton has competed and travelled throughout the USA and Europe, touring distilleries, breweries and bars. He was recognized in 2012 as the Bartender of The Year by Vancouver Magazine.

DRINKER | On Delicious Maraschino (The Adriatic Liqueur, Not The Freaky Garnish)


by Shaun Layton | The history of classic liqueurs is often more interesting than that of the cocktails they’re mixed into. Such is the case with Maraschino (Mar-a-skee-no), a liqueur distilled from Marasca cherries. It has nothing to do with those ghastly cherries of yore that sat atop cheap birthday cakes and still sit in the garnish wells of dive bars. The liqueur – said to be a favourite sip of Napoleon – is commonly made by distilling Marasca cherries, aging it in Finnish ash vats for around two years, then adding sugar and water to about 32% ABV (alcohol by volume). The famous straw wraps encasing the bottles were introduced in the 19th century to prevent breakage on ships (cases of the stuff were found in the wreckage of the Titanic).

In 1759, Francesco Drioli opened a distillery in Zara on the Mediterranean’s Dalmation Coast (now Zadar in Republic of Croatia). His liqueurs, especially Maraschino, became so popular that he was sending them all over Europe by the 1800’s. Soon enough, other cherry liqueur brands started to surface, among them Girolamo Luxardo (1821), and Romano Vlahlov (1861). Luxardo is the most common among cocktail bartenders today. Unfortunately, the city of Zadar was so heavily bombed during the Second World War that most of the distilleries (and workers) were wiped out.

Giorgio Luxardo, the only surviving fourth generation family member who worked in the distillery, rebuilt the Luxardo distillery in the Veneto region of the family’s home country, Italy. Today, they are one of the leading producers of liqueurs in the world, and the brand is still 100% family-run.

It should be noted that cherry liqueur is still being produced in Croatia. In 1946, on the spot that used to house the original Luxardo distillery, the Maraska brand emerged from the war’s ashes. They are the biggest brand still making the cherry liqueur in Croatia, employing over 150 people.



Maraska | Pronounced nose, stone fruit, overly sweet, subtle finish. Great when used in small amounts in drinks like the Martinez* (Gin, sweet vermouth, Maraschino, orange bitters). It’s particularly hard to find at the moment, so pick some up on your next trip across the border.

Luxardo | Dry, peppery, floral, and semi sweet with nice viscosity. Great for a drink like an Aviation (Gin, Maraschino, fresh lemon, creme de violet). This is available in any decent cocktail bar in Vancouver, or at specialty liquor stores (eg. 16th St. or Legacy).


* Go see H at Notturno for a great Martinez.

DRINKER | On Wild Kentucky Pilgrimages And Making The Classic Seelbach Cocktail


by Shaun Layton | When most of the people I know are asked if they like bourbon and Champagne, I know that their answer is going to include a mention of the Seelbach cocktail. The legendary Kentucky hotel that gave the drink its name has a special place in my heart. I’ve been fortunate enough to visit the historic beauty a few times in the past, one of which was with Scout’s editor and some fellow barkeeps four years ago (watch the evidenceo). My head nearly exploded when I first saw the selection of American rye and bourbon inside the main floor bar!

The hotel itself is a lot more famous than the cocktail. The Seelbach was opened in 1905 by brothers Otto and Louis Seelbach. They had a vision of old world European hotels, importing materials from all over; marbles from France, linens from Ireland, and rugs from Turkey. The hotel sits on Muhammad Ali Way, about a block from the museum honouring the pugilist hero from Louisville.

Many notables frequented the hotel, including American writer F. Scott Fitzgerald. He adored the place, not to mention its bourbon and selection of cigars. His experiences and run-ins with prohibition bootleggers like Cincinnati mobster George Remus inspired characters and scenes for his masterpiece, “The Great Gatsby”.

The Seelbach has a network of hidden tunnels and rooms, and it was a major hangout for Al Capone and his crew during Prohibition. A cool story on the hotel’s website claims Capone had a large mirror from Chicago sent in so he could watch his back during high stakes poker games.

Until 1995, when a hotel manager rediscovered the recipe, The Seelbach cocktail was all but forgotten. It was created in 1917, and lost some time during Prohibition. The hotel was reluctant to release the recipe until bar legend Gary Regan convinced them to let him publish it in his book, New Classic Cocktails.

The Seelbach
1 oz Bourbon (I use Buffalo Trace)
1/2 oz Triple Sec (I use Pierre Ferrand Dry Curacao)
7 Dashes Angostura Bitters
7 Dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
5 oz Champagne
orange twist garnish

Method | Briefly chill the first four ingredients by stirring on ice, add to a chilled champagne flute, top with Champagne (or a dry sparkling wine), garnish with an orange twist.

The recipe doesn’t call for chilling the ingredients, but I think this is necessary for a cold and balanced cocktail. I really enjoy serving this as a “gateway” cocktail for drinkers who claim they don’t like bourbon. It works like a charm every time. Don’t be alarmed (as I first was) at the amount of bitters; somehow everything magically comes together. Although Peychaud’s can be hard to find, there is no substitute (Bitter Truth Creole is close), so get some while travelling in the US or at The Modern Bartender in Chinatown.

DRINKER | On Where You Can Score A Well Made Classic ‘Gibson’ Martini In Vancouver


by Shaun Layton | I guess I better start this whole writing about liquor and bars thing with one of my favourite cocktails, The Martini. By that I mean an ice cold mix of gin, dry vermouth, and maybe a dash or two of bitters served in a small cocktail coupe or V shaped “martini” glass.

I used to get all worked up when someone would ask to see our “Martini List”, expecting an assortment of neon coloured 6 oz flavoured vodka-based, sweet-on-sweet cocktails. I still want to make an actual Martini List one day with an assortment of proper Martinis and Martini-inspired cocktails.

Examples of great martinis abound across the city. You can find the Vesper (Gordon’s Gin, Vodka, Kina Lillet, shaken and served with a long piece of lemon peel), the Fitty Fitty (Plymouth gin, Dolin dry, and orange bitters, lemon twist), the Martinez (Old tom gin, sweet vermouth, Maraschino, aromatic bitters, lemon twist), among many others. But for me it’s always the Gibson, which has an especially cloudy history. One story claims that a barkeep at the Player’s Club in New York was challenged by a patron to improve on his regular Martini. The very resourceful (or uninspired) barman simply switched the garnish from an olive to a pickled pearl onion, and thus the Gibson was born. Another story sees an investment banker during the three martini lunch days who would tell the bartender to make his martini with water and garnish it with an onion so that he could could tell the difference between it and those garnished with olives and stay sober as his clients got hammered, allowing him the advantage when closing deals.

Such tales are what make cocktails and bars so interesting and enjoyable to me. Many are myths, of course, or are so riddled with inaccuracies (the dates are wrong, etc.) as to be comical. But please, never tell me that I’m wrong when I’m telling one, and the next time you overhear a bartender telling his or her guests a story, don’t jump in with a correction. They’re just stories, so put down the smartphone (on Wikipedia) and leave it at that to enjoy the bar and the conversation!

When making a Martini, there are a few key points. First off, get to know your gins. Some are good for G and T’s and some are best for Martinis. Personally, I like Tanqueray 10 or Plymouth in my martinis. Also, keep your vermouth in the fridge (it’s a wine after all). And always stir, never shake, that is unless it’s a Vesper. Oh, and always garnish with onions or olives on the side, because the second they are dropped in the cocktail they change the flavour irretrievably.

I always order a Gibson; a dealer’s choice of gin, dry (I like a bar spoon of vermouth), and classically garnished with a pickled onion or two. The quality of the onion is a big deal for me. I love bars that have great onions, especially those that make their own! In the photos above, you can see some recent evidence of this affection: #1, a dealers choice Martini at the Fairmont Pacific Rim (No. 3 gin with regular pickled onions made ice cold and perfect by barman Todd); #2, a Gibson martini at my home bar, aka Bar SL (Tanqueray 10 gin, Dolin dry, SL’s picked onions); #3, my thermometer spoon, available here; #4, a dealer’s choice Martini at Blackbird (Hendrick’s gin, made with housemade pickled onion strings); #5 a dealer’s choice Martini at Hawksworth (Plymouth gin, Cocchi Torino, w regular pickled onions made by barman Cooper). I’d also recommend that you check out The Pourhouse in Gastown (on live jazz night), South Granville’s West (David Wolowidnyk makes a great Gibson), The Gerrard Room at the Sutton Place Hotel (the room is old and awesome), and, of course, L’Abattoir, where I’d be happy to provide you with my best effort.

Here’s my own Gibson Martini recipe:

60 ml Tanqueray 10 gin
1 barspoon Dolin dry vermouth
2 pickled onions (I might sell these one day, but for now you can just come see me at L’Abattoir)

Add all ingredients with ice to a mixing glass, stir for 25-30 seconds until desired dilution and temperature, strain into a chilled coupe, garnish on the side 2 pickled onions.


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