by Shaun Layton | A few steps into
Taco Alley Blood Alley is Tacofino’s brand new and very busy Tacobar. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. And to keep a leg up in Vancouver’s trending taco scene, they’ve upped their beverage game.
On the bar is London transplant Justin Darnes (ex-George, Pidgin). The vision seems to be delicious drinks that compliment the food, with a focus on speed and execution. It’s smart to keep it fairly simple in a fast-paced environment that’s supposed to be laid back and fun. Also, with the ridiculous amount of great cocktail spots in Gastown, it’s equally wise to have a small, focused program with nothing overly complicated. Like I always say, if you don’t make every drink on your list at least once on a busy night, your list is too big.
The cocktail offerings are 10 deep. They’re all originals, albeit with classic inspiration. Mr. Darnes has pre-batched a fair amount of the ingredients. Doing this guarantees consistency (hopefully) and makes execution a lot easier a la minute. It also takes pressure off bar staff who don’t need to be “rockstar mixologists” – they can execute the menu and still tend a busy bar.
Thank god there’s a Margarita; a must on any menu where tacos figure highly. The Margarita-Fino has citrus-infused Tequila, fino sherry, fresh pressed lime and a vanilla salt rim. It’ll probably prove a popular one, as the vanilla salt really has a great aromatic nuance. The other standout is the Oaxacan Winter, with its clove-infused mezcal, lime, pineapple, and Campari float. Aside from its pretty looks, it punched with complexity.
It was also great to see a Michelada on the list; it’s a drink that doesn’t get enough love in our Caesar-loving city. A beer and a Caesar walk into a bar…the result is a beer cocktail with a ton of spice and a ‘lil clamato. The clamato is made in-house, by the way; Justin uses a secret blend of spices (oyster juice and fish sauce are involved) and combines them with the juice left over from all that delicious salsa that the back of house makes. Darnes has been tweaking this recipe for over a decade at different bars, and it shows.
All in all the list plays like a good album. Not to be a Back Seat Bartender, but one thing I would like to see on there is a Mexican highball; something like a Paloma (Tequila, lime, salt, grapefruit pop) or a Batanga (Tequila, lime, Mexican coke, salt). Neither is hard to execute, and they totally speak the language.
Bonus: the bar boasts a huge agave selection; everything from smoky Pechuga mezcals to Cognac-like anejo Tequilas. I’m told flights will soon be on offer, which is awesome. And if you’re just going in for a quick cheeky beer, the draught and bottle line up are on point. I love the $4 cans of Lucky lager, and I’m guessing all the industry staff in the neighbourhood will, too.
Shaun 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 2010 as the Bartender of The Year by Vancouver Magazine.