Every city over a certain size is home to some good cocktail bars – occasionally, maybe even a few great ones… What elevates a bar from ‘good’ to ‘great’? It’s hard to say, exactly. By my estimation, it’s some magical combination of character, culture, and design, plus professional and knowledgeable staff, and outstanding drinks. Vancouver has a handful of these – The Keefer Bar is one.
Not only has The Keefer been checking all the boxes on the ‘great bar’ checklist since it opened in 2010, it has also played a leading role in building our local cocktail culture by becoming a sort of ‘cocktail community centre’ – hosting industry-wide competitions and events, providing education opportunities, and fostering an overall sense of connectedness throughout the industry (the only, and inevitable, downside of The Keefer’s deserved success is that it can be hard to score a seat.)
Although the team that owns The Keefer also has a sister project in Mexico, called Acre, I know I can’t be the only one who’s been greedily anticipating the day when The Keefer would take some of its vision, dedicated following and tasty drinks to a second Vancouver location.
Well, that day has finally come, and they’re calling it ‘The Herrick’ Cocktail Club.
Keenan Hood and Cam Watt (partners and two of the driving forces behind The Keefer) signed on to take over the old Prohibition space in the basement of the Rosewood Hotel Georgia at 801 W Georgia St. almost one year ago, but officially started to work on the space mid-February of this year.
The vision for the Herrick is to be an elevated (but infinitely inviting) cocktail bar for all – cocktail lovers, hotel guests, travellers, and industry friends. As summarised by Hood: “We want to use fresh design and innovative service components to bring the city something it has not seen yet. Obviously, we will be focused on making balanced and consistent cocktails, but we’ll be throwing in some fun vibes and great live music as well.”
From removing ceiling panels to dismantling a massive spiral chandelier, transforming Prohibition into The Herrick will be a big job. To help them get there, Hood and Watt have brought on Leticia Castro. Castro has spent the last decade working at another great Vancouver bar: The Diamond.
Joining the Herrick team in the role of General Manager, Castro inarguably brings an impressive amount of practical experience with her, but it will be the intangibles of her personality (her imagination, warmth, and a disarming combination of natural grace and sense of humour) that I suspect will have the most profound impact on how The Herrick evolves. Together Castro and Hood share a deep and genuine love of hospitality that bodes well for the success of this project.
Case in point: the bar’s name, The Herrick, pays homage to a veteran Hotel Georgia employee, Fred Herrick, who was the hotel’s shoeshiner for 54 years. Although Herrick died in 1981, his reputation for providing friendly service and his ability to make each of his customers feel ‘seen’ left an enduring impression.
When asked what it was about Herrick that resonated so deeply with the team, Hood says, “He was an honest man doing an honest job, and he treated every customer with the same respect.” Castro agrees: “He embodied the most important aspects of hospitality; he was friendly, generous and warm to everyone, royalty or ‘average joe’… guest, visitor, or stranger.”
Like their namesake so famously did from a shoeshine booth in the hallway, The Herrick team wants every one of their guests to feel the embrace of hospitality from the moment they cross the threshold into the bar. This intention is also reflected in the design.
Which brings us to an especially exciting piece to The Herrick story: the involvement of award-winning Mexican designer Héctor Esrawe. Esrawe will be transforming the 3000 sq ft space into a tastefully appointed subterranean sanctuary that will also have the flexibility to become a venue for live music and ticketed events. Precisely how this will be executed is still under wraps, but I’ve heard the descriptions and seen renderings (the colour palette is sultry, the lighting is sexy, and the subtle design details that pay homage to the Art Deco history of the hotel are beautiful), and I’m excited.
I met up with Keenan and Leticia to hear about the project details as I took a tour around the space last week. Although still very much a construction site (work being done by Chris Lloyd and Belcarra Contracting, who also built La Tana & Pepinos, Nancy Go Yaya, Di Beppe), the pair walked me through the space and explained the vision step by step…
Entering off of Howe Street, guests will pass through a heavy set of wooden doors and descend an enclosed staircase, porthole windows providing glances of the room below. At the foot of the stairs, the space opens to a dark, rich interior that could feel cavernous without the thoughtfully considered and expertly designed layout to come. When the room is at capacity, this landing is where guests will be able to enjoy a cheeky glass while they wait to be seated.
Looking down the room’s length from this reception area, you can see the 40ft bar on your right. Behind the bar will be a custom fridge/freezer situation that will hold pre-frosted glasses, locked and loaded with custom ice (Kodama Ice Co, obviously). To the left of the room (opposite the bar) will be a mix of high-top, low tables, and luxurious wraparound booths on raised platforms. At the far end of the room, a door opens onto a separate, smaller room dubbed ‘Tokyo Bar’ (think highballs, a substantial Japanese whiskey collection, guest bartenders, private events, and a Shinjuku vibe). All told, The Herrick will have 199 seats.
The drink list has yet to be developed – such things take time. Besides, to ensure that all the key players are equally invested by making their mark on the menu, Castro and Hood are waiting for their lead bartenders to officially come on board before designing the cocktail list. When I asked the names of the two Co-Bar Managers who will be joining the team, I was told that it was still too early to announce. “All I can say,” remarked Hood, “…is that we are very excited with the team we have curated so far.”
My impression is that, when it all comes together (they’re aiming to open in July), The Herrick will be a sumptuous landscape of horseshoe booths and alcoves, with gentle light, arches and circular motifs that fold into one another – precisely the kind of place I’d want to sink into to enjoy a proper cocktail (and I do not doubt that there will be many to choose from).
As eager as I am to inhabit this idea, I’m also not going to get ahead of myself… Supply chain issues and the inevitable hold-ups associated with custom-designed finishing touches may ultimately be the details that determine whether or not the mid-July timeline is realistic. Still, my fingers are crossed.
It goes without saying that we’ll be reporting more on this as the project develops over the summer. As we wait, check out the photographs below and keep an eye on their Instagram feed here…