Meet Lily Duong of New Mt. Pleasant Bar, ‘Friendlies’

Photo credit: Amy Ho

If you haven’t discovered Friendlies Bar at 208 E 12th Ave yet, here’s a rundown: tangerine and green colour scheme, quirky art and knick-knacks, cartoons playing on the tv over the bar, and a concise menu of cocktails made from freshly squeezed juices and housemade syrups, plus a few local beer taps.

Although the space has had many reincarnations over the years – it once housed the second location of local clothing boutique Nouvelle Nouvelle, and evidence remains of its former life as a Crossfit gym (note the wall of mirrors facing the bar) — since opening doors in mid-June, and despite its varied past and slightly off-the-beaten-track location, it already seems to have become a neighbourhood fixture… We encourage you to take a trip to the bar for a visit soon; but in the meantime, pull up a seat and get to know self-described “octopus woman” (co-owner, manager and bartender) of the new Mt. Pleasant hangout, Lily Duong:

First of all, for those who haven’t yet ventured into Friendlies, please describe the bar in ten words or less. Your friendly neighbourhood bar.

You’ve worked up quite a resume working at some very well-respected Vancouver establishments (Uva, L’Abattoir, Chickadee Room, Miku, Minami) over your 20 year industry career, so far. Why was now the right time for you to take the leap and open your own spot? In every bar or restaurant I’ve ever worked, I’ve mostly been part of the management team, so it wasn’t as large of a leap as I thought. I’ve always wanted to open my own bar, and do it simply – it really was just good timing. At the end of the day, all I want to do is make fun drinks in a fun environment.

How does your “dream” vision stand up to the reality of Friendlies? When I used to have really hard days, I would daydream about opening up a one-person shack on the beach and just schlanging drinks until I ran out of product. This is that dream realized, but without the beach and the physical labour of schlepping a shack.

Pandemic issues, supply chain issues, strikes – times are super tough, lately! And 20 years in any industry is a long time…What keeps you loyal to the industry you’ve chosen? You never stop learning in this industry. You find out more about yourself, how to pivot and get creative. I also find that this industry is less about myself and more about my audience. The person-to-person interaction is quite precious.

If you weren’t doing what you’re doing, what other career path can you see yourself pursuing? I often think about that and to be perfectly honest, I cannot imagine doing anything else. I get to be social, creative and make fun drinks.

It’s your first year of business and, as you mentioned to me, there are a lot of “firsts” on the horizon! Which one are you most looking forward to experiencing and why? First full time hire will alleviate a lot of burdens and open the doors for creative collaboration. After that, first pop-up with a guest bartender will be so much fun.

What has been the biggest learning curve so far? That I can’t do everything myself. Thankfully, I have great support from my co-owner, Regan (Back and Forth bar), who takes care of everything behind the scenes.

The Main Street/Mount Pleasant neighbourhood is already a pretty happening area with a slew of bars packed with ‘regulars’. How does Friendlies set itself apart from its neighbour bars? I think our cocktails and environment are very approachable. Plus, you can bring in your own food. Pizza parties and burritos and/or tacos from Maizal is very much a thing.

The neighbourhood is in seemingly constant flux – probably most notably and timely, in relation to the future Broadway Subway station; plus plenty of new residential buildings and chain businesses infiltrating Main Street. How do you see Friendlies evolving over the next 5 years? Being a part of someone’s daily routine is something quite special. I’ve typically worked in bars for 2-7 years at a time, so over time you see the same faces and become a spectator in all of their important life moments. Happy tears, sad tears, hugs and laughter. If we’re lucky, Friendlies could be that place – a social watering hole and a place to either start or end your night, or just a little interlude in between.

Think about an exceptional bar experience you’ve had as a customer, or your ideal customer experience. How do you plan on replicating or facilitating that at Friendlies? The places I’ve had the best experiences are the places I’ve felt like home. I want to be as friendly and unpretentious as possible. Just casual and fun and provide the best service possible.

It’s hard to believe it at the moment, but Fall is just around the corner! Which seasonal flavour or ingredient are you most looking forward to incorporating into your menu, and why? Figs and apple cider. I’m a sucker for both.


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