Christmas Cocktail Crawl IV: Smoke and Mirrors – Part I


Photos by Nicole Havers and Jorden Hutchison

“The real secret of magic lies in the performance.” – David Copperfield

Christmas is undeniably one of the most magical times of the year. Twinkling fairy lights reflect in small children’s eyes, dancing elves shimmy down chimneys to distribute electronic toys and bars of Toblerone, and families gather round garland-strewn trees wearing sweaters they wouldn’t otherwise be caught dead in.

Indeed, magic abounds during Yuletide – and sometimes you’ll find it in the most unexpected places. For the fourth annual Christmas Cocktail Crawl, we challenged bartenders across the city to design a gobletful of magic, a smoke-infused drink with an enchanting presentation rivalled only by that captivating and utterly memorable first sip. We asked for magic, for smoke and mirrors, and oh yes, they delivered.

Come with us and take a seat at the bar. There’s no wand-waving here, no bag of tricks. Just simple ingredients, an apothecary’s cupboard of worldly libations, and the conjurer behind the bar who whips it together and – abracadabra – reveals a potion worthy of David Copperfield himself. Ready to be wowed? Let’s begin.

Stop 1: Blacktail Florist

blackailWinter-white with impeccable décor, Blacktail Florist is Water Street’s new kid on the block – but the constantly refreshed cocktail list, balancing spirit-forward brews with palate-dancing sippers, is as seasoned as they come.

Cocktail Wispy Winter Smoke

Bartender Arthur Wynne

Tastes like… An approachable introduction to the world of smoky cocktails. Pick up your glass and inhale – you’ll get a waft of smoke on the nose, thanks to a liberal spray of Laphroaig scotch round the rim. The drink is a smooth, citrusy delight with hints of toasted chestnut tempered by velvet scotch and cognac.

What makes this cocktail magical? “Once you start sipping, flavours slowly emerge out of the smoke. The curiosity will make you want to keep drinking more.” – Arthur

Stop 2:

WildebeestStep into this dimly lit Aladdin’s cave and escape the dead of winter – you’ll cross into a world of unabashedly adventurous sipping. The bar shelves are stocked with liquid essentials sharing space with cerebral tomes like Le Mort d’Arthur. Take a seat and hunker down – you’ll be here awhile.

Cocktail “The Smoking Gun”

Bartender Adam Domek

Tastes like… Liquid smoke. The cocktail is served in a swing-top bottle filled with swirling clouds resting atop a sea of crimson. Open sesame and the drink appears, genie-style, in a puff of alder smoke. Order with Wildebeest’s killer smoked olives for double points.

What makes this cocktail magical? “The Smoking Gun was made for sharing, and the way it brings people together is pretty magical. My recommendation: gather a group of friends, order a few rounds and watch the magic show before settling in to enjoy the drink – and the company, of course.” – Adam

Stop 3:

BambuddaThe bar at Bambudda is perfectly situated for streetside people-watching – but once you start drinking and chatting with the engaging bar staff, the outside world will soon disappear. For a more intimate feel, head to the back of the restaurant where soft blue walls accented by low lighting fashion a splendid backdrop for smoke-filled sojourns.

Cocktail “The Powell Street Sour”

Bartender Tarquin Melnyk

Tastes like…A slightly more intense New York Sour. The drink is a beauty to behold with gradated crimsons and whites distinctively crowned by house-made vermouth air (yes, alcohol transformed into air – and that’s no illusion). Spiced brandy, BenRiach and a Cabernet float warm you from the inside while the whipped bubbles teasingly mock Vancouver’s winter rainfall. This is a cocktail that speaks.

What makes this cocktail magical? “We basically take alcohol and turn it into flavoured air – it doesn’t sound easy, and it’s not. People can’t replicate this at home. And I’m a firm believer you should order drinks that you can’t make at home.” – Tarquin

Stop 4:

chambarCall it “civilized debauchery 2.0”. Newly renovated Chambar retains the relaxed grandeur of the original, but the update has opened up the space into an airy and expansive palace. The cozy entrance lounge is enticing, but unless you’re cruising with a group resist the temptation and park yourself at the miles-long bar. You’ll want front-row seats to this spirited sleight of hand.

Cocktail “The Smoke Show”

Bartender Wendy McGuinness

Tastes like… Heaven, if heaven were trying to get you drunk. While your bartender crafts the drink using a smoke gun – a contraption that issues pillows of heady smoke directly into the cocktail – an incense-infused cloud wafts across the bar and into the restaurant. It’s almost comical to see the wave of heads look up, curiously sniffing the air. What is that? The spectacle continues as the drink is poured into a stately mason jar filled with cinnamon sticks and star anise and placed in the centre of the table with a few goblets for sharing. The first sip starts the adventure anew: smoked cinnamon bark and citrus tease the palate, chased by the rich flavours of scotch, Japanese plum wine and cherry. This drink is complex, multilayered and one hell of a treat.

What makes this cocktail magical? “The Smoke Show is very visual. It’s not just me who gets to experience it – the servers, other diners and everyone at the table gets to enjoy it, too. This cocktail is a spectacle from the first bitter I add to the drinker’s last sip.” – Wendy

Stop 5:
Blue Water Café

Blue-WaterEver-buzzing Blue Water is the perfect place to terminate tonight’s crawl, when you’re slightly buzzed, feeling good, and loose enough to splash out on a sumptuous dinner. The bar offers a prime perch from which to scope out the room for undercover celebrities, though the Raw Bar is pretty happening, too. End the night with a smoky bang by ordering oysters infused with Laphroaig – the subtle heat brings out the flavours of this stop’s cocktail.

Cocktail “Smoke on the Water”

Bartender Phil Tapping

Tastes like… What you’d swill while kicking back at a Hawaiian barbecue. Smoke on the nose and charred pineapple garnish preps the palate for an intense first sip, but instead you’ll taste smooth froth, hints of citrus from lemon and pineapple-infused chartreuse, and just a hint of Mezcal. Think of it as a tropical smoky sour – then quit thinking and drink.

What makes this cocktail magical? “There are no smoke machines here, no tricks or complicated ingredients. All you’re tasting is flavour from the spirits integrating with lemon and egg white. It looks like a standard egg white sour – but when you take a sip, you’ll taste the magic.” – Phil

Look for Part II of this year’s cocktail crawl next week. And in the meantime, try any or all of these cocktails, then snap photos and share your own experience of this holiday magic with the hashtag #christmascocktailcrawl. Merry Christmas!

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