Back in university, who didn’t love a good themed party? As we age, this idea paves the way for bars that follow the same path, but in, let’s say, a more mature, design-forward way. Cue the fake palm trees, the board games, and the fog machines—Vancouver’s themed bars serve up plenty of playfulness.
The Shameful Tiki Room
A classic among classics, The Shameful Tiki Room has a special place in the heart of many Vancouverites. Part of that might be thanks to its giant multi-person cocktail bowls, but the other part is certainly due to its kitschy, perfectly tiki decor, which has been lovingly collected by owner Rod Moore. If the weekly go-go dancing doesn’t entice, drink names like Suffering Bastard and Cobra’s Fang surely will. From tiki favourites to house specials, everything here is made better thanks to fake palm trees and other cheerful wares. This place is so popular that it takes reservations, and booking one is highly recommended.
Tiki Bar At the Waldorf
Then there is the Tiki Bar At the Waldorf, which reopened in December 2018—more than 60 years after it was first launched by former owner (and U.S. Marine) Bob Mills. Located inside the storied Waldorf Hotel on Hastings and Clark, this tiki extravaganza invokes feelings of year-round summer. Between the towering fake plants and the ceiling made to look like the starry evening sky, it is hard not to feel happy while sipping on a Freebooter Grog cocktail of house-mixed rum, house beer syrup, aromatic bitters, and fresh lime. Feeling more adventurous? Try the Lovegame, which comes with fig-infused gin, fresh-pressed galangal juice, cardamom bitters, soda, coconut sugar, and citric-saline solution, plus a separate shot of “The Love Elixir.” Paired with a token for the Love Game machine that stands nearby (are you Uncontrollable? Passionate? Wild?), it’s the ultimate jolly experience.
Are two tiki bars enough for one city? Apparently not, because Vancouver also has Sneeki Tiki, which is the first of its kind to inhabit the downtown core. Located at Granville and Helmcken, this bar is, as one companion describes it, tiki for the Granville strip. That means accessible food (vegetable gyozas) and fun Hawaiian-inspired drinks, plus a healthy dose of flashing neon lights. Bonus? Sneeki Tiki has a fabulous patio with outdoor bar that is sure to be a hot spot in the summertime.
Dark Manor Inn
Because life needs balance, The Shameful Tiki’s Rod Moore decided to add a little darkness to counter his Hawaiian sunshine. That resulted in the Dark Manor Inn, which opened in November 2018 to much fanfare. A timed fog machine at the entrance of the space immediately sets the tone, which, once eyes adjust, is enhanced with chandeliers, quirky artworks on the walls (some of which have a spooky twist), and appropriate knickknackery. Based on a fictional tale surrounding the poisoning of Sir Baron Rodney Seagrave in 1886, the bar serves up drinks like The Baron’s End (add in the “poison” from a separate corked vial); and many concoctions come with fun props, such as one served in a black goblet that could belong to Maleficent, and one that includes a flashing blue ice cube. Think of this as grandma’s scary attic, but chic and with better drinks.
UPDATE, July 2019: Dark Manor Inn has closed down.
Looking to pray or repent? Consider the church-themed bar Hail Mary’s. Warm lighting bounces off of the red walls and Virgin Marys that dot the small space, which is located at Broadway and Fraser across from Nada Grocery. The focal point of it all is a hollowed-out old-school television set filled with Catholic figurines and religious candles; the drink menu, meanwhile, carries on the theme with cocktails like The Holy Grail and Penance—not to mention a section dedicated to the Seven Deadly Sins (Old Fashioned Pride, anyone?). Though certainly a bit controversial, the inspiration for the decor of Hail Mary’s actually grew from the owners’ genuine respect for the beauty of religious imagery and iconography; Mary is a symbol of hope, after all. But drinkers, be warned: the washroom is a little Hellish.
The Black Lodge
Relocated to Broadway and Scotia after some good years at Fraser and Kingsway, The Black Lodge is a cozy space paying homage to David Lynch’s cult classic whodunit Twin Peaks. Guests can discuss who killed Laura Palmer while sipping on a cocktail called the Laura Palmer (vodka, black tea syrup, lemon juice, aquafaba, and bitters), or perhaps a tasty Fire at the Mill (rosemary-infused gin, sherry, Scotch, ginger, bitters, lemon juice). In a true homage to the Pacific Northwest (where the 1990 show was filmed), the walls are lined with snowshoes and plaid and the like, and the large booths have wooden roofs to make it feel like you’re drinking inside a winter cabin. Is this place a must-visit? As a wise person said with a smile: the answer is within the question.
Storm Crow Tavern and Storm Crow Alehouse
The so-called nerd bar of Storm Crow Tavern on Commercial Drive is a true haven for all things sci-fi and fantasy. That means goodies including figurines of Groot and Rocket from Guardians of the Galaxy; a signed, framed photo of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer cast; and endless board and card games to play. Order a craft beer and some expertly layered nachos and post up all night. Or for double the fun, head to the bar’s second location on West Broadway: Storm Crow Alehouse. Here, stare up at the miniature Millennium Falcon ship hanging from the ceiling and enjoy local beers among playfully-placed action figures and televisions screening classics like Labyrinth with David Bowie. Before heading out, stop for a “call” in Dr. Who’s telephone box.
From coconut infusions to blinking ice cubes, these bars offer some added punch to the regular going-out experience. Step into another world, and, if only for an hour or two, forget the one that exists outside.
Find a beverage and a bite.