Pop-up patios were slim silver linings in the COVID-19 pandemic, but these two new bar concepts are solid-gold summer spinoffs that will continue into fall and beyond.
Location: 322 W. Hastings St., Vancouver (enter through back alley, from Hamilton Street)
Cuisine: Sinaloa-style aguachile, tacos and grill snacks
Additional information: Open Tuesday to Friday, from 5 p.m. till late, Saturday and Sunday from noon; no reservations; will be tented in mid-September.
For 12 years, Marcelo Ramirez had been trying to turn the narrow parking lot behind La Taqueria Pinche Taco into a patio. The temporary (soon-to-be permanent) licence finally came this summer – and will be winterized next month.
In partnership with Tara Davies, a long-time general manager at La Mezcaleria and Mexican aficionado who lived for seven years in that country’s northwest state of Sinaloa, they have transformed the formerly barren hole between two brick walls into a tropical oasis with twinkly lights, umbrellas, charcoal grill and a bright, yellow shipping container that serves as a tiny kitchen and standout bar.
It’s not easy to find (enter from the alley off Hamilton Street) or to secure a table (the waiting list is typically an hour long, although there is hope that reservations are coming soon).
But Chupito is absolutely worth seeking out – for the outstanding drinks, especially.
Your two-hour seating begins with a complimentary shot glass (chupito) of icy margarita or a diminutive version of the many complexly crafted and utterly delicious cocktails on the menu, which all feature grains, herbs or spirits from Mexico and a local twist.
The must-try Arandas is a silky, rosy, Tromba tequila milk punch that tastes like a Christmas-spiced version of Turkish delight. The hibiscus-tinted sweetness is held in check and perfectly balanced by the light heat of pasilla peppers, the citrusy elegance of orange-peel oleo syrup and the bitter earthiness of mamey sapote seeds grated overtop.
The cocktails are largely low waste (the bar-world equivalent of nose-to-tail cooking) and incorporate kitchen discards such as pineapple skins and husks for fermented tepache in the local kelp and Sheringham Akvavit Tepatli, or mole negro, which is infused into Licor 43 for the cold-brew Carajillo Coyoacan.
Ms. Davies used to work at Toronto’s renowned Bar Raval – the only Canadian bar to score a spot on the World’s 50 Best Bars list – and she brought in former manager Christina Wolkowski to create the initial list.
Unlike many consultants, Ms. Wolkowski stayed around long enough (one month) to train the entire staff. The standards have remained top-notch. The service is intuitive. And even on a gravel patio, the pop-up uses proper glassware and will gladly split cocktails if you’re in the mood for grazing.
Cocktails are Chupito’s calling card, but the short, all-B.C., low-intervention wine list is just as intriguing.
Do try, if available, the Rathjen Cellars Bunker White with guacamole and chips for a surprisingly transformative pairing that mellows the salt, accentuates the creaminess of the avocado and highlights the floral salinity of ortega grapes, which do so well on Vancouver Island.
Even better is the Hokkaido scallop Callo en Aguachile Verde, with its clean basil and ginger notes, which make the ripe, nectarine minerality of Anthony Buchanan’s skin-contact Snafu leap out of the glass.
I’m sorry if I’m getting too geeky about the drinks and I don’t mean to play down the efforts of the kitchen – which is focused on seafood ceviche for now, but will transition into warm pozole soups come fall, and is supplemented by the full menu from La Taqueria.
But it’s not often that you find such serious cocktails, amazing wine pairings and superb service in a Downtown Eastside alleyway.
Chupito is one of Vancouver’s best new bars and we have the city’s Temporary Expedited Patio Permit program to thank for it.
Location: 110-8351 Alexandra Rd., Richmond (Yue Restaurant)
Cuisine: Late-night dim sum and Hong Kong-style street-food snacks
Additional information: Open Friday and Saturday, from 5 p.m. to midnight, reservations through Instagram; operating until mid-October.
If you like the Richmond Night Market, but are not a fan of long lineups, crammed aisles and loud children, you will probably love Gong – a new, late-night, adult-only version of Hong Kong’s disappearing dai pai dongs.
The boisterous, hawker-style stall is now lit up in neon every Friday and Saturday night on the temporarily licensed patio of Yue Restaurant, an excellent Cantonese-style restaurant on Alexandra Road (a.k.a. Eat Street).
Jason Su, the restaurant owner’s son, and two high-school friends went on a boys’ trip to Asia two years ago. Entranced by the outdoor nightlife and old-school traditions of drinking bottled beer in ceramic bowls, they were determined to bring the experience back to Richmond.
Richmond’s temporary patio permit program gave them the opportunity. And after two weeks of planning, they opened @GongYVR to immediate TikTok acclaim in mid-July.
The service can be a little erratic. Mr. Su and his friends are running it all by themselves.
But the late-night dim sum and night-market specialties such as stir-fried clams with black bean and ginger and bouncy fish balls in curry sauce are first-rate.
Succulent siu mai is made with hand-chopped pork, shrimp spring rolls are light and crispy, the trendy corn rib niblets are spicy and smoky.
Dim sum, it should be noted, is an afternoon tea ritual that is not currently being served anywhere else in Metro Vancouver at night.
The early evening menu (before 8:30 p.m.) features more substantial à la carte dishes from the regular Yue menu, including deep-fried squab and sand-ginger chicken.
But the bustling late-night vibe and the bar’s wide array of Vita drink cocktails (airline-sized bottles of vodka and rum turned upside down and punctured into tetra paks) is really what this experience is all about.
There is nothing else like this in Richmond – for now. And it is exactly what this tumbleweed-strewn stretch of great restaurants needed to generate more excitement.
As a bonus, the general manger of Yue Restaurant says that he has seen a serious uptick in non-Asian clientele during its regular hours. And isn’t that what the temporary patio programs are all about?
Plan your weekend with our Good Taste newsletter, offering wine advice and reviews, recipes, restaurant news and more. Sign up today.