Bar hopping had us visiting the “Keefer Bar” unplanned and unannounced. We came in unexpectedly only to be delighted by an event night, with plenty of room for two more. This Friday evening’s festivities were hosted by “Disarono”, the fruity amaretto, with a characteristic bittersweet almond taste. This was the liquor that had me buzzing in my earlier twenties. They were here sponsoring a night of complimentary drinks and free appetizers. To promote their brand they was a large background banner set up outside for guests to use as a photo op, black and white balloons with the “Disarono” bottle logo printed on for decoration, “Disarono” embossed pillows in the lounge area for extra comfort, and “Disarono” stamped napkins that also served as coasters.
Be warned my photos are not of the highest quality, and no where near my best. In order to capture the night in pictures, without taking from the chill ambience of those around me, I kept my flash off. And like most late night bars this one too was kept dark. Too dark to capture colour, too dark for detail, and too dark for the perfect selfie. Though that didn’t stop me from taking what I could with my lowly iPhone 5.
There was just enough visibility to make out faces and shapes thanks to the light from decorative test tubes. These lamps were created by bundling several glass tubes together and suspending them from the ceiling at various heights. With them they each carried the same dim low voltage. This feature perfectly matched the rest of their traditional Chinese herbal practices meets western modern medicine theme. The room was a narrow corridor that stretched deep into the back. The front centred around the bar, with a long row of high stools fronting it. Behind worked two bartenders on either ends. They feverishly shook shakers, stirred mixes, squeezed fruit, and set beverages a blaze to keep up with the drinking demand.
Along with the multiple bottles of spirits, the shelves behind the bar were stocked ornamentally. Labelled glass apothecary jars stood on display. I couldn’t make out the contents of each, but figured pressed herbs and dried marine life was a good bet. The most unique of items that you can find commonly from any of the Chinese herbalist operating within the area. The bar’s back drop was also decorated with detailed drawings showcased on a light box. Fascinating sketches of the human anatomy. A look at the veins and arteries within a human hand, what the human skull looks like behind its skin, and the composition of a human male told through bone and muscle. Once again they well reflected the medicinal theme. Then slightly out of place was a paper fan adorned in Chinese paint brush strokes. Around the room were other doctor and hospital paraphernalia. In a corner on its metal stand hung an IV and catheter bag. And backlit X-rays helped shed some light in the shared washroom. Drinks were even mixed in science class beakers. They were certainly thorough with this unique theme. I have yet to see anything similar offered anywhere else in Vancouver. Though what would have sealed the deal would be staff in costume, though I am sure none of them would be too thrilled about that. Maybe bartenders in white lab coats with stethoscopes around their necks, and servers dressed as candy stripers with red and white aprons and smocks. I sure this is being done somewhere in Asia.
To left of the bar was a make shift stage. And tonight a local musician was performing his renditions of North American top 40′s. He used a guitar, a saxophone, and his mouth to strum, hum, and beatbox his own mash up and remixes. We soon discovered the game of guessing which song he was performing by closely listening to the background beats. The live music certainly added to the buzz of the room, but prevented any descent conversation between friends.
Seeing as this was our second stop of the night, we were no longer looking to eat, but here just to enjoy their craft cocktails. Shame as read amazingly. Though we were not too ashamed to take advantage of the complementary appetizers being offered. Deep fried shrimp spring roll, self dipped into a sweet and sour plum sauce. These were definitely made fresh, judging from the heated filling well stuffed into each roll, and the view of the kitchen from our barstool-ed seat. From where we sat we had an unobstructed show of the lone chef, who was in uniform, in his cubicle of a kitchen prepping. I wish we were looking to eat as the food listing was Chinese small plates meets shareable tapas fare. The perfect after dinner snacks to pair with your drinks. Meat skewers, dim sum, and dumplings. Vegetable fritters, duck sliders, and miso mushroom tacos. I definitely saw east meeting west.
The drinks menu was almost four times as large as the food one. With list after list of cocktails printed in tiny font it was hard to read and hard to choose. Though sipping on our complimentary “Disarono Sours” bought us some time. Who says no to free alcohol? Made with Disarono, fresh lime juice, sugar, and lime slices. Sweet and refreshing with a kickback of that distinct almond amaretto flavour.
Their drinks were referred to as a “list of remedies and curies” and the specials called “prescriptions”. And there were plenty under each category. Enough to have me looking at the two bartenders in awe. How were they able to retain all these drink recipes? How were they mixing in this in legible reading environment? How were their arms not tired of shaking and mixing drink after drink? We were lucky to score a seat right in front of one of the bartenders. He like the rest of the staff was looking dapper in a vest and tie over his patterned Oxford shirt. This view point allowed me unlimited photo taking opportunities as he prepared their specialty cocktails right before my eyes. Fruit peels were twirled, herbal leaves wree muddied, and drinks were set a blaze with sprints from a refillable travel perfume container. I suspect the latter was absinthe, as listed in a few cocktails.
We ordered a “Suzukake” with beefeater gin, nigori sake, lemon, simple syrup, kaffir lime tincture, absinthe, and shiso. It was only a spray of absinthe for taste and not for colour. A rich drink with multiple layers thanks to its abundant ingredients. The leaf was a nice touch as it added flavour and visual interest. And the “Hei Cha Pimms” with Pimms, shochu, lemon, Hei Cha kombucha, cucumber mint. Refreshing and light. Tasted on the sweeter side thanks to the shochu. I really appreciated the distinction in unique glass wear. It is the details and the doubles that make these drinks worth their $12 and $14 price tag.
Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I line up for it? – No.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
Would I suggest this for someone visiting from out of town? – Yes.
I appreciate a good theme, and there was effort put into this one. Plenty of careful thought and consistent propping gave the decor its unique flare. All together it had something to set it apart, something that had my head turning to take it all in. Whether at the bar watching the bartenders put on a show or in the lounge resting on seats lined with pillows, I could see myself having a good time here. Reading the food menu, their fusion take on bar favourites is right up my alley. Small bits and delicious bites worth revisiting when hungry. Then add in a roster of drinks that could having you trying something new for months this was a fine place to be. Not to mention they apparently have burlesque performances everything Thursday. And given the cramped quarters the dancers end up strutting on top of tables and gliding across the bar. Don’t deny your cravings.