Vancouver is known all too well for it’s delicious food scene. But did you know Vancouver is a hot-spot for some of the best craft cocktails in Canada?
Cocktails to give you all sorts of warm-fizzies in the most unique of rooms are giving us too many options to choose from come five o’clock.
Chinatown in Vancouver is an eclectic part of town recognized by the bar-scene to house the cities most unique rooms. The Chickadee Room, a 750 sqft cocktail bar adjacent to Juke Fried Chicken fills up fast in the evenings and for good reason. Sabrine Dhaliwal, Sommelier, Brand Ambassador, Beverage Director, bartender of the year and dog-mom to little havadoodle Ellie, Sabrine is a household name across Canada.
A Madonna in the industry, simply known as “Sabrine,” over the years the 34-year-old pours her inspiration not only with libations but on paper too. Chickadee’s monthly menu features Cocktails for a Cause, a 1$ donation from each is pooled to raise awareness to local communities needed a little extra help. DTES (Downtown East Side); WORTH; COAST Mental Health; Cystic Fibrosis Canada to name a few have been on the bar’s drink list for monthly specials. About 250$ per month is raised just by ordering one of the three specialty drinks off the menu.
Sadly, the neighbourhood has seen a turnaround in the last two years. Covid hit not only local’s wallets but their health too. “The neighbourhood is changing.”
Personally, I’ve noticed that a lot of the locals, the ones that are using, are getting younger and younger, and that’s really hard to see. I’m talking like 16-17 year old kids. You’re a kid when you’re 16, you know?” said Sabrine.
The segmentation between the wealthy and the poor has stretched and even the lower middle class is really teetering that line. Sabrine and Chickadee in the area are not the only business concerned, with inflation people are like, “Do I pay rent? Or do I eat?”
But bars are a place to escape; no matter what’s happening in your life, the little 80s inspired funky bar is just what you need…and the entire staff are ready to shake, stir and emulsify liquid gold all night long.
What’s something you picked up during covid and continue? I asked, her surprise came with a laugh, “a dog.” Ellie, the havadoodle has her own album “She’s so stinkin’ cute. Ellie loves the couch. She loves jumping on the bed. That’s a new discovery as well.” Apart from the little companion picking up a self-defense skill such as jujitsu was a no-brainer after five-years of boxing in the ring.
If there is one spirit I keep away from now it has to be tequila. “Why? Tequila’s delicious. Bad memory?” Sabrine laughed with me. I wanted to know what the trend was coming into this holiday season and the answer surprised me: low ABV. Low alcohol is the trend.
Low alcohol by trend. What! People are significantly drinking less and they still like to have the alcohol taste but not the feeling. I guess we have become a bit more health conscious! “I think a lot of people overdid it during the first year of the pandemic. I mean, I easily drink one [bottle] in a day,” Sabrine chuckled.
So, low ABV is the trend, but on the opposite side I learned that Sabrine has made more martinis recently then anything else. Patrons are coming back for the classics. They want clean, easy to drink spirits – without ice, a personal favorite.
“Definitely low alcohol is definitely trending. People are just being more aware and for a variety of reasons why people choose to drink less. But they still want to go out. They still want to have a good time. Maybe they know they’re going to go to three places and they’re like, “I can’t have three full drinks,” said Sabrine.
Lumette, a non-alcoholic spirit distilled like gin, made on the Island, is pouring off Chickadee shelves quicky. “And they’re really tasty. They taste just like gin, but the texture’s not the same because alcohol has a certain texture. It’s really fun to work with for making a non-alcoholic drink. So, it has great flavor. It just adds a whole depth of character when you’re making a drink. And just because you’re not having alcohol doesn’t mean you can’t have something delicious,” said Sabine.
Gin has been the continuous trend for 2022, what about 2023? “I think low ABV is going to continue. People are just more aware. And people who are choosing to drink, they’re drinking better. They’re okay and they’re like, ‘Oh, I got this much money to spend, but I’m only going to have one cocktail and I want it be really good,’” expressed Sabrine.
Chickadee’s wall of libations includes spirits from across Canada. We were astonished to hear her recent trip to Quebec had her discover a whole new 170 new gins available! “It’s insane. That’s so many. I love hearing that, but that also makes me so angry because it’s so difficult to get anything done with alcohol in BC. But in Quebec they’re like, “Yeah, sure. You want to do that? That sounds great. Cool.” And it’s just all the laws are just so different from province to province,” said Sabrine. Though Vancouver is lucky to call a huge variety of high-end and exclusive bars home, locals can’t shake off the stigma of Vancouver being a “no fun city”.
With so much competition in the city Chickadee puts themselves top-shelf on staffing, “We’re fully staffed. So we’re good. Yeah, we’re good. But now its just getting everybody out at the same page.”
I know that I have ridiculously high expectations and I can be really difficult to work with for that reason. But I push people beyond their comfort zone. I push them to be better. I push them to be more creative if they want it. If they don’t want that, this is not the right space for them,” said Sabrine.
Inspiration can be taken from any part of our days, anywhere in the world. Asking Dhaliwal what’s an exceptional drink is a valid question: “Yes. I did have one really exceptional drink. It wasn’t in Vancouver though. And it’s actually printed on the sweatshirt. Yeah, it’s a…
Nina: Ube Fiasco.
Sabrine: So ube is like a purple yam. And it’s a play on Lupe Fiasco. Yeah. And the drink was so creamy. It was beautifully purple. It was well incredibly well balanced. It was creamy. It had coconut, but it had the tartness of the purple yam. It just a fantastic, from Halifax.
Halifax had their own set of extreme checkpoints during Covid. They shut down their borders and had their own version of Arrive Can, full of paperwork and strict 14-day quarantine rules. So, celebrating a drink from Atlantic Canada is well-deserved. Science is a wonderful thing because it changes so quickly. The more we know, the more we can evolve and we adapt and change. But we didn’t know what this virus was capable of doing then. And so, we were doing what we had to do given the information that we had. “Sure, were there mistakes made? Absolutely. But it’s easy for us to say now.”
I think that the pandemic made everybody refocus. It’s like we all work, we all still work very hard. I don’t think that’s changed for any of us. I don’t want to say stupid because again, people were acting the way that they knew how based on the information they have. And I think just Covid has made people a lot more aware of how their actions affect others,” said Sabrine.
Would Sabrine go back to working at any of the fine establishments she’s been in the last decade? “No, I don’t think I would want to go back to working at any of them. No, because I had my time. I learned what I felt I had to learn. I don’t like to live in regret. I feel that all those places served a purpose. I don’t think I would want to go back to any of them. What I would like though moving forward, if I were to go into a different venue or whatever happens, I want to focus… I would like to change my focus. I would like to change the brand of what Sabrine Dhaliwal is. Because I’ve become so branded for cocktails but I do so much more than that,” she said. Hats off to Dhaliwal for never getting tired of making me all those Chartreuse Milkshake’s over the years.
Does your think the future hold wine I asked? “Yes. Because we can try to control our own future, try to at least. So do I know what my next venue’s going to look like? I have an idea. I have an idea. I also hope that I have more control over what opening systems and plans are, which is a good thing. I would like more of a wine focus,” Sabrine said. The next venture with her business partners Justin and Bryan are under wraps at the moment.
Remember those drink kits Chickadee offered during Covid? Sadly, they dropped off as they were “definitely time consuming and expensive to make”. If you were able to get your hands on one during the pandemic you might have become a master at a cognac or rum cocktail with their signature mixes. Sounds like it might not be something that could be coming back mainly due to lack of space, but we aren’t mad about it if it means extra chairs in the neon-lit room at 182 Keefer Street.
Read about all the cool places to stop and grab a drink on Keefer Street in our next blog.