renato giovannoni floreria atlantico

World Bartending Stars Arrive at Vancouver’s Laowai for Cocktail Week

renato giovannoni floreria atlantico

Buenos Aires’ Renato (Tato) Giovannoni, acclaimed as one of the planet’s leading bartenders, will serve drinks and give a seminar at Vancouver’s Laowai on March 7. (Photo courtesy of Laowai and Florería Atlántico)

It only took about 10 seconds after I dropped into Florería Atlántico for the first time to say, “I wish this place was in Vancouver.” Clandestinely located beneath a flower shop in the ritzy Buenos Aires neighbourhood of Retiro, Florería Atlántico has been a trend-setter in the Argentinian capital and Latin America since it opened in 2013. Once you descend the stairs from the flower shop, you enter a tight subterranean playground of buzzy Latin music spun by a DJ who works next to the bartending team that churns out wild cocktails with exotic ingredients and satisfying spirits. The walls are decorated with murals of sea creatures, the small menu bites are delicious, and the clientele are a mix of global connoisseurs, industry notables, and cheerful locals. It’s one of those personal happy places that I yearn for when I’m not near it.

Now, after about eight visits over the course of two trips to Buenos Aires, I will finally get a taste of Florería Atlántico at home. Thanks to Lewis Hart and his team at Laowai, the award-winning Chinatown speakeasy, the mastermind behind Florería Atlántico will arrive in Vancouver for one night. The visit by Renato (Tato) Giovannoni is the highlight of an exceptional series of drinks celebrations at Laowai that recognize  Vancouver Cocktail Week (March 3-10, 2024).

floreria atlantico rum cocktail buenos aires speakeasy

At Florería Atlántico, expect your cocktails to come in glass- or earthenware like this: A giant snail bowl made from clay that contains a delectable rum concoction. (Adrian Brijbassi file photo for Vacay.ca)

Hart launched the visiting bartender series in 2023 and has continued the programming into the new year with the goal of driving more interest in Vancouver as a cocktail destination while at the same time convincing more of the city’s residents to venture to Chinatown for a discreet evening of libations.

MORE BUENOS AIRES: Why It’s No. 1 for Tourism

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Laowai is surreptitiously located behind Chinatown dumpling house BLND TGER. Guests need a password to enter the Shanghai-style speakeasy. (Adrian Brijbassi file photo for Vacay.ca)

Along with Florería Atlántico, the three other acclaimed international bars coming to Laowai will provide afternoon seminars and cocktails prepared by their bartenders (1-3 p.m., $60 per person) and evening seatings where they take over the bar and serve four drinks that are coupled with Laowai’s menu items ($120 per person). The schedule includes:

  • March 3: Cat Bite Club (Singapore), with its head bartender Jesse Vida leading a seminar on agave, rice, and traditional spirits in modern drinking.
  • March 4: Hope and Sesame (Guangzhou), with a focus on Chinese spirits.
  • March 6: Salmon Guru (Madrid), with a discussion from famed bartender Diego Cabrera on concept pivoting and how to reinvent a successful brand.
  • March 7: Florería Atlántico (Buenos Aires), featuring the well-travelled Giovannoni on the “Route of Dreams and Flavours.”

To purchase tickets, visit the EventBrite website for the session of your choice.

The initiative is Hart’s latest effort to boost visitation to the Chinatown area. Laowai’s sister bar, Bagheera, has earned praise of its own with Indian flavours and a whimsical setting behind the doors of a former off-track-betting house. To enter, you need to get past a ticket gate by correctly guessing the name of the winning horse among a list of a dozen entrants marked on a chalkboard. Earlier in February, Hart organized the first Chinatown Cocktail Showdown with eight competing bars vying for honours based on votes by judges and public attendees. (Laowai won the public vote and finished second to the Keefer Bar among judges’ choices.)

bagheera vancouver cocktails

Bagheera is an India-inspired speakeasy that serves creative cocktails that are often laden with spice. (Adrian Brijbassi photo for Vacay.ca)

Like Laowai, Bagheera is stylish and the drinks are exceptional. While Laowai is on East Georgia Street, on the same block as Vancouver staples Phnom Penh and the Irish Heather and reputable newcomer Fiorino, Bagheera is on Main Street near the challenging corner with Hastings Street. But the area is gingerly improving as a place to hang out. The collective bar scene in the neighhourhood is probably the best in Vancouver at the moment and star restaurant Kissa Tanto, located a few minutes’ walk from Bagheera, is a worthy draw for connoisseurs.

As Hart will readily point out, the cocktail scene in the city is a long way from standing tumbler to tumbler with the very best in the world but hosting Florería Atlántico for a night — introducing a touch of Buenos Aires to Vancouverites — is a way to build momentum and a following.

Other notable Vancouver Cocktail Week features:

Sutton Place Hotel: The Green Garden Gala is the event’s closing celebration on March 9 with plants taking centre stage for the creations by mixologists.

The Botanist: Signature Cocktail Brunch (March 3, 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m.) is scheduled for the flagship restaurant of the Fairmont Pacific Rim Hotel.

Cocktail Crawls: Gastown and Main Street each have neighbourhood drinks-by-foot adventures worth participating in.

 

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Other noteworthy cocktail spots in Vancouver:

Hawksworth: The venerable restaurant at the Rosewood Hotel Georgia has one of the best bar scenes in the city and an exceptional happy-hour menu. Plus, the all-day Oysters & Bubbles 50% off promotion is a must.

Capo & The Spritz: Located at the Opus Hotel in Yaletown, Capo & The Spritz has a line of negroni options that cocktail aficionados will appreciate. The other menu choices are also exemplary of classic tastes.

Adrian is the editor of Vacay.ca and VacayNetwork.com. He also edited "Inspired Cooking", a nutrition-focused cookbook featuring 20 of Canada's leading chefs and in support of the cancer-fighting charity, InspireHealth. "Inspired Cooking" was created in honour of Adrian's late wife and Vacay.ca co-founder, Julia Pelish, who passed away of brain cancer in 2016. Adrian has won numerous awards for his travel writing, travel photography, and fiction, and has visited more than 55 countries. He is a former editor at the Toronto Star and New York Newsday, and was the social media and advocacy manager for Destination Canada. His articles have frequently appeared in the Huffington Post, Globe & Mail, and other major publications. He has appeared on national and local broadcasts, talking about travel, sports, creative writing and journalism. In 2019, he launched Trippzy, a travel-trivia app developed to educate consumers about destinations around the world.