North Bank, the Couve, Brewcouver — the Vancouver, Washington, drink scene has grown up enough in recent years to earn a short list of catchy nicknames. Even still, some restaurateurs still embrace its Vantucky moniker as a term of endearment.
Yes, you’ll find food carts, craft cocktails, upscale wine establishments and plenty of breweries but this bedroom community of Portland is decidedly its own. Just beyond the boundaries of downtown lies the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, undergoing an extensive renovation that will add apartments and hundreds of thousands of mixed-use real estate in buildings dating as far back as the 1800s. To the north and east of downtown, the vineyard scene continues to grow with over 20 wineries throughout Clark County and, at last count, 39 breweries and taprooms can be found from Ridgefield to Battle Ground, Camas and beyond.
Here’s a tasting menu of what Vancouver has to offer by sticking to a few walkable streets in its tight-knit core.
RAISING THE BAR: Low Bar
From the street this dimly lit spot looks like a dive bar. In fact, the menu focuses on as much from-scratch as possible. Diners will find house-made sauerkraut, dressings, pickling, meat braising, sausage, burgers, soups, biscuits and gravy to soak up their locally sourced ciders and brews. Mixologists keep it lively with a repertoire that includes Helen’s Old Fashioned, Rosemary’s Lemonade and William Archer as well as the tried-and-true Manhattan.
COFFEE WITH A CONSCIENCE: Compass Coffee Roasting
Small batch in-house roasting from ethically and sustainably sourced farmers is the mission here. Baristas are trained to know their beans and this local hangout strives to re-define community on a global scale with giving campaigns and education on paying fair price for single origin. Almond and hemp milk alternatives are found here as well as a daily selection of pastries.
FERMENTATION FOLLOWING: Heathen Brewing Feral Public House
From its humble beginnings as a brewery in a converted barn, this family-friendly haunt is expanding its public house location with an indoor/outdoor pavilion slated for completion by the end of July. The space will be dog-friendly and sport a bike repair station. Pub grub includes pizzas, gourmet burgers, salads and the Vantucky cod and chips. Wash it down with Wee Heavy Scottish ale, Barleywine ale or Russian ale imperial stout, to name a few.
WINE DOWN: Cellar 55 Tasting Room
Three distinctly different Eastern Washington wineries is what you’ll find at this swanky spot attached to 9,000 square-feet of premium wine storage. Walla Walla’s Five Star Cellars and Basel Cellars share the bar with Yakima Valley’s VanArnam Vineyards. Wine newbies and oenophiles are encouraged to rub elbows while noshing on small bites for purchase. Regularly hosted live music and weekly tastings complement a front patio perfect for al fresco sipping.
NEIGHBORHOOD BAR: The Rusty Chain
A true neighborhood bar, this bike-centric watering hole is located on the only north-south bicycle lane that intersects downtown. Set in a 1925 house, the current owners have made full use of the many rooms to create adult-only spaces, a child-friendly area and cozy outdoor spots to kick back with your drink of choice from the full bar. Pair it with casual eats like salads, specialty sandwiches and burgers.
FOOD TRUCK FRENZY: Trap Door Brewing
Featuring Vancouver’s only permanent food cart pod, hopheads can enjoy a pint of hyper-local beer with a gourmet grilled cheese sandwich, street tacos or Thai food. Trap Door’s Co-Hop program crafts special brews every fall from community-grown hops. Recently on tap: Tiger Trap coffee stout, made with Vancouver’s Paper Tiger Coffee; homebrew competition winner Uptown Brown; and El Sobrante — an Imperial milk stout with cacao nibs, vanilla beans and toasted coconut. Cider and kombucha are also available and the patio is a popular place to catch summer rays while you still can.
SOPHISTICATED SIPPING: Niche Wine Bar
Approximately 160 wines by the bottle and over 30 glass pours are available at this upscale wine bar. Monthly chef dinners feature inspired wine and food pairings. Niche partners with neighboring Kiggins Theatre (established in 1936) to host their anniversary party and film series, Noir Noire, where wines are showcased from the country that the movie is set in. A handpicked selection of bubbles, Ports and dessert wines as well as an on-point small bites menu earn this stop high marks.
SOCIAL CLUB: The Grocery Cocktail & Social
An eclectic mix of old meets new, where butcher-block tables are paired with schoolhouse chairs and a church pew. Two-story tall windows allow natural light to pour in and a staircase leading to the second-story mezzanine echoes the exposed beam ceiling accented by lights salvaged from a school gymnasium. The honed food menu at this upscale cocktail lounge runs the gamut from gourmet burgers to coffee-brined pork chops and small bites that reflect the owner’s Southern upbringing. Don’t miss the bacon and hock-braised collards and fried cornbread.
This article originally ran in the summer print issue of Sip Northwest magazine. For the full story and more like it, click here.