Making a great cocktail isn’t easy. Anyone who has tried to muddle, mix and shake a drink at home appreciates the skills of a professional bartender. Fortunately for those of us who miss expertly crafted cocktails, Washington now allows restaurants to sell individual cocktails to go.
Vancouver isn’t about to turn into the French Quarter at the height of Mardi Gras. The state has set forth rules — lots of them. All cocktails must be sold with a complete meal. The definition of a complete meal — an entree and at least one side dish — seems to have been lifted off a 1940s supper club menu. Very few places around here serve the traditional hunk of protein, potato and vegetable that the law seems to envision, so local restaurants simply require that you order at least some food when you buy an alcoholic beverage.
Packaged pre-mixed drinks must be sold in a container with a secure lid or cap. Drinks have to be transported in the trunk of your car, out of the reach of the driver. Cocktails can only be delivered by someone over 21. This law expires 30 days after the county where the business is located enters Phase 4, the final stage of Washington’s reopening plan.
Even with all these requirements, this loosening is helping restaurants survive COVID-19 shutdowns.
Drinks pay the bills
“You make a higher margin off of your bar sales than you would your food sales,” said Sara Newton, beverage director at Amaro’s Table. “This helps offset the costs of things like rent, labor, utilities, and helps keep food costs consistent for the customer when you are faced with a volatile food market like you are right now. At the end of the day, every dollar helps the small business weather the storm of these unprecedented times.”
Rally Pizza is selling only 5 to 10 percent of the beverages that the restaurant would normally, even with cocktails to go, owner Shan Wickham said. On a recent busy Friday, Rally sold six double cocktails.
“We’ve never been a bar-centric place, but it’s still hard to make the numbers work without booze! We’re just lucky that we’re set up to sell a lot of food in a hurry or we would be in very bad shape right now,” Wickham said.
At Pacific House’s downtown location, liquor sales normally account for 50 percent of overall sales and create a much higher profit margin than food. At Pacific House’s Union Station location, profits are 60 percent food and 40 percent liquor sales, said Courtney Jensen, bookkeeper and general manager for both locations.
Interested in keeping financially afloat while giving the public what it wants, many local businesses are offering a variety of alcoholic beverages to go.
Margaritas to go
Summer vacation plans are on hold for now, but you can experience a little drink-cation by sipping the ultimate beach beverage: margaritas.
Little Conejo (114 W. Sixth St., Vancouver; 360-718-2633; www.littleconejo.com) offers classic tequila margaritas, mezcal margaritas and fruity margaritas with flavors like strawberry, hibiscus and tamarind.
Woody’s Tacos (7900 E. Mill Plain Blvd., Vancouver; 360-718-8193; www.woodystacos.com) is selling its signature drink in small plastic containers.
Jorge’s Margarita Factory (14415 SE Mill Plain Blvd, 110B, Vancouver; 360-882-8162; www.jorgesmexicanrestaurants.com) has many varieties of its namesake drink, including the romantic Margarita for 2, the Spicy Jalapeno Margarita and the Skinny Mamacita Margarita for the diet-conscious drinker.
Tapped Brew House & Pub (2005 S.E. 192nd Ave., Suite 100, Camas; 360-210-7735; www.tappedbrewhouse.com) has fresh squeezed margaritas with fruity additions like marionberry and passion fruit.
Beaches Restaurant and Bar (1919 S.E. Columbia River Drive, Vancouver; 360-699-1592; www.beachesrestaurantandbar.com) and WareHouse ’23 (100 Columbia St., Vancouver; 360-750-7256; www.warehouse1923.com) have a less conventional libation: the cinnamon orange margarita.
Grab a bag of booze
Switching from glassware to anything else that can be sealed has led to some innovation. Amaro’s Table (1220 Main Street, Suite 100, Vancouver; 360-718-2942; www.amarostable.com) is selling several different cocktails in cans. Cans are less expensive than Mason jars, are more portable, and keep ingredients fresh a bit longer than the Mason jars Amaro’s uses for its mixers.
Every week, Amaro’s has four different canned cocktail offerings. The red wine sangria contains tequila, cherry, thyme, mango, pineapple, chamomile, ginger and citrus. Danger Juice has bourbon, hops liqueur, banana liqueur, cranberry, peach, apple, raspberry and lemon.
Margaritas, sangria, mai tais, whiskey sours, and Bloody Marys come in 16-ounce vacuum sealed bags at Smokin’ Oak (510 Columbia St., Vancouver; 360-433-2755; www.thesmokinoakpit.com). Owner Erick Gill found that vacuum sealing keeps drinks fresh longer and is less expensive than other options.
Everyone else is using Mason jars or sealed plastic containers.
Rally Pizza (8070 E. Mill Plain Blvd., Vancouver; 360-524-9000; www.rallypizza.com) started out with its three most popular drinks: Industry Margarita (tequila, Cocchi Americano, house sweet-and-sour mix), Pony Boy (whiskey, ginger liqueur, allspice dram and Benedictine), and Little Italy (bourbon, Aperol, Amaro Ciociaro and lemon juice). Rally later added Sunshine State of Mind, a warm citrusy drink with cognac, Mandarine Napoleon, mandarin and lime juice. Wickham just made elderflower syrup with flowers from her garden and expects to add an elderflower cocktail soon.
The Grant House (1101 Officers Row, Vancouver; 360-906-1101; www.eateryatthegranthouse.com) has some of its favorite porch sippers like the Black Powder Mojito, the General’s Julep and the Gettysburg Mary.
Pacific House (819 Main St., Vancouver; 360-448-7694; 315 NE 192nd Ave., Suite 301, Camas; 360-828-1559; www.pacifichousenw.com) recently reopened both locations and offers a cocktail menu that includes the Pacific House Old Fashioned, Farmers Market Mason Jar (cucumber vodka, lime, rosemary and basil) and Work Water (gin, strawberry puree, lemon juice and basil).
Frontier Public House (4909 NE Hazel Dell Ave, Vancouver; 360-718-2768; www.frontierpublichouse.com) offers a variety of cocktails — including the Italian Job (grapefruit vodka, Aperol, lemon juice and mint), Frontier Old Fashioned and Huckleberry Lemon Drop — in three different serving sizes ranging from one drink to four drinks per Mason jar.
Elements (907 Main St., Vancouver; 360-258-0989; www.elementsvancouver.com) has a short menu of cocktails crafted to go with the restaurant’s globally influenced dishes made from locally sourced ingredients.
Vancouver’s version of Cheers, Shanahan’s Pub & Grill (209 W. McLoughlin Blvd., Vancouver; 360-735-1440; www.shanahanspubvancouver.com), has cocktails to sip at home while devouring drink-friendly favorites like Shanny fries and burgers.
Offerings are likely to evolve until the pandemic ebbs and we can finally imbibe in crowded bars once again.