I mentioned some of these in my write-up of twelve bars in Vancouver, but I wanted to expand on what's happening in Vancouver's bar scene.
Bars Are Restaurants
Apparently licensing in Vancouver is very strict, so many bars are disguised as restaurants. There are seats for everyone and they look like restaurants with tables, but they just offer some small shared plates as food. In most cities we think of seating-required bars as fancy cocktail bars, but in Vancouver it's just the way you have to drink.
In at least half of the bars I was in, customers were ordering "bartender's choice" drinks, in which the customer just gives a few directives (choice of base spirit and a flavor profile like "spicy") and lets the bartender create a drink. Vancouver is very much a developing cocktail scence (creativity seems more valued than refinement for now) but consumers have great confidence in the local bartenders. This is great.
Barrel Aged Cocktails
At probably ten or more bars in this one small city.
I saw the Perlini carbonator system in use at a couple bars. One bar was also serving bottled cocktails.
I thought London bartenders used a lot of tea in their cocktails, but they have nothing on Vancouverites. I'd estimate the average cocktail bar has at least two tea drinks on the menu, but some have four or more. Usually the tea is used in the form of a homemade flavored syrup.
Smoke and Tobacco
Smoke as we know is a huge flavor trend, but unlike other markets bartenders don't just throw mezcal into everything. (I get the impression that it's absurdly expensive up there.) Instead they more often use pu'er tea and tobacco tinctures.
It seems like a novelty in most cities for bars to serve drinks in antique glassware, but among the better cocktail bars of Vancouver this was almost the norm.
Short Menu Descriptions
I noticed that several bars would have a lot of creative touches in their cocktails but not mention them on the menu. Bars didn't mention that cocktails were barrel-aged, that they were carbonated or bottled, or that they smoked a glass with a burnt barrel stave before serving the drink. These all seem like selling points that would drive interest, so it was a bit odd.
Cynar, Campari, Fernet-Branca
I don't know if I've ever had a drink with a Fernet float on top of it, but in Vancouver I had three or four. They use the stuff in cocktails more than they do in San Francisco. Additionally Cynar and Campari are everywhere, usually on multiple drinks on menus. I'm not sure if these drinks are more 'by bartenders for bartenders' as some bars do, or if the Vancouver palate skews bitter.
All in all, Vancouver is a great cocktail town.