To walk into tiny Grapes and Soda in Vancouver’s laid-back South Granville neighborhood is to experience the vision of Satoshi Yonemori. Often the only bartender behind the intimate bar (there is just one other part-time bartender), Yonemori is a one man show. Pre-batching, mixing, and garnishing drinks, he also recommends pours from his curated spirits list, including an extensive agave selection alongside choices from amari to gin. He also crafts his own sodas, ginger beer, and kombuchas, investing thoughtful care into a short but strong cocktail menu and changing soda cocktails. Even nonalcoholic cocktails are as beautiful visually as they are delicious. Yonemori’s gracious service is unobtrusive yet warm, making each person at the coveted barstools feel as if they’ve stumbled onto a best-kept secret.

As the sister bar to neighboring Farmer’s Apprentice restaurant, culinary craft and a focus on produce and fresh ingredients touch G & S’s menu, while the kitchen serves charcuterie and snacks like charred snap peas in herbs, almonds, and lemongrass ponzu vinaigrette; or hazelnut gomae noodles with seasonal vegetables.

Born and raised in the magical city of Kyoto, Japan, Satoshi’s roots show in his consummate skill and thoughtful service behind the bar, although Canadian ease permeates. Satoshi worked in a nightclub in Kyoto before coming to Vancouver as a student, where he got into the restaurant industry. He started dishwashing, then moved his way up in the kitchen, a place where he increasingly developed a passion for exploring flavors.

Satoshi Yonemori of Grapes & Soda, Vancouver—Photo Credit Christopher Legaspi

“I was still young and green at the time,” explains Satoshi. “One of a few kitchen jobs I took was working under a chef from Quebec. He was very hard-core and taught me so much: not only how to cook, but also an approach toward work ethic. How to be critical about my own work. That aspect still very much influences how I run my bar program.”

He went on to work in a butcher shop, breaking down animals and making sausages from scratch. As a day job, it allowed him to spend weekends working as a barback at The Diamond, a celebrated bar in Gastown, a historic Vancouver neighborhood and popular nightlife area.

“Each weekend they hosted different bartenders in the city,” he says, “and I was able to work beside them. I asked many questions and took notes. Thankfully, experience in the kitchen helped me a lot in terms of balancing flavors, working clean and fast behind the bar.”

Several months passed until, as with many a barback, fate jump-started his bartending career. Satoshi tells the story: “On a Friday night, my boss told me that the bartender I was supposed to barback [for] got into a car accident. He wanted me to run the bar that night. It was a very scary moment, but I had to be ready for it. It was an opportunity to show what I had learned. I went through pages of notes and recipes from my previous shifts. After that shift, I was ready to leave my daytime job and work full time as a bartender.”

His first very bar manager job was, in fact, at Grapes and Soda in 2015. The previous owner decided to sell the business in 2019. Satoshi and his business partner, Mioi Sawada, purchased G & S together. It has become a Vancouver staple, the kind of place that feels like a hidden gem and local hangout, with quality high enough to be one of the city’s best bars.

In his own words, Satoshi talks of the unique, one-bartender-at-a-time space he runs and the most important change they’ve implemented since the pandemic.

What led you into the cocktail and the bar world?

Initially, I was a nightclub bartender in Kyoto back in 2002. I always liked the ambiance of the service industry. After a few kitchen jobs, thanks to all my ex-colleagues, my English improved. So I decided to give it a shot one day, and I have never left the bar world since.

Cocktail making came naturally with my culinary background. “Everything has to make sense,” my old chef says. The habit of constantly questioning why one thing tastes better than another, even [if using the same] recipe, helped me a lot in making drinks.

What is unique about your bar, and how does being based in Vancouver influence your bar’s style and operations?

Grapes and Soda is unique because we share a similar philosophy with our sister restaurant, Farmer’s Apprentice. A culinary focus with [both is always important] in menu development. The bar is very small. Most of the time, one bartender is dispensing drinks for the 35-seat venue. It can get crazy busy in no time. Maximized efficiency is crucial.

The bar is designed to be an organized kitchen. Everything is within a reach. [I] pre-batch frequently requested items, so it only requires a minimum number of steps to complete a drink and maintain consistency. I use a hand blender for fast emulsification (no “dry shake” at Grapes). I am constantly changing the layout of mis en place to seek “kaizen” or continuous improvement. Once we had a bain marie station for a hot cocktail. It was a hustle, but people love the drink, so I was happy about that.

What is your philosophy on deciding what brands/bottles to stock in your bar?

We use generic brands, inexpensive but good, for the menu. It’s up to the bartender’s skill to make tasty drinks from common brands. I like to keep menu descriptions minimal so often brand names are omitted. However [behind the bar], I do pick specific brands sometimes, such as amaro, vermouth, or gin, to suit my palate.

How do you educate customers on small-batch, quality spirits?

We offer half-ounce samples for a reduced price so that guests can try what they are interested in without breaking their wallet. It’s more of a discussion than [formal] education. We love seeing guests enjoying what we are excited about. After all, we are a bar.

Our back bar holds a lot of mezcals as well as sotol, bacanora, and raicilla. The reason why we have so much is because I simply like the spirits from Mexico. I am always inclined to add mezcal to all cocktails because of its complexity of flavor. There are several espadin [most common mezcal agave plant] brands for mixing. The other mezcals are made of rare agave — either single varietal or ensemble [blends] — and are for drinking straight. I encourage our guests to do so.

Our menu features three to four mezcals that rotate. One of them is called Profesor Mezcal, distilled by Rodolfo, a mezcalero and the only primary school teacher in a small Zapotec village outside San Juan del Rio. It has subtle mint and tamed smokiness. According to the distributor, some of the profits go toward the school funds.

What is exciting you most right now in B.C. Canadian craft spirits?

I like using Okanagan Spirits’ products. Their Poire Williams works great in our house Junipero cocktail [a combination of sotol, gin, Carpano Bianco, Luxardo Bianco Bitter, Okanagan Poire Williams, lavender bitters, and lemon juice]. I am also a big fan of Fermentorium Distilling Co.’s Stump Gin and Sheringham Seaside Gin. They make great martinis. Ampersand Distilling Co. also makes great gin but their Imperative Vermouth is also delicious.

As you all have been surviving the pandemic, what new forms of business or processes have you implemented?

Taking reservations. I never wanted it but I now am very happy to have this in place. One of the reasons we survived the pandemic is because of the returning guests when we reopened. We received kind-hearted words during the closure. Having the reservation system allows those guests to make sure they have a spot. Although last-minute cancellations and no-shows are a daily dilemma, it’s worth keeping it for regulars and soon-to-be regulars.

How do you envision the bar world evolving in the coming years?

Ditching canned pops. Make your own flavored soda using either forced carbonation or natural fermentation. I like making my ginger beers, kombucha, and flavored soda.

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Founding The Perfect Spot in 2007 sharing top recommends globally in food and drink, Virginia Miller is W. North America Academy Chair for The World's 50 Best Restaurants, regular columnist at The Bold Italic and Medium, Distiller Magazine, American Whiskey Magazine, Whisky Magazine, VOICES,, Gin Magazine, etc. She held roles as Zagat SF/NorCal editor, SF Guardian restaurant critic, Table8 National Editor/VP of Content. Published in over 60 international publications, she’s covered global dining, travel, spirits, cocktails, hotels and bars with regular columns at Time Out, Where Traveler, Google’s Touringbird, Food Republic, Thrillist, Travelux, to name a few. She wrote The Official Emily in Paris Cocktail Book. Virginia consults in dining, spirits, cocktails and drink. She co-created Avion’s Reserva Cristalino tequila with Pernod Ricard’s House of Tequila innovation, marketing and distilling teams and is now working multiple agave spirits projects in Mexico over recent years, including cutting edge innovation products and blends for different clients. She consults for multiple distilleries on short-term projects, whether evaluating and providing feedback on samples or products or multiple versions. She helps create various samples and flavor profiles with distilling teams or in labs, edits or writes tasting notes, provides feedback on marketing materials and leads tastings virtually or in-person. She leads tastings virtually for Whiskies of the World and for company parties or private events, educating on a range of spirits. Virginia creates drink menus for Michelin-starred restaurants (like Dominique Crenn’s Golden Poppy in Paris, a multi-month project creating an entire menu of cocktails and non-alcoholic cocktails with stories and photos for the restaurant’s launch). She aids in honing and curating food and drink menus and provides feedback on dishes and drinks. Virginia judges in many international dining, food, spirits, cocktails and bars competitions and awards (including SF World Spirits, ADI Craft Distilling, Tales of the Cocktail, Good Food Awards, IWSC in London, Nola Spirits Comp, Whiskies of the World, etc.) and has visited over 13,000 restaurants and even more. top bars around the world.