Where to drink cocktails in Halifax

Cocktails in Halifax: The scene

There is a small but mighty selection of bars serving outstanding cocktails in Halifax, Nova Scotia. What sets the scene apart is not just the fun and creative drinks, but the genuine hospitality and a strong sense of community. During a week of exploring cocktails in Halifax, I was warmly welcomed and well served by friendly staff who were more than happy to share recommendations for other cool independently owned bars. This little Canadian port town embraces the tenant that all boats rise with the tide. 

Highwayman has an impressive cocktail list

But what really gilds the lily for the Halifax cocktail scene is their mastery of restaurant-bar hybrid venues, blurring the line between the two with high quality, beautiful, and delicious drinks and dishes together. Three of the bars listed below just featured on the 2023 Tales of the Cocktail Top Ten Honoree list for Best International Restaurant Bar – Canada. I’ve predicted in the past that we will start seeing more crossover between the World’s 50 Best restaurant and bar lists. We These are the kinds of bars that hint at that direction. 

Food menus feature fresh, seasonal, local products with a strong focus on seafood. They are often snack size or sharing plates, making it very enjoyable to dine solo at the bar or turn it into a cocktail crawl with a different dish in every stop. And it’s not just about cocktails in Halifax – these bars have a strong wine game for both international and domestic bottles. 

For  the best of cocktails in Halifax, I highly recommend reservations at:

Talking the ferry from downtown Halifax to Dear Friend in Dartmouth is part of the fun!

Dear Friend

Stalwarts on the city’s cocktail scene, Matthew Boyle and Jeffrey Van Horne, took a slightly different tack when opening Dear Friend across the water from downtown Halifax in delightful Dartmouth. Being in dowtown Dartmouth means they are surrounded by quaint cafes and cool food shops. (They even source their excellent gnocchi from a fresh pasta maker in the neighborhood) All the hallmarks of an outstanding cocktail program are present and accounted for with a great spirits selection, a solid drinks menu, fresh ingredients and thoughtful presentation. The food menu includes nibbly snacks like popcorn, creative small plates, and carefully sourced fresh oysters. Plus they’ve got some great wine on offer, so you could give a Canadian sparkling a go with those dishes too. It’s the kind of place that the good intentions of the owners really shine through in the food and drink but also in the ambience. On the afternoon of my visit, plenty of regulars were sitting at the bar chatting happily with the staff not so much as customers but, as the bar name implies, like friends. 

Tip: When taking the ferry over from downtown Halifax, the Alderney ferry stop brings you straight to downtown Dartmouth, but if you go to the further Woodside ferry terminal you can take the 45 minute Harbor View walking trail to downtown, to enjoy the scenery and work up a good thirst and appetite. 

Highwayman has done a nice job of preserving the history of the space but still making it feel modern


Named after the Alfred Noyes poem, this downtown bar and restaurant features Spanish inspired pinxos and small plates alongside a strong selection of cocktails served by incredibly helpful staff. Highwayman is the kind of place that makes you feel welcome immediately. Whether you are sitting at the beautiful long wooden bar or tucked in at a table, the space feels both cosy and open thanks to the big front windows and high ceilings of this 19th century building. Do not pass on their sharing plates, which include tasty options like  croquettas, quail egg and mushroom bites, or  local seafood dishes. The current cocktail menu offers a little something for everyone, with classics, creative signatures, and a selection of nostalgic throwbacks like a Blue Hawaiian or Alabama slammer. There’s also a G&T section, which seems fitting given its Spanish inspirations. Of course, they can also stir up a stellar martini should you be so inclined. Highwayman is the kind of venue that leaves you sighing with content on a first visit because you can just sense on arrival that you’ve picked the right place for the night. 

Tip: Ask the experts what to order from the food menu. Bar Manager Keegan McGregor steered us right with the tuna suggestion, which was our best  dish (of many great ones) over the course of the evening. 

Scalop ceviche at the Ostrich Club

Ostrich Club

The Ostrich Club follows suit with its own hospitable hat trick of service, food, and cocktails in Halifax. Drink menus are themed, with the current one serving up musically inspired cocktails (each with a tiny album cover as a decorative touch). Bar manager Lindsay Jones has a demeanor that balances a kinda badass cool with major approachability as she shakes up deliscious cocktails. And, she also knows her way around a wine menu. A multi-cultural food offering features dishes like Shakshuka or Xi’an Noodles as well as seasonal goodies and local seafood.  Of note: the scallop ceviche was divine. This is all packaged in a beautiful, stylish space with an impressive center stage green marble bar. And one more thing that  the Ostrich Club has going for it is its location in the North End’s Hydrostone neighborhood, making it a great place to hit following an afternoon of strolling and shopping at the area’s cute boutiques. 

Tip: Try their weekend brunch. 

Crab and carrot dish at Bar Kismet

Bar Kismet

This refreshing little family owned and operated  bar restaurant focuses on seafood, fresh pasta  and cocktails. Both the food and drink menu celebrate seasonal ingredients and local creativity. But beyond the deliscious offerings lies a strong foundation of sustainability and community. Read more about their practices that gained them this World’s 50 Best award for their zero waste efforts and policies. Decor feels cheery and modern with white walls, a small wooden bar and leafy green plants hanging from the ceiling and walls. Also don’t be afraid to venture into wine territory here as they have a nice local and international selection that skews into natural territory. I was given a pairing suggestion for the crab and carrot that was a bold and surprisingly tasty choice. And so note the totally fun cocktail names like charm bracelet, billionaire side hustle and walking papers. 

Tip: Try their popular Floopy Disk cocktail, which comes from the very first cocktail menu and is so beloved it’s never been removed. 

Cherry Blossom cocktail at Field Guide

Field guide 

One of the reasons that Haligonians love this restaurant bar is its dedicated support of local farmers and producers. Over the last decade, it has established itself as a meeting point for like minded locavores. The drinks menu is nicely done with familiar styles and cocktails (sour, Negroni, old fashioned) made with a Field Guide touch.  Their martini style Cherry Blossom cocktail is a good example with gin, a vermouth blend and the addition of Maraschino Amaro and cherry blossom bitters. There is always a milk punch as well as a regularly changing freezer cocktail, which is a spirit forward drink served directly from cold storage. Food ranges from small snack plates of olives, pickles, or local cheeses to big portions to fill hungry bellies like beef shank and grits. 

Tip: It’s Happy Hour hour here from 4 to 6pm.

Special mentions for cocktails in Halifax: 

Compass Distillery

This grain to glass distiller makes  gin, rum, vodka and more entirely from scratch and using almost all local ingredients. The small facility is located in a cool tower building that also houses a boutique and bar. (They even have an Airbnb accommodation in the tower!) I only had time for a quick pass through but the staff were so helpful sharing tips for other stops and were genuinely enthusiatic about their products and the local bar scene. And I thoroughly enjoyed my martini made with their standard gin and regret not bringing a bottle back. 

Tip: Check their website for schedule of weekly guided tours of the distillery. 

The Narrows is located in a historically registered building that was lovingly restored by the team behind it

The Narrows Public House

The circa 1896 Heritage Designated was restored to near original condition to serve as restaurant, bar, and an inn. Products are seasonal and local.  The drinks menu focuses on a local craft beers but you can also get a really nice Negroni or old fashioned. Live music adds even more festive vibe to this already fun spot. 

Tip: Go hungry and go early because the plates look delicious but there are no reservations in this  busy, beautiful pub. 

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