Packed to the rafters with creative talent and boasting more than its fair share of terrific bars and cocktail-heavy restaurants, Victoria’s bar scene is the boozy gift that keeps on giving.
King of the cocktail scene in the city is Clive’s Classic Lounge, with a list featuring some 35 different cocktails and a menu that puts its spirit-savvy credentials on show with its pleasingly nerdy bartender rules. Try the Funk & Seoul with kimchee-infused syrup and tequila for a complex and spicy drink with a lingering heat. Cocktails left to right: Clive’s Hand Ritten Letter, May I Have a Word, Funk & Seoul. Nikki Bayley photo.
The perfect spot for day drinking? At Bodega Bar, not only is there a raft of sherries to try, there are also plenty of excellent cocktails featuring house-made syrups and thoughtful combinations of ingredients. Like your drinks to be booze-forward as hell? Try a Winter Fury, all heady with Calvados, B&B, bourbon, and set off with an Islay rinse. Cocktails left to right: Bodega Bar’s Winter Fury, Slow Walking Walter, Daydreaming. Nikki Bayley photo.
The newly-renovated Q Bar at the Fairmont Empress is a thing of beauty, its cherry wood antique ceiling graciously looking down on punk-inspired prints of Queen Victoria. The dedication paid here to the Martini is no less impressive: offered in six different iterations from stirred to burnt, with 12 gins and 12 vodkas — both from B.C. and around the world — to choose as your base. Cocktails pictured: A selection of Q Bar’s Martinis. Nikki Bayley photo.
Veneto Tapa Lounge is rightly known for its “spin the wheel” customized cocktail service: tell them which flavours you enjoy and let the team whip up something special. Its list also rocks: try the Kindness of Strangers, with Sazerac Rye, vermouth, Amontillado sherry and a float of Malbec — a luscious drink that should hit like a sledgehammer, but comes on like a velvet cosh. Cocktails left to right: Veneto’s Santa Muerte, the Kindness of Strangers, London Nog. Nikki Bayley photo.
Slip upstairs from Ferris’ Oyster Bar to Perro Negro, for excellent cocktails at affordable prices. There’s plenty of sherry and Spanish influences such as almond-infused bourbon in their Anticuado Spanish Old Fashioned, but my favourite is the Spanish Negroni, which switches up sherry for gin, and adds Cava for a sweeter note. A possible game changer for those who find the classic version too bitter. Cocktails left to right: Perro Negro’s Anticuado, Spanish Negroni, La Negrita. Nikki Bayley photo.
New kid on the block and knocking it out of the park, Clarke & Co has created a warm happy space in which to explore the cocktail scene. You’ll find plenty of local distillers and fun techniques (duck butter infusions? yes please!) here. The smoked Old Fashioned (Old Is New And In Fashion), theatrically created à la minute is likely to spark a life-long love affair for anyone who tastes it. Cocktails left to right: Clarke & Co’s Lazy Lover, Old Is New And In Fashion, Canadian is Buzzed in Bermuda. Nikki Bayley photo.
Heading up the restaurants-with-a-bar category is the critically acclaimed Agrius. Everything — even citrus — is organic here. The Ampersand is Coming to Town blends two cocktails in one, infusing local gin with Chinese five flavour berry and a house-made Grand Fir syrup, topped with a heavenly foam of dry vermouth-soaked citrus cordial and a splash of Joie Gamay. Cocktails left to right: Agrius’ Caramel Apple & Ginger House-made Soda, Birch Please, Ampersand is Coming to Town. Nikki Bayley photo.
Forget everything you knew about the former nacho-fest of Cafe Mexico. This is version 2.0 with Shawn Soole, one of the country’s most creative bartenders at the helm. Soole’s plan is to create Canada’s agave epicentre for guests keen to learn more about tequila and mezcal. Try the frozen slushie-style La Paloma, all zesty lime and grapefruit with a punch of blended Hornitos Reposada. Cocktails left to right: Cafe Mexico’s La Paloma Slushie, Oaxacan Flyer, Arroz Con Leche. Nikki Bayley photo.
Using whatever has been delivered to the creative kitchen, at this almost 100 per cent B.C. bar menu, house-made vinegars, sauces and sorbets are the order of the day. It makes each time at Olo unique and guarantees you’ll discover something new and delicious. On my visit, a spiked cherry juice, earthy with pressed carrots and a pleasingly boozy hit of absinthe, delivered a positively health-giving cocktail. Cocktails left to right: Olo’s Fetching Squash, Bohemian Roots, Ragley Farm Flip. Nikki Bayley photo.
Little Jumbo packs plenty of high energy into a small space. Creative cocktails with engaging names are on the frequently-changing menu. Bar nerds will freak at the Whole Spectrum: a transformative wow of a cocktail, which starts salty with a kiss of peat and then swings into a sweet note before turning bitter and salty again. Booze joy in a glass. Cocktails left to right: Little Jumbo’s Spurs and Saddles, Kalimotxo 2.0, The Whole Spectrum. Nikki Bayley photo.
—by Nikki Bayley