Victoria’s new cocktail lounge evokes the cool retro vibe of 1950s Los Angeles
It’s the cool new cocktail lounge Vancouver has been waiting for. Too bad it’s all the way over there in Victoria.
Foxtrot Tango Whisky is a happening little hotspot in the newly refurbished Doubletree by Hilton on Humboldt Street.
It’s across the street from the Chateau Victoria where, a few years back, you might have stopped by Clive’s Classic Lounge and met Shawn Soole, one of B.C.’s best drink makers. Now he’s here at FTW, keeping good company with Shane Clarke and Jill Tulloch of Clark & Co., Victoria’s other cool new(ish) cocktail bar.
“I am ecstatic. I am beyond ecstatic,” says Soole, who is not a man generally known for effusions of giddy delight. “I didn’t compromise anything with this opening. My partners at Clarke & Co. let me do it.”
For years, every bartender in town had been eyeing the Doubletree space; when it came available, though, the property offered it to Clarke and Tulloch. They in turn approached Soole and asked him if he wanted to be part of it.
Since leaving Clive’s, Soole had been consulting on one project after another and for a while managed Little Jumbo, which had seemed like a dream project until it wasn’t. He was wary at first.
“I sat down with Solomon (Siegel, general manager of Pagliacci’s restaurant), who is my guru, and he usually talks me out of any stupid idea I have. And he said, ‘Dude, you’ve got to do it.’”
How fortunate that he did. The vibe at FTW is cool 1950s Los Angeles, or as Soole describes it, “the sort of place where you’d expect Frank Sinatra to go for a three-martini lunch.”
Its cocktail program hits that sweet spot between classic and innovative, where the drinks are comfortably recognizable, but made modern and new. And how refreshing it is that “classic” here doesn’t mean the same old pre-Prohibition drinks we’re so familiar with, but mid-20th century rickeys, gimlets and the like.
“The cocktail program is definitely rooted in 1950s classic cocktails,” Soole says. “But we take every cocktail, pull it apart, elevate it and put it back together.”
There’s a clarified milk punch and an updated White Russian, a carrot-enhanced gimlet, a whole selection of Boilermakers, another of Hawaiian drinks, and a Cuba Libre made with local Phillips Fermentorium cola, lime leaf bitters and lime acid, then bottled. “You drink it out of a bottle and it tastes like a Cuba Libre,” Soole says.
One thing the bar does not have is fresh mint, because so much of it gets thrown out; instead, they use Silk Road’s Casablanca tea and crystallized mint leaves.
Another thing the bar doesn’t have is food. (OK, they might offer popcorn at some point.) “We’re just a bar-bar, which is very unique in B.C.,” Soole says.
The space did come with a kitchenette, but they’ve turned that into a cocktail lab for making syrups, emulsions and infusions, for crushing ice and dehydrator citrus slices, and for experimenting with new cocktails down the road.
Instead of compromising with food, they’ve focused on compiling one of the best spirits selections in B.C., and have launched the Devil’s Dram Club, limited to 100 people who pay $400 membership dues for access to a rare, exclusive secret spirit selection.
“For me, doing FTW was about bringing it back a little bit, where we’ve gone from hotel bars to casual bars, but we haven’t had the middle bit, the rum bars and the single spirit bars,” Soole says. “I just adore this space.”
It might just be worth the ferry ride over the water.
• Foxtrot Tango Whisky Bar is located in the Doubletree by Hilton Victoria at 777 Humboldt St. ftwbar.com
—by Joanne Sasvari