At The Watson, it’s all about a laidback vibe and well-travelled cocktails
The late afternoon light filters through the window, casting a lazy haze over Main Street’s newest bar, The Watson.
The crew preps for opening, whirring around the dark wood and green leather interior accented with marble and gold fixtures. The space feels simultaneously Parisian yet West Coast, Art Deco yet contemporary.
Bar manager and partner Jordan Coelho says he wanted it to feel like a library and gestures to the apothecary shelf behind the bar that he hopes to deck out with homemade bitters. Their house-blend amaro already sits in pride of place, aging in Woodford Reserve barrels.
As opening approaches, shakers are already ringing out in the capable hands of bartender Thomas Dodds (previously of The Diamond).
Some members of the tight-knit team have a bond going back eight years, says Coelho, who cut his teeth in the Vancouver bar scene at Bartholomew in Yaletown, The Watson’s sister bar, which has a darker, more intimate New York City vibe than this laid-back Main Street newcomer. (The Watson is named for both little-known Watson Street, which runs behind Main Street, and Sherlock Holmes’s sidekick.)
After only two months, The Watson has generated plenty of buzz in its new neighbourhood.
The first two hours after opening are happy hour, with a dedicated menu that, in a rare turn of events, is completely separate from the regular cocktail menus—no overlap. Coelho explains that the five happy-hour cocktails use recycled syrups and ingredients from the rest of the menu. While these drinks add interest for returning guests, they also make prep and set-up a lot easier—and more sustainable.
Coelho calls it “the green way.”
“If we are connected to the world we’re living in, it’s a go to,” he says. “Using everything from A to Z should have been the way since Day One.”
The cocktail menu is split in half: “House Conceptions” on one page, a reimagining of classic cocktails; and on another, “Boozy and Well-Travelled.”
Unlike the happy hour menu, which lists the original cocktail inspiration plainly for all to see (Margarita, Vesper, sour, mule), here Coelho and the team have taken the building blocks of classic cocktails and swapped out the flavours in each component to create something inspired.
For instance, the Trade Route is a twist on a Daiquiri, but made even more sweetly exotic with turmeric-infused Flor de Caña rum, Giffard Banane du Brésil, vanilla and lime.
Meanwhile, the Armed Robbery, which tastes like warm, cozy comfort on a cold day, is made with a subtly butter-washed Johnnie Walker Black Label, shortbread, honey and spiced walnut bitters. It takes a long time to prepare, but “you need to be patient in life to get good things,” as Coelho points out.
The plan is to rotate the menu seasonally, with each drink getting a shelf life of five months maximum, but Coelho will keep the “well-travelled” theme. After all, the fast-talking bartender grew up in a suburb of Paris but lived in Australia and Asia before settling in Canada, and bursts with ideas for new flavour pairings inspired by his time abroad.
He shares how he fell in love with cilantro and jalapeño while working in Thailand so he found ways to combine the flavours with tequila and mezcal. While working at a Peruvian-Argentinian fusion restaurant in Toronto, he was drawn to smokiness, charcoal, spices and citrus, which he turned into a Melon Martini burned with charcoal and made with in-house vodka.
“You get marked by certain flavours,” he says. “If I don’t see it as a drink, I see it as a dish.”
Coelho believes he has grown a lot from each of his experiences and considers opening The Watson to be the “ultimate achievement.”
He, Dodds and the rest of the team have very high hopes for the future of The Watson and since the opening menu is unlikely to be in place come January, many patrons also eagerly await what comes next.
—by Allie Turner