Great world bars we love: Dante West Village

The bar at Dante West Village. Doris Sun photo

New York City is back. Like back back. After a whirlwind two years as the city hardest hit by the pandemic, there is now an energetic buzz returning to the streets. People are going out again in droves. Tourists are re-visiting. And that means you are likely to find yourself in a standing room situation squished between patrons or circling the block hoping for a table to open up when looking for a place in which to imbibe. 

Dante West Village is one of those magical spaces well worth waiting for. It is the second outpost of the former World’s 50 Best Bars list topper and opened at the apex of the pandemic in July 2020. 

Located on a quaint corner in the heart of the West Village, the whimsical space immediately draws you in with its esthetic charm. Light-filled and airy by day, Dante WV offers beautifully crafted spritzes and other aperitivos set against a backdrop of dried florals and soft green furniture accents. 

The Coco Cosmo (coconut-washed Absolut, coconut liqueur, cranberry wine, coconut water) at Dante West Village. Doris Sun photo

Just as its sibling is famous for crafting an entire menu of Negroni cocktails in various creative iterations, West Village offers a list of eight playful Cosmopolitan riffs, taking on the long balked-at ’90s drink and making it trendy again. 

For those visiting in the evening, expect a palpable mood change as the room darkens and the energy amps up, with guests enthusiastically clinking coupes of perfectly frozen Martinis while noshing on a seafood-heavy menu that leans Italian. 

Servers are attentive and committed to providing a unique experience, often bringing surprises like mini Espresso Martinis to cap off your evening. Dante calls them “ones for the road” and they certainly make travelling to your next destination a whole lot more fun.

—by Doris Sun

‘It’s been a heck of a ride’: Vancouver whisky bar at centre of legal battle to close after 36 years

What will become of one of the world’s largest whisky libraries that’s long called Vancouver home?

Fets Whisky Kitchen, which endured a government raid in January 2018 and a protracted legal battle with the province, has revealed the business will shutter soon. Fets Whisky Kitchen/Facebook

It may be home to “one of the world’s largest whisky selections,” but after a 36-year run (and a couple of name changes), Fets Whisky Kitchen will be closing permanently.

Owners Eric and Allura Fergie posted the closure notice on social media as September got underway, indicated Fets Whisky Kitchen’s last dinner service will be Friday, Dec. 23.

“Our lease is up early next year, and we have decided not to renew. We feel it’s best to resign while we are on top of our game and will proudly work with our staff to make everyone’s final visits as memorable as their first,” explain the Fergies.

The couple also note that they delivered the announcement to the full staff as well.

Fets began in 1986 as Fettucini’s Café at 1179 Commercial Dr. A move to its current location, 1230 Commerical Dr, took place in 1996, as did a name tweak to Fets Bar & Grill, and in 2013 they rebranded as Fets Whisky Kitchen.

In recent years, Fets has been known for its legal battle with the B.C. liquor control board. In early 2018, the provincial government conducted four simultaneous Prohibition-style raids on establishments in Victoria, Nanaimo and Vancouver and confiscated tens of thousands of dollars worth of liquor. They were targeting bottles of the Scotch Malt Whisky Society’s unique (and expensive) whiskies; the bottles were shipped to B.C. under proper channels and all appropriate taxes paid, however, the licensees bought them through private retailers instead of government stores, which is not allowed.

Among those being raided was Fets Whisky Kitchen.

The raid led to several years of legal back and forth between the Fergies and the B.C. government, which did not get any mention in the couple’s closing notice.

“It’s been a heck of a ride!” write the Fergies. “We have had the pleasure of working with many amazing people over the past 36 years. We have forged many great relationships over the years, and we will miss seeing everyone on a regular basis. Too many memories have been made here to count but we have cherished our time operating one of Vancouver’s longest continuously family-owned and operated restaurants.”

With an end-of-year closing in sight, Fets will mark the last few months in business with several whisky dinners.

The closure does leave one lingering question for Fets’ owners: “Hmm, what to do with one of the world’s largest whisky selections?”

—Lindsay William-Ross, Vancouver is Awesome

Wake up to the Espresso Martini

The bittersweet contemporary classic makes a comeback

Get your caffeine buzz on with the return of the retro Espresso Martini. Getty Images photo

High-waisted jeans, shoulder pads, neon colours—if you had any doubts that the 1980s are back, the return of the Espresso Martini should lay them to rest.

This buzzy, bittersweet cocktail was perhaps the quintessential cocktail of an era in drinks culture that was otherwise, frankly, pretty grim. 

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Nitro Espresso Martini

Getty Images photo

If you work in a bar with a draft system, it’s relatively easy to put an Espresso Martini on tap and let the nitrogen do its magic. For home bartenders, here’s how to get a similar effect using an iSi nitrogen dispenser. (Recipe adapted from iSi.com.)

• 10 oz cold brew coffee

• 2 oz coffee liqueur

• 4 oz vodka

• 1 oz simple or vanilla syrup

• Garnish: coffee beans

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Espresso Martini

Getty images photo

The key to this cocktail is using hot espresso—if the coffee is cold, it won’t form the “crema,” the creamy foam on top that is the drink’s signature. The three coffee beans represent health, wealth and happiness.

• 2 oz vodka

• 0.5 oz coffee liqueur (such as Kahlúa)

• 1 oz espresso, freshly brewed and hot

• 0.5 oz simple syrup (or to taste) 

• Garnish: coffee beans

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The Arbutus Cove

The Arbutus Cove by Nic VanBergen. Photo courtesy of Naramata Inn

A cocktail with locally sourced ingredients created by Nic VanBergen for Eliza at the Naramata Inn. 

• 1 oz Arbutus Distillery Blue Gin
• 0.5 oz Arbutus Lavender Liquor
• 0.75 oz Cane Sugar Syrup
• 0.5 oz Grape Acid (see note)
• Lunessence Riesling Brut
• Garnish: Flower from the garden

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A Toast to Eliza

The Naramata Inn’s basement wine and cocktail bar commemorates the town’s original hostess with the most, Eliza Robinson.

Enjoy cocktails, by-the-glass wines and bites of chef Ned Bell’s “Naramatian French” cuisine at Eliza. Jon Adrian photo

In summer, the restaurant veranda of the Naramata Inn is the place to be, with its graceful plates, shady corners and attentive service. Come fall, a cozy alternative returns: the downstairs wine bar and sunny stone patio that also features the Inn’s uber-local B.C. craft cocktails. A glass of some of the region’s most-wanted wines or a cocktail that captures seasonal flavour (like Give Peas a Chance, ah herbaceous pea-shoot-infused drink inspired by the Last Word) is enough to make the stone-floored, wine-cellar styled room feel as warm as Okanagan summer.

In 1908 the Inn was built (and, some say, is still benignly haunted) by John Robinson, a founder and pillar of Naramata. But it’s fitting that the warm, inviting bar is named for the other half of Naramata’s first power couple, his wife, Eliza. She was once the hostess behind everything from then-in-vogue seances to plays, concerts and epic parties at the Inn. “We’re really excited about bringing an elevated bar experience to Naramata,” says Kate Colley, herself part of the modern power-couple alliance (she and her husband, chef Ned Bell, plus co-owners Maria Wiesner and Paul Hollands) behind the Inn’s renaissance.

Colley explains that Eliza first opened last year, when the popular Naramata Community Market extended from summer into winter Wednesdays, giving locals a place to gravitate and extend a casual evening out at the market. By-the-glass wines and bites of chef Ned Bell’s “Naramatian French” cuisine are complemented by a cocktail program that adheres to the same strictly local philosophy as the restaurant.

Bartender Nic VanBergen uses only local spirits and ingredients in his program. Photo courtesy of Naramata Inn

In bartending terms, that means no citrus juice; no familiar bottles of Campari, Aperol or other global brands; and relying wholly on B.C. craft spirits. “It’s a challenge but I love it,” says bartender Nic VanBergen. And with sustainability top of mind today, he points out, “it’s smart not to use as much fresh citrus or other imported ingredients anyway.”

“I love to cook so it’s pretty natural to think about translating that from food to drinks,” VanBergen says. Capturing the bounty of the agriculture-rich region, VanBergen creates drinks like Jewels on the Lake: it has edible “pearl dust” on a mix of Arbutus Distillery Blue Gin, Imperative vermouth from Vancouver Island, pink peppercorn syrup and local pear juice, preserved with natural acids (VanBergen uses citric, malic and tartaric acids to brighten and bottle local juices for year-round use).

VanBergen enjoys capturing the bounty of the agriculture-rich Okanagan region. Photo courtesy of Naramata Inn

By pressing, pickling and other preserving tricks, VanBergen is taking a page from the kitchen’s playbook. Sous chefs Minette Lotz and Stacy Johnston help farm, forage and ferment products that produce year-round flavour for the restaurant and bar, including house-made pickles and the house-cultured butter to slather the famously delicious sourdough bread. (Lotz also produces killer doughnuts that you’ll find in her booth at the weekly market: check out @minlotz on Instagram.)

Star sommelier Emily Walker, the Inn’s wine director, calls Eliza “the Naramata wine bar I’ve been dreaming of,” with tasting flights that curate Naramata Bench finds (like a glass of Pinot Noir from Pamplemouse Jus, the side label of Lightning Rock winemaker Jordan Kubek) alongside South Okanagan and international gems. “I’ve always been a storyteller,” Walker says. “It’s the people and the places that make these truly great glasses of wine.” With the Inn’s great relationships with not just wineries and farmers but makers and producers of all kinds, “People came come here and try a little bit of everything,” Walker says.

On golden Okanagan evenings, Walker says the vibe “feels like a jazz club.” From behind the bar, Nic VanBergen observes: “When the room is full of people and it’s buzzing, it’s a really special atmosphere.” Eliza Robinson herself couldn’t have curated a more swinging evening.

—by Charlene Rooke

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