Victoria, BC: a 24 hour cocktail pilgrimage

Victoria, BC: a 24 hour cocktail pilgrimage

In the words of Queen Victoria herself;

“The important thing is not what they think of me, but what I think of them.”
Victoria is the first of many journeys as a traveling bartender in 2017′. Giving you an insider look at the “industry” while spending a night on the town.
 
To start, when you head to any city on a drinking pilgrimage it is especially relevant to do a little research on your hotel. Reaching out via social media is always best practice and can save you the headache of review sites. We recommend considering a hotel with the following two criteria; 
  1. Firstly, find a hotel that has your last stop in it. The nightcap is a key feature to a perfect night on the town.
  2. Secondly, consider the next morning conveniences. Mostly, food, parking, and noise.
Victoria Ferry
With these criteria in mind, you have a lot of options in Victoria. The inside scoop is that there are only two hotels/bar combinations you should consider. The Hotel Rialto (Veneto) or The Chateau Victoria (Clive’s). We decided to go with the Hotel Rialto because it kept us a little more central for our pilgrimage purposes.
Stepping out into Victoria is like going back in time. The cobbled streets and picturesque harbour bring you to the “Victorian” age. A time when the european influences were far more obvious. Victoria is steeped in the history of the colonial industries.

Although Victoria’s history dates back centuries with names like James Cook and George Vancouver, the “drinks history” is very modern. The name that whispers throughout the “drinks scene” in Victoria is Shawn Soole. The larger than life Australian character that embodies the modern professional bartender. The latest news has Shawn re-opening the Cafe Mexico but we will save that for last stop to be sure we do it justice.

When considering daytime food and drink options in Victoria, your are limited. You can find a café every block or so but for a cocktail early in the afternoon, we recommend you go to Bodegas. They deliver Spanish tapas at its finest. They even offer an exciting rotation of sherry and seasonal drinks.
 
Victoria Sidecar

 We go with the “Caray-me-Away Sidecar”, because we are suckers for sherry in cocktails. Torres 5 yr Spanish Brandy, Amontillado Sherry, orange and caraway syrup and fresh lemon. Delicious, balanced and refreshing.

 Next, we move onto the renovated Fairmont EMPRESS. This ex “Canadian Pacific” property sits in the middle of the harbor walk. It is one of the iconic pieces of the Victoria skyline. The property has a history dating back to the first settlers in the region.  The rumor was that the “Q at the Empress” lounge was ready and gleaming.
 
Victoria
The restaurant space is beautiful and enormous. It has a cocktail menu to match, with a range of “Fairmont” and local classics. We stick to the sherry inspirations and go for the “Dapper Gentlemen”. A combination of Gentlemen Jack, Olorrosso Sherry and Amaro Averna.
Victoria
Keeping with our hotel bar theme it seemed only fitting to move oto Clive’s Classic Lounge. Where the Victoria cocktail scene was born.
If Clive’s was where cocktails were born in Victoria, the afore-mentioned Shawn Soole was the father. .
Shawn, with Clive’s on his back, challenged the world’s best bars in the Tales of the Cocktail’s Awards. He put the West Coast of Canada on the map in many respects. From the Clive’s website;
“Top 10 Hotel Bars in the World” by Tales of the Cocktail, Clive’s Classic Lounge is the best place in Victoria to experience craft mixology
He was the first to do a lot of things in BC. With Clive’s as a lasting symbol. Likely his biggest contribution was showing Canadians the possibilities of a small town. As a result, we have a stronger service culture in Canada. If I gush about him anymore though his ego may swell even more ;). These days you can find the charismatic Jayce Noal helming the program at Clive’s.
 
Victoria

We settle into a “Monje” cocktail with Hornitos black barrel Tequila, Campari, yellow Chartreuse, lemon juice, berry tea syrup and Scrappy’s chocolate bitters.

We could have stopped there and been happy with our visit, but it seemed only fitting to see where Mr. Soole was. The Cafe Mexico. After 31 years of business, a fire and a complete re-build, it is back. Not just back as another Mexican restaurant. But as Canada’s Largest choice of agave spirits with modern Mexican fare.
 
Victoria
We start with the margarita’s and quickly move into the custom creations from behind the bar. A bottle of Sotol being sold at cost price, brings us to the end of our experience. We left with smiles, full bellies, and a looming agave headache.
Victoria
Things start to blur…
The last stop of the night was our hotel bar. Veneto Tapa Lounge. A legendary venue with industry veteran Simon Ogden at the helm. We were lucky enough to run into him on our final stop of the night.
 
Victoria, BC

Fittingly, we were served “The long kiss goodnight” cocktail. Which was exactly what a nightcap should be. Bold, sweet, and with a rich with digestif qualities.Woodford Reserve Bourbon, Amaro Abano, strawberry red wine syrup and cacao coffee bitters.

Honorable mention to Little Jumbo and new cocktail haunt Clark & Co, which we just could not fit in on our night.

After a decent nights rest we had time to kill before taking the ferry back to the mainland and decided that catching the Royal BC Museum would be a great way to spend the morning. Taking in the rich history of the first settlers in Canada, the languages of the native tribes of British Columbia and the history of Victoria’s colonial past. Truly fascinating and worth a visit from any cocktail historian.

Victoria is a place where the drinks and people are steeped in history and worth getting familiar with.

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