It was a relatively warm and sunny late Saturday afternoon in Victoria, and 3 pm seemed like a decent time to pause my wanderings for a pint. Just off Government Street was a wondrous, blessed sight – a Scottish pub (Bard & Banker), an English pub (Garrick’s Head), and an Irish pub (Irish Times), all in a row. Or as I like to say, just staggering distance from each other!
And as a bonus, right smack in the middle of the English and Irish pubs is Bastion Square, where locals could watch public hangings back in the day, then hit the nearby watering holes afterwards for some conversation. I love a town with a rich history!
In addition to being a lover of classic cocktails and hard spirits, I am a huge fan of craft beers. Expanding my horizons has been very good for the soul. Having never tried a Scottish ale, I decided today was the day!
Bard & Banker was beautiful inside, shiny yet cozy, with its cream walls, dark wood, and many chandeliers. Awfully fancy for a Scottish pub, I thought, as I headed for the bar.
As I sat down, I beheld yet another wondrous sight: A place of honor for their best Scotch whiskeys! Next to it was a shelf for the rest – bourbons, vodkas, less special Scotch, etc.
But I mustn’t get distracted from my mission. I told the bartender I wanted a Scottish ale. He handed me a menu, and there it was – big, bold red letters, burning into my eyes and brain, like Destiny: Stone Fired Scottish Ale. I ordered it immediately, and was told it was a fine choice.
“Barkeep”, says I, “What be this ‘Phillips Robert Service’?”
“Phillips is the brewing company”, he replied, “As for ‘Robert Service’, aye well there’s a story there!”
The bartender hurried to the other end of the bar, and brought back my ale, a poster, and then the tale.
Robert Service started his career working as a banker in Scotland, like his father. During that time, he devoured books on poetry by Browning, Keats, Tennyson, etc., and started composing his own poems. He later moved to Vancouver BC, and wandered up and down North America, doing odd jobs, falling in love, hitting his family and friends up for money, and having one crazy adventure after another (something about a cowboy outfit, a bordello in Mexico, and so forth). During that time, he published several pieces.
When he was flat broke, he worked for a bank again, as a clerk at the Canadian Bank of Commerce in Victoria BC. This building and pub, where I was having my beer, was that very bank where Robert Service worked, which explained the fancy architecture. Plus, he lived upstairs, where he kept composing his poems and verses. As you might have already guessed, the pub itself was named after him – Robert Service was both the “Bard of the North” and the banker.
As for the Stone Fired Scottish Ale, it was absolutely delicious – rich, flavorful, yet light and fresh! It’s now one of my favorite craft beers. I highly recommend you order this beer when you’re at the Bard & Banker in Victoria BC.
I raised my glass to the man, his poetry, and especially his extraordinary life. Robert Service’s journey continued to the Yukon, where he had many more adventures that inspired some of his most famous poetry.
One of his funniest and most popular poems is the famous “The Ballad of the Ice-Worm Cocktail“. Below is a snippet. Click the link if you want to read the entire poem:
“…”There’s been a run on cocktails, Boss; there ain’t an ice-worm left.
Yet wait . . . By gosh! it seems to me that some of extra size
Were picked and put away to show the scientific guys.”
Then deeply in a drawer he sought, and there he found a jar,
The which with due and proper pride he put upon the bar;
And in it, wreathed in queasy rings, or rolled into a ball,
A score of grey and greasy things were drowned in alcohol.
Their bellies were a bilious blue, their eyes a bulbous red;
Their back were grey, and gross were they, and hideous of head.
And when with gusto and a fork the barman speared one out,
It must have gone four inches from its tail-tip to its snout.
Cried Deacon White with deep delight: “Say, isn’t that a beaut?”
“I think it is,” sniffed Major Brown, “a most disgustin’ brute.
Its very sight gives me the pip. I’ll bet my bally hat,
You’re only spoofin’ me, old chap. You’ll never swallow that…“
All photos taken by Alexandria Julaton