The Bard & Banker: A Tale about a Pub, a Poet, and Damn Good Beer

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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!

 

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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!

 

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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!

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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“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.

 

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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.

 

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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…

Cheers!

 


All photos taken by Alexandria Julaton

 

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Distilled Discovery: The Liberty Distillery

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It was late morning when I walked out into a perfect Spring day – rainless, sunny and cool enough to wander aimlessly for hours. I took the Aquabus ferry across from dowtown Vancouver BC to Granville Island, with its sensory-overload foodie paradise markets, art galleries and curiosity shops – one of my favorite places on earth. I usually go before the crowds arrive, so I could get to my treats fairly quickly.

 

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After loading up on gourmet treats, I wandered beyond the markets. Beneath the bridge on Johnston Street, I saw the sign for The Liberty Distillery, creator and purveyor of fine liquid spirits – mainly vodka, gin and whiskey – since 2010. I opened the door for a peek, and was pulled inside by a loud, friendly Scottish accent and a good-looking barkeep.

 

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Not being Happy Hour yet, there were a few people inside. I chatted up the bartender about Scottish and Irish history for a bit,

From the bar’s seating area, I could see the handmade copper stills and other equipment where their liquor is distilled and fermented onsite. According to their website:

The Liberty Distillery chose CARL, Germany’s oldest distillery fabricator to custom design our stills because of their rich 140-year family tradition and uncompromising dedication to aesthetics, design, innovation, and patented ‘aroma plates’ in the rectification columns.

 

 

Eventually, I decided to taste two of their gins: Endeavour Gin and Endeavour Old Tom.

Their Endeavour  Gin was created in the London Dry style, boldly fragranced and flavored by a blend of 10 botanicals, including juniper and citrus. Instead of a smooth finish, this gin had a bite. Definitely a gin to have as a martini, with vermouth to tame its spicy personality.

 

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The bartender told me about a gin’s Navy strength, a term that came from the days when hard liquor was transported by Navy ships. In case any of the liquor leaked or spilled out of the barrels during transport, the warship’s gunpowder had to be able to still ignite even after being soaked in it.

But being stored in barrels has a price, due to its porousness. Some evaporation occurs during the aging process, about 2%. All that wonderful liquor rising up to the heavens has been called the “angel’s share”.

 

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The Endeavour Old Tom was a different story. This gin was stored in French Oak barrels for several months, during which it gained both its deepened flavors and interesting mahogany color. I held the shot glass up to my nose; fragrant and heady. The flavors that came with each sip were complex and many – more fruit-ish than fruity, like a pastry would be, but balanced and smooth. On top of that, the oak added that extra level of sublime and deep character.

Waves of blissful joy. As a whiskey and bourbon lover, this was my kind of gin!

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There were bottles on the showcase shelf that looked like they held something liquid in a very pretty shade of pink. They were the Endeavour Pink Gin. Yes, PINK gin! Of course, I had to have a shot!

 

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The Endeavour Pink was a “limited release” gin, due to its seasonal main ingredient – wild rosehips. The berries, combined with the juniper base, resulted in a fresh, flowery fragrance enjoyed by my palate and nose.

Like a booze-y kiss from a rose.

And the pale, beautiful pink hue added to the whole experience. Sadly, at $45.99/bottle, plus sin tax, this was destined to become a recurring memory instead of a repeat experience. Ouch!

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I’m looking forward to coming back for these creative, expertly crafted gins on my next trip to Granville Island. But next time, when I’m not tipsy from gin shots, I’ll definitely give their cocktails a try.

 

Pics of Endeavour Gin bottles courtesy of the Liberty Distillery website.
All other photos by Alexandria Julaton.

 

Stripper Nachos and the Margarita Lesson

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What could possibly make quittin’ time even better? Happy hour!

My girlfriend Renee was meeting me after work. I worked through lunch so that I could leave early and snag us a table at the bar. Downtown bars filled up fast during happy hour with people trying to score cheap eats, house drinks, and someplace to go to wait out the horrible traffic.

Renee was my newest gal pal, so I wanted to pick out a nice bar for our first meetup, one with extensive happy hour offerings. She liked Mexican food, so I figured a nice, upscale Mexican bistro with a death fetish and flaming coffees would make for a great impression. I think she mentioned she was vegetarian, so I ordered non-meat nachos from the happy hour menu as our starter snack. And of course, a good, solid margarita (this place uses fresh lime juice, not sweet and sour mix) to celebrate the end of the day, and the beginning of a new friendship!

 

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I chatted with the bartender a bit, told her I noticed they made margaritas with just tequila silver, a blanco, as opposed to a reposado or anejo. She explained that because the anejo and reposado were smoother and sweeter than the blanco, they would make the margarita too sweet and the tequila too difficult to detect. Plus the anejo and reposado, being aged and smoother, were more expensive than the blanco. Mixing them into margaritas would be wasteful, and should instead be enjoyed neat.

 

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A few minutes into my margarita, I texted Renee to see if she was still coming. When I looked up, there she was with her sparkly hazel eyes and grinning red lips. Even after a full day’s work, she looked wide awake and unstoppable! I offered her the nachos while she was reaching for the cocktail menu. “Oh, I can’t.” Renee said apologetically. “I’m vegan, gluten-free and dairy-free.”

We scoured the menus for animal-free/gluten-free items and came up empty. “That’s okay,” she said. “I’ll just order a side of carrots.” This place was a fail and utterly unacceptable. I was open to suggestions.

 

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Renee was familiar with the dietary restrictions food scene, and suggested a place I’d never heard of that was just a few minutes away. The entrance was in a narrow, seedy alleyway. Fortunately, it wasn’t completely dark yet. But at this time of year, 4:30 pm was sundown.

 

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Looking at it from outside, I thought, “Wow, what a hole. Renee comes HERE?”. Walking in, I noted that the place was small but clean, and did have a respectable bar with a good liquor selection. The prayer candles were an interesting detail, too. There were lots of them, for whatever reason. I decided to trust and roll with it.

 

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It was still happy hour, so we could get deep discounts on food, well drinks and cocktails. Renee ordered vegan nachos and I got tacos. In my experience, happy hour margaritas were mostly fruit-flavored sugar water with almost no tequila, and the one I had there lived up to all my expectations. Still, the food was really tasty.

 

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Halfway through my drink, I needed the restroom, and was told to go through this strange door to get there. The signage confused me. No minors allowed in the restaurant, or no minors permitted to use the restrooms?

 

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As I opened the door, the first things I noticed were darkness, and loud throbbing music. Not the clubby, dance-y kind you’d bounce to while sipping your appletini; more like the slow, grinding raw kind you listened to while sullenly throwing back shots. As my eyes adjusted, I noticed a silent crowd drinking, watching young pretty girls on stage writhing, swaying, and whipping their hair around.

On the dimly lit path to the bathroom, I had stumbled into a labyrinth of sin and nubile flesh that left nothing to the imagination. I watched as men walked up to the stage and shoved their dollar bills into unmentionable places on ladies bending, kneeling, waiting to receive their treat.

Where the hell was I??
Oh. Right. I’m at a Mexican restaurant that shares bathrooms with a strip club, of course.

 

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I took no pictures of all this because the bouncer seated by the door was looking at me like that would be a really bad idea. Seeing the ladies prance and dance with money tucked into their naughty parts really made me think about the dollar bills in my wallet. Oh, the places that paper money may have been. I think I’ll be transacting on a credit card-only basis from now on.

From that day forward, to Renee and me, that restaurant was code name: Stripper Nachos.