12 great places to get a drink in Victoria

The Alchemist

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You could say that Matt Cooke has distilled the spirit of Victoria into his cocktails. The general manager at OLO Restaurant transforms Vancouver Island spirits and local produce into the kind of creatively food-friendly sippers that complement chef-owner Brad Holmes’ fresh comfort food so well. There’s often whisky or gin—Victorians love the smoky and botanical flavours of the British Isles—and a subtle nod to the classics. At the same time, Cooke conjures flavours that are completely new, and often made from scratch.

And he’s not alone. Despite its relatively small size, with a population about an eighth of Vancouver’s, Victoria has a vibrant cocktail scene that makes it truly a great place to get a drink, especially at these 12 watering holes.

The latest…

Veneto Kitchen+Bar/Facebook

Veneto Tapa Lounge in the Rialto Hotel has undergone a luxe reno and been reborn as the upscale urban steakhouse Veneto Kitchen + Bar, where bar manager Brant Porter produces elegantly elevated (and rather sexy) drinks such as the Lava Lamp Negroni.

Coffee? Cocktail? Can’t decide? Have both! At Sherwood Café & Bar, the founder of Habit Coffee, Shane Devereaux, has launched what might be the coolest new joint in town. Open morning to midnight, the Sherwood is a European-style coffeehouse/full service restaurant/cocktail bar/hangout.

If sake’s your thing (and it really should be), then head to E:Ne Raw Food and Sake Bar, which, aside from its excellent Japanese fare, offers one of the largest sake selections in Canada, as well as several creative cocktails. Their team of sake sommeliers can guide you through an extraordinary sipping experience.

The tasting room trend has taken off in Victoria, too. Following the launch of Victoria Distillers’ tasting room on the Saanich Peninsula in 2016, Phillips Brewery has opened its own tasting room downtown, where guests can sample beer, spirits, tonics and a smart selection of cocktails.

Meanwhile, over in Dockside Green, Merridale is building a new LEED-certified distillery, brewhouse and tasting room, with guidance from local bar legend Shawn Soole. They are planning to open next fall.

…and greatest

Classics are classic for a reason, and so is Clive’s Classic Lounge at the Chateau Victoria. Bar manager Jayce Kadyschuk leads a team crafting well-made and inventive cocktails in an elegant room that is one of very few Canadian establishments recognized by Tales of the Cocktail’s Spirited Awards.

Q Bar at the Fairmont Empress in Victoria (Fairmont Empress/Facebook)

When the Fairmont Hotel Empress announced it was closing the Bengal Lounge, many grieved—until they checked out the sleek, chic new Q Bar and its terrific selection of cocktails.

Named for the original Little Jumbo Saloon founded in 1866 by New York cocktail legend Jerry Thomas, Victoria’s Little Jumbo was recently ranked No. 29 by Canada’s 100 Best Restaurants.

At Clarke & Co., owner Shane Clarke has created a casual little venue for tasty tapas and exceptional creative cocktails.

At Argyle Attic, enjoy classic cocktails—and one of the best whisky lists in a town that’s known for its love of single malt—in a cosy Canadian chalet located right downtown.

Chic Cenote sits in the heart of the city, yet manages to stay under the radar, making it a perfect refuge for those who love inventive, handcrafted, witty cocktails like The Devil’s Workshop (Hendrick’s gin, Campari, Pimm’s No. 1, black walnut bitters, mint, lemon).

At OLO Restaurant, bartenders are known for their passion for local ingredients, which they shake up in cocktails like the tiki-inspired mix of spiced rum, Curaçao, pineapple weed and lime, or the spirit-forward combination of rye and amaro with candy cap mushroom.