The most British of all Canadian cities, I finally got a chance to see it this summer (2016). Though small, the cocktail scene is alive and well, and it could easily be argued that Victoria is well ahead of most of the rest of the cities in Canada, regardless of it’s relative size. The following is a summary of the bars I visited. From what I understand, this is pretty much it. Clive’s Classic, Veneto and Little Jumbo are among the best in the country.
Little Jumbo: I don’t get the feeling there are that many high-end and current restaurants in Victoria as most of the downtown core seems dominated by tourists (of which I was one) and cruise shippers. Any way, Little Jumbo is the exception. Not only is the food great, the place is beautiful and the cocktails as good at any restaurant bar to which I’ve been. Really and truly worth visiting. Book ahead.
Clive’s Classic Lounge at Chateau Victoria: Clive’s Classic Lounge represents one of the best hotel bars in Canada. West Bourget, my bartender both nights I was there, is a great guy, amazing drink master and creator of one of the best Baska Snaps cocktails in history. I’d recommend sitting right at the bar. The cocktail list is impressive and the place has an authentic feel of yesteryear. Maybe it’s the low ceilings and rich furnishings, I don’t really know for sure, but you feel welcome and slightly but pleasantly inebriated the moment you walk in.
Veneto at The Rialto: Though technically a hotel bar or even a restaurant bar, Veneto feels more like a true bar. Don’t even think of sitting anywhere but right at the bar and try to go on a night Brian Newham is serving. The cocktails, ingredients and spirit collection is of the highest quality. Truly a beautiful place. Don’t forget to check out the Rialto liquor store next door.
Q Bar at The Fairmont Empress: Apparently the recently closed Bengal Bar was old school spectacular. I was crushed to have missed seeing it by only a few months. I figured it would have been replaced by modern ugliness but was really pleasantly surprised by the Q Bar. The room, stunning ceilings, bar, lighting and artwork is nothing short of spectacular. The cocktails are pretty ordinary but you could do much worse for a hotel bar in Canada.
Clark & Co.: The head bartender at Clark & Co. is well respected in Victoria and the sorrel-infused Vesperish drink I had reflected that well. The sports TV above the bar was a bit of a disappointment, but otherwise it seemed a decent place to grab a nice drink.