November 24, 2009

Cocktails at Clive's

Clive%20Piercy%20w%20Shaker.jpg Clive%27s%20sign.jpg Absinthe%20fountain.JPG Amaro%20Nonino.JPG

It's a tight little island, the Victoria bar scene: everybody drinks at Rick's Clive's.

When Clive Piercy, who loved to go hunting in the prairies of Alberta with his German pointer, Shaker, built the 19-story, 177-room Chateau Victoria in 1975, he put a gourmet restaurant (Vista18) on top and a coffee shop (Victoria Jane's) on the ground floor. If we know anything, fashion changes with the seasons, furnishings wear out over the decades, and old dogs chase their last grouse. Shaker has been gone for almost 25 years but lives on in bronze outside the Chateau's front door. Piercy's still very much alive, and the one-time coffee shop, reworked as a lounge, now bears his own name.

It's a comfortable room (fireplace, traditional leather, contemporary glass); what's unexpected is the bar manager, Shawn Soole, a lively bloke from Brisbane, with both Aussie informality (spiky hair) and a serious focus.

Mixologists, of course, don't just "tend bar;" they combine the elements of a cocktail with the skill and understanding of ingredients you'd expect of a creative chef. Hence this unusual Negroni, with Amaro Ninino substituting for Campari. (By coincidence, this very morning, Eric Asimov's column this morning in the New York Times covers the range of Italian amari.)

Some folks find Campari too bitter, according to Shawn, though it falls into the same general category as Jäeger, dude. Add shots of Punt è Mes and Beefeater 24 and you've got yourself a Negroni on steroids, flavorwise. He also makes a sort of Negroni Light, with a Campari-flavored egg-white foam, which Cornichon found singularly unappetizing.

One of the bar toys at Clive's is an absinthe fountain, which Shawn put to good use with a Canadian absinthe, Taboo, distilled in the Okanagan. Flavors of star anise, hyssop and fennel here, rather than licorice. There's an extensive post in our archives about absinthe, part of our review last year of the Arctic Club Hotel's Polar Bar, which is worth rereading. It quotes cocktail authority Robert Hess, who is also reverently cited in Clive's menu as the savior of the Trident cocktail.

In his spare time, Shawn is associate editor of Chilled Magazine and runs a company called The Liquid Revolution, which sells a professional-quality, 12-inch muddler of his own design. Among the muddler's most enthusiastic supporters are Shawn's cross-town competitor, Solomon Siegel (who runs Solomon's, another serious cocktail bar, sorry we missed you this time around) and Kevin Brauch, aka The Thirsty Traveler, whose show is seen on Food Network in Canada and Fine Living Network in the US.

Sorry, too, that we were a couple of weeks too late to attend the Art of the Cocktail, a two-day fundraiser for the Victoria Film Festival, which drew dozens of star mixologists from BC, Washington and Oregon. Named best mixologist of the Pacific Northwest was Vancouver's luminary David Wolowidnyk, bar manager at South Granville's West. Solomon Siegel finished third. Among the judges, Seattle's Murray Stenson.

Oh, and the former F&B manager at the Chateau, Geoff Parker, went on to take over Paprika Bistro, one of "Victoria's Secrets" (joint reviews with Hedonista Jacqueline Pruner, coming up in a few days). We warned you: everything is connected. Six degrees of alcohol, no doubt.

Clive's Classic Lounge, 740 Burdett Ave (ground floor, Chateau Victoria), Victoria BC, 250-361-5684   Clive's Classic Lounge on Urbanspoon

Posted by Ronald Holden at November 24, 2009 10:00 AM | TrackBack

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