November 25, 2009

Robert Service: Bard & Banker

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He's known as the Bard of the Yukon, born in England in 1874, raised in Scotland, an adventurer named Robert Service who traveled up and down the west coast of North America. His gift for spontaneous rhyme would bring him fame and fortune (as it did to England's Rudyard Kipling, Australia's Banjo Patterson and America's Ernest Thayer, to name a few). A true "people's poet," Service had apprenticed as a banker in Glascow, and would support himself as a teller for the Canadian Bank of Commerce in Whitehorse and in Victoria, often sleeping (shotgun at the ready) above the vault.

He saw more than his share of violence and misery (all of which he turned into verse) but he was also under "The Spell of the Yukon"

It's the great, big, broad land 'way up yonder,
It's the forests where silence has lease;
It's the beauty that thrills me with wonder,
It's the stillness that fills me with peace.
Today, the Victoria branch of the now-defunct CBC has morphed from one of those year-round Christmas stores into a sparkling, 320-seat gastropub named in Service's honor, the Bard & Banker. It's one of 13 pubs owned by Matt MacNeil's Victoria Pub Company, which also includes Island favorites Irish Times and Penny Farthing.

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As befits a former bank, there's plenty of marble and brass here; as befits a pub, 30 beers on tap, dozens of single malts behind the bar, live music nightly and free wi-fi.

What's less expected is B&B's commitment to local fare, first with a "Two-Mile Diet" of local breweries, then a "What's in Season?" list of the freshest ingredients (this week: chanterelles, cabbage, cranberries, pumpkins, squash). GM Mike Boyle enjoys pairing the dishes with local beers; we were impressed by the Herrmann's Dark Lager with spicy peppered albacore and Stanley Park ale with a plate of chanterelles and pasta. Exec Chef Richard Luttman recognizes that sophisticated travelers want to eat "iindigenous" food, although he does make an exception for lemons.

“With any good pub, there has to be a story,” says Moore. And Service's story was a good one indeed. He survived the Yukon and two World Wars, married and retired to a village in Brittany, where he died, in 1958, at the age of 87.

Bard & Banker, 1022 Government Street, Victoria, BC, 250-953-9993  Bard and Banker on Urbanspoon

Posted by Ronald Holden at November 25, 2009 11:11 AM | TrackBack

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