IN A GUIDE THAT CELEBRATES DRINKING ESTABLISHMENTS OF ALL STRIPES, settling on a binding working definition of a bar can be a complicated task, especially given the rise of next-level beverage programs at restaurants across the country.
There’s always a little grey area, but from our point of view, bars attached to restaurants must have their own space, a dedicated menu and a distinct identity in order to count as bars in their own right on our top 50 list.
For the restaurant bars that we celebrate here, it can be hard to tell where the bar ends and the restaurant begins. One of them — yes, we have a three-way tie — even overlaps with our list of Canada’s 100 Best Restaurants.
The winners of this year’s Best Restaurant Bar award show just how varied this category can be, as they have remarkably little in common. In fact, both in terms of geography and ethos, these three winners couldn’t be further apart — except, of course, for the fact that they all serve fabulous drinks and would be great places to visit.
Some bars — like the one at Pourhouse, with its 38-foot slab of reclaimed Douglas fir, a prodigious backbar and impressive wrought-iron chandeliers — are so great for sitting around that you feel a distinct ambience. For many visitors here, the choice will be either a Scotch egg and a beer, or a cocktail and a burger — two classic pairings the folks at Pourhouse have nailed. And everything about this bar is done with care, from the coffee program to the draft beer pouring from a stunning black ceramic fount, one of many carefully curated custom pieces and antiques that went into the restoration of this century-old heritage building.
The experience begins at the door with a spectacular deco-inspired light installation rippling across the ceiling throughout, beckoning guests up the stairs toward a modernist 20-seat L-shaped bar off the supper club’s expansive dining room. Everything here — from the curvy lines to the abundant champagne and updated retro steakhouse classics — evokes the grandeur and elegance of a more glamorous era. The view from the bar, however, affords a little insight into the obsessive level of attention that drives the ultramodern drinks program (custom-designed immersion circulators, laser-cut drip trays, glass freezers, etc.). Vela might trade on nostalgia, but it sure does make you feel like you’re living in the golden age of drinking out.
Photos by Rick O’Brien
There’s a lot to love about Bar Kismet, from its understated décor to its stunning Mediterranean-inspired seafood. In the brief five years it’s been open, Kismet has managed to inspire a new trend — the Atlantic elevated resto-bar movement. (This includes Highwayman and Field Guide in Halifax and 11th Mile in Fredericton, all of which impressed our judges this year.) The world-class cocktails at Kismet’s cozy bar have helped spark enthusiasm for a new style of hitting the town, namely, casually dropping into a friendly setting to savour some haute locavore drinks along with the catch of the day, served up on small plates.
Photos by Jessica Emin