Bars

From sea to shining sea

Our intrepid duo travel the nation in search of excellent watering holes
By Blair Phillips
Donna Wolfe of The Caledonian
Donna Wolfe of The Caledonian
The whisky bar is as ubiquitous to Canada’s landscape as freshwater lakes. In a recent poll, 73 per cent of Canadians have been in a canoe and 65 per cent have been on a snowmobile, but we can guarantee more have abandoned these banal modes of transportation in favour of stepping into a pub for a dram. As in every great whisky nation, the whisky bar is part of the Canadian community – home base for both locals and travellers to swap stories about their whisky bucket list. This bar list is a drop in that bucket. It’s not a Top 10 list but a starting point where you can gather the troops and set out to conquer the town. Working from sea to shining sea, here are places to grab a drink.

The UnderBelly
288 Water St, St John’s, Newfoundland
www.yellowbellybrewery.com

Like a beacon, the YellowBelly Brewery & Public House at the corner of Water St. and Becks Cove draws visitors to George Street, St. John’s liquid entertainment district. Sneak away from the pack to the underbelly of this speakeasy-style pub in one of the oldest basements in Canada. Charred beams support rough stone walls in one of the few buildings to survive the Great St. John’s Fire of 1892. Grab a YellowBelly’s homebrew if you must, then scan the selection of whiskies spanning the length of the bar, and start dramming. Drop by for Whisky Wednesday where flights from around the world are poured at special prices.

The Caledonian
856 College St, Toronto, Ontario
www.thecaledonian.ca

When Ardbeg returned from the International Space Station in September 2014, the sample bottle didn’t receive a ticker tape parade down Broadway and Park Avenue. Instead, the space whisky preferred the serenity of Canada’s first Ardbeg embassy – the Caledonian. Publican Donna Wolff, being from Speyside, and her husband David opened this Scottish pub in 2008 to give Toronto a Scottish experience without gimmicks. They specialise in freshly prepared Scottish fare and single malts – 330 Scottish single malts with an additional 40 international single malts and 30 Canadian whiskies. The pub has become Toronto’s mothership for international whisky brand ambassadors as a place to congregate and host events. These run about once a week and are open to the public by reservation including the very popular Women and Whisky event.

Burgundy Lion
2496 Notre-Dame St W, Montreal, Quebec
www.burgundylion.com

At the Burgundy Lion, whisky is the king of the jungle. This British pub is obsessed with whisky, organically growing an accessible list of more than 600 since their 2008 opening. A third floor Scotch room caters to large group tastings, and their rooftop English garden serves a traditional Sunday afternoon high tea. If petit fours and scones are not your things, the pub menu gives traditional British pub food a Montreal twist. The English Poutine – twice-fried chips topped with classic British onion gravy and your choice of Stilton or traditional cheese curds. The whisky flight of the month, which rotates through various themes, will hopefully aid in digestion.

The Lunar Rogue
625 King Street, Fredericton, New Brunswick
www.lunarrogue.com

What does publican, Frank Scott do when he runs out of bar space for his whisky? He builds more cabinets – five of them this year alone. Scott and his business partner, Brian Freeman founded the Rogue in 1989, naming it after a local n’er-do-well, best remembered for his moonlit criminal escapades. Today, more than 700 whiskies, 500 of them single malts, on The Lunar Rogue’s gantry ensure a steady stream of whisky tourists to Fredericton’s whisky local and eastern Canada’s unofficial whisky headquarters. Whether you’d prefer a local beer with dinner, or a rare Glen Grant 48, the Rogue welcomes you. Students of flavour can sample flights of 6 half-ounce pours for between $29.95 and $40.95. While bargain hunters and a growing cadre of local grad students may favour the whisky of the week, hardcore aficionados eagerly join the annual Spirit of Speyside Challenge.

One 18 Empire
820 Centre Street S, Calgary, Alberta
www.one18empire.com

Calgary is the birthplace of the Caesar, a cocktail made with vodka, Clamato juice and Worcestershire. The drink’s invention is credited to Walter Chell who first served the Caesar at the Calgary Inn in 1969. But at One 18 Empire, vodka has been assassinated by Johnny Walker Black and the cocktail re-named the Bloody Brutus. In true Canadian fashion, the bartenders embrace politeness and welcome guests to customise their Bloody Brutus with any of the 100 whisky’s listed on their menu. Ask for an Ardbeg Caesar then return to the breakfast buffet next morning to erase your Islay mouth.

The Highlander Pub
115 Rideau Street, Ottawa, Ontario
www.thehighlanderpub.com

The Highlander Pub, right on the edge of the Byward Market – Ottawa’s busiest tourist district, is a favourite hangout for local whisky enthusiasts, too.
In his Royal Stewart kilt, bar manager, Nelson Simmonds matches the pub’s upholstery. Of 250 whiskies, about 200 are single malt Scotches that Simmonds has collected during his 15 years at The Highlander. His best seller?
Forty Creek Barrel Select. Flights (there are ten), which range from $40 to $100 CAD, are a good choice for those still exploring their palate.
On the other hand, students of whisky may prefer Simmonds’ tutored tastings held the second Sunday of each month. On a sunny day, grab a table on the large outdoor patio and order an easy dram, or a beer and a bite to eat.
Then head inside for a proper tasting chosen from the best selection of whiskies that you’ll find in Canada’s capital city.

Fort Garry Hotel Palm Lounge
222 Broadway, Winnipeg, Manitoba
www.fortgarryhotel.com

Travelling Canada by train was fashionable and prestigious by the late 19th Century. The Canadian Pacific Railway cashed in on affluent passengers by building grand chateau-style hotels trackside. This sparked a rivalry. Not to be derailed, Grand Trunk Railway built grand hotels such as 1913s Fort Garry before merging with the CPR in 1920. This is where King George VI and Queen Elizabeth stayed during their 1939 Canadian visit. This iconic visit inspired Seagram’s Sam Bronfman to blend Crown Royal, where 10 cases of the royal blend accompanied the monarch on their journey. Fort Garry’s ritzy Palm Lounge hasn’t changed. A domed ceiling supports an extravagant light fixture accented by columns, drapes and a regal looking bar serving classic whisky cocktails. Make sure to order yours with Crown Royal.

Fort Garry Hotel Palm Lounge
222 Broadway, Winnipeg, Manitoba
www.fortgarryhotel.com

Travelling Canada by train was fashionable and prestigious by the late 19th Century. The Canadian Pacific Railway cashed in on affluent passengers by building grand chateau-style hotels trackside. This sparked a rivalry. Not to be derailed, Grand Trunk Railway built grand hotels such as 1913s Fort Garry before merging with the CPR in 1920. This is where King George VI and Queen Elizabeth stayed during their 1939 Canadian visit. This iconic visit inspired Seagram’s Sam Bronfman to blend Crown Royal, where 10 cases of the royal blend accompanied the monarch on their journey. Fort Garry’s ritzy Palm Lounge hasn’t changed. A domed ceiling supports an extravagant light fixture accented by columns, drapes and a regal looking bar serving classic whisky cocktails. Make sure to order yours with Crown Royal.

Char 5
75 Lower Simcoe St, Toronto, Ontario
www.charfive.com

Bar Manager Ray Daniel’s whisky list is 300 bottles spanning 11 countries at this bar located on the ground floor of the Marriott Delta hotel just a stone’s throw from CN Tower. Daniel waves the Canadian whisky flag with a remarkable 90 Canadian whiskies, a collection that makes the tower look like a giant straw. A list of classic and signature whisky cocktails are available, most featuring Canadian whisky. Daniel hosts private whisky tastings where he tells stories about Canadian whisky’s history accompanied by whisky flights.

Fets Whisky Kitchen
1230 Commercial Dr, Vancouver, British Columbia
www.whiskykitchen.ca

Fets’ whisky menu lists upward of 1,300 whiskies in a book worthy of Webster’s Dictionaries. Behind the 31-years-old bar is the whisky library where staff navigate the massive selection with a network of ladders. Whisky also works its way into the southern inspired menu with whisky-pickled vegetables, 40 Creek whisky ribs and Bourbon butter to slather on the smoked cheddar jalapeno cornbread. However, when the British Columbia government came knocking, they weren’t looking for whisky infused culinary delights. Instead, they were here to play Eliot Ness dress up in a prohibition-like raid where they confiscated 242 Scotch Malt Whisky Society bottles. The issue? British Columbia bars can only sell whisky bought from provincial government-owned stores. These impounded bottles were sourced from private provincial retailers who in-turn purchased their stock at a premium through the same government stores. An outrageous technicality that has seen whisky lovers around the planet stand up and demand change.

Argyle Attic
777 Courtney St, Victoria, British Columbia
www.argyleattic.com

The Argyle Attic looks like a refined hunting lodge decorated by the Hudson’s Bay Catalogue circa 1670. Here, whisky hunters can kick up their feet and truly relax. The place breathes a relaxed warmth where the cocktail menu features Canadian whisky, and the growing whisky list spans the globe. As a whisky fan, you may be tempted to order the whisky barbecue free-run chicken wings but consider the sweet chilli wings. They validate a trip to Victoria alone. So do the stencilled quotes on the walls like, “Canada is like your attic. You forget that it’s up there. But when you go, it’s like, Oh man, look at all this great stuff.” Great stuff found at any of Canada’s whisky bars.
The UnderBelly
The UnderBelly
The Caledonian
The Caledonian
Burgundy Lion
Burgundy Lion
The Lunar Rogue
The Lunar Rogue
The Highlander Pub
The Highlander Pub
One 18 Empire
One 18 Empire
Fort Garry Hotel Palm Lounge
Fort Garry Hotel Palm Lounge
Char 5
Char 5
Fets Whisky Kitchen
Fets Whisky Kitchen
Argyle Attic
Argyle Attic