,Cocktails seem to be making a comeback. Or am I the last one to know? Exploring food in Calgary I noticed people didn’t ask if you wanted to meet for a drink, but instead asked if you wanted to meet for a cocktail. And in Victoria, people mention cocktails when discussing the quality of a restaurant.
I’m more of a wine person (I admit I say rosé all day year round) but there’s something about cocktails now. Instead of being generic drinks you can get anywhere, a lot of bartenders are taking them seriously and using them to showcase local ingredients.
Cocktails in Victoria aren’t just old fashioneds and negronis. You can find thoughtful and interesting uses of local and international ingredients.
And everyone has a story of how that cocktail was made.
And the best cocktails in Victoria aren’t just limited to bars, but restaurants in Victoria have full bar programs. I loved the Bitter Booch at Olo with housemade kombucha with amaro. The Chilled Happiness at Nourish uses ampersand gin, bella rosé, lemon, happy wellness syrup made with Silk Road tea. At Agrius I tried several cocktails and loved them.
Where to Get the Best Cocktails in Victoria
Clive’s Classic Lounge
Don’t let its location in a hotel deter you. In fact, most of the hottest cocktail bars in Victoria are adjoined to a hotel. But this lounge is legendary and staff take cocktails very seriously ensuring they are always well balanced.
Order the Rise and Shine and thank me later.
Clive’s Classic Lounge at the Chateau Laurier
740 Burdett Ave
Foxtrot Tango Whisky Bar (FTW)
The new hot spot in town, the barman here, Shawn Soole, was previously at Clive’s and Little Jumbo and is well known in town. FTW is located in the Hilton hotel, the theme is 1950’s Los Angeles with spins on classic drinks using local ingredients like Silk Road Tea.
If you’re a whisky fan this is the place to go as the menu changes often and features rare bottles and obscure regions. They also feature a guest bartender series with talent from around the world. There’s good reason to go often.
NOTE: this bar has unexpectedly closed. Will update when I hear more!
FTW at the Hilton Doubletree
722 Humboldt St
Some describe it as a bar and others would say it’s a restaurant. For the last five years it’s been considered one of the best spots for cocktails and new Canadian food.
Each cocktail reads like a story; the Witch in the Woods reminds me of a Brothers Grimm fairy tale as I need to drink a potion to keep her away. And it’s hard to choose, by prose or by ingredients?
Another bonus point: reservations accepted here.
506 Fort Street, Down the Hall
Veneto Tapa Lounge
I’ve stayed in many hotels with a bar but few were visited by locals. Yet Veneto at the Hotel Rialto is B-U-S-Y during happy hour and full of locals.
Veneto dares adventurous guests to choose a spirit and taste (sour, sweet, savoury, tart) for a surprise. As a result, I needed to try all the options over several days. My favourite was Brian’s Sunny Side of the Street, and loved that it included pisco.
Oh how I miss pisco sours in Peru.
Veneto Lounge at the Rialto Hotel
1450 Douglas St
Vegans like cocktails too! There’s so much vegan and vegetarian food in Victoria. The most modern vegan restaurant is Be Love (although they do have eggs in some of the brunch dishes). While the non-meat eaters rave about the food, it also has a separate bar that everyone loves. You don’t need to eat at the Be Love bar, you can just pop-in for a drink.
Some Be Love cocktails take a healthy spin with spirulina or bull kelp. Yet others are more whimsicle like the Majik Margarita above with jalapeno infused hornitos plata tequila, cointreau, fresh lime juice, blue majik and turbinado sugar.
1019 Blanshard St
The Fairmont Empress Q Bar
Locals will tell you that as a rule you should stay off Government St. Yet, there are a few exceptions like Garrick’s Pub to drink craft beer in Victoria, and the Fairmont Empress Hotel.
I visited for one specific reason.
The Fairmont partnered with Victoria Distillers to create a signature gin. It’s a vibrant natural indigo colour because it uses butterfly pea blossom. On its own the gin is stunning. But they discovered when this gin is mixed with tonic it turns lilac.
Magic show? Science experiment? Sure it’s a novelty but this gin is also really good and worth the show.
The Q Bar also serves a Q-1908 signature cocktail to celebrate the centennial of the Fairmont Empress Hotel, which is a beautiful lavender gin sour.
Luckily you can buy the Empress Gin and make this gin sour recipe at home.
721 Government St
Disclosure: This series of posts about Victoria British Columbia is in partnership with Tourism Victoria. However, the search of the best cocktails in Victoria was my own impromptu and self-funded solo adventure. Above all, I’m always up for libations research and I discovered there was such a strong cocktail culture.