June 15, 2014

The Garrick's Head, Downtown Victoria

When I first came to Canada, the Garrick's Head seem to be run by three people... two guys behind the bar and a female server who doubled as security, greeter and bus boy.  I have seen her escort the largest guys out, and deal with the drunkest of customers while the barmen wiped the counters down and slung out beer as fast as possible.

In those days, Garrick's was a small back street bar, with an assortment of students, professional drinkers, tourists and working stiffs.  I liked it's lack of pretension to be anything but a place for beer, liquor and pub food.  Though the food was normally not very good unless they'd got in a consignment of Jalapeño poppers from Walmart.  Those were tasty... but deep frying frozen food should be competently done by all.

I had several happy evenings drinking local brews and watching sports centre after a Salmon Kings game, or wrapped up in the corner by the wood fire, drinking local brews with friends, or sitting on the small patio, drinking local brews and watching the world go by.

Now, the Head has tripled in size, taking over the old clothes store on the corner of Government and Bastion Square, opening up a huge long bar with an impressive line up of beer.  Now you can get around 50 different beers on tap, ranging from American Standard Lagers, to high octane, high hopped Northwest IPAs and all you'd want in between.  It's a fantastic line up.  It's not a cheap line up (a pint will cost you around $6.75 before taxes and tips) but I can't think of where else you'd get a dizzy array of choices.  Sometimes it's a little much, with I think nine different rotating taps.  If you can decide between three different specials, an old favourite seasonal and  rarely seen imports from Oregon, it can be hard to pick.  On, the calamity, having a choice! Pro-tip : choose them all.

The choice was made harder at first when the list of specials could only be seen on a scribbled note or above the main bar on a slowly rotating flat screen list.  Nowadays the servers seem to have a neatly printed list they carry with them, so finding the special beer you'd always wanted is much less of a hit or miss affair.  Beer is well kept here and well served.  No complaints on that score, and through the efforts of some craft beer enthusiasts who have worked there, many of the staff know their beer types now, and I'm not going to be offered 'light or dark' when I ask what's on special.

The front area has an array of TVs showing the sports, much like the old bar did in the back.  I watched the greatest NFL play off game ever back in January, cheering along the Seahawks with several dozen others, while drinking local brews at the bar.

The downside of the new area is the noise.  Given the large expanse of glass, wood floor and flat ceilings, the noise levels in the new bar can escalate and echo upwards and upwards, so speaking across a table is a shouting match.  I wish more places would consider the acoustics when putting together a bar.  I never like to shout when drinking.  Unless, I guess, it's a NFL game on.  But that's different.  A little bit of time and effort could dampen the general background noise and make it a better place to chat, without losing the atmospheric buzz of a busy joint.  The back area is still quieter and more relaxed and still has the old veneer of a pro-drinkers pub.  It's just a veneer, but I hope they don't scrape it off any time soon.

Food wise, things have improved.  The back area bar is now all kitchen.  This allows for more range than deep fried Jalapeño poppers and burger patties.  I've had a great fresh cod fillet sandwich there, and the fries are hot, chunky and just right to snack on with a beer.  It's a little over priced, if you ask me, $9.50 for a green salad or $13.25 for a club sandwich.  It's not the sort of food that I think is worth paying over the odds for.

You are not going here for the food. Or the variety of people. It's for the beer and the people you come in with.

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