The Garrick's Head empire has expanded. Or at least mutated. The Ledge, an upstairs bar and eatery above the Bedford Regency has closed, and it's liquor licence been moved into the space once occupied by a coffee shop next to the hotel reception.
The bar looks good, using the long narrow space effectively, filling one side with a gorgeous long wooden bar. The other side is a series of small booths, with a couple of larger tables at the back. Above the back wall is the chalk board of beers, though this due to be replaced with an electronic list above the bar soon. The bar features about fifty taps and a lot of decent brand label liquors. And Fireball, which is a bit odd, given it seems to be going for a more traditional cocktail/beer bar than a trendy bro-bar serving Coors and Shooters.
But, none the less, the fifty taps are impressive, and have a rich variety of interest kegs and local standards. The down side to the chalk board is it only has the breweries on it right now, and not the beers themselves. Our server was quizzed and questioned on what was on offer, and passed that test. As there's going to be some high turn over, and it's only been open 2 weeks, quite impressive. Also impressed she knew enough of the beers to make recommendations when asked.
Any bar playing the Pixies is going to get an extra mark, and I'll double it because though I could recognize the tracks being played, I could also talk to my friends sitting next to me without screaming like Black Francis. I hope they keep the volume just as it is.
There are 4 huge high definition TVs above the bar, each showing the same feed from 'armchair tourist', a channel dedicated to showing serene pictures from around the world. By around the world, I mean Salts Spring Island, Victoria and parts of Scotland. The bar has them playing in black and white, which gives a nice relaxed vibe, and they aren't too distracting. Unless you are me, who insists on looking up every clip on the website to find out where the highland cows being shown are actually from. The Scottish Highlands, of course.
So, beer. And whisky. I've been twice, and had a great variety of beer. They've had the Driftwood Gose-uh, a speciality wheat beer, slightly soured and very refreshing. I also enjoyed the Green Flash palate wrecker, a hugely hoppy, strong beer. Bittered to just before the point of stupidity. The server recommended the Tofino 'Reign in Blonde', and this went down a treat. Tofino Brewing is building a fine selection of session-able, tasty brews.
On the whisky front, there's not a huge selection, but they've covered the selection well, with a mix of peaty drams and lighter, spicier ones. The Aberlour 12 is good value for a Speyside single malt, and much enjoyed by my friend, who came back again for my second trip of the week, just to get a double to relax over. I had to get the Laphroaig Quarter cask. Big woody, peaty flavour that gets in your face, and then massages itself into your skull as you drink it over and relax into the chat with your friends. They serve it how you want, with ice on the side, neat or any other way.
The cocktails, I'm told, weren't bad. Nothing exceptional, but served right, and fast. I don't think it'll beat out Clive's any time soon, but it's not trying to. It is a little more relaxed, but counter points the Garrick's by going for a more refined approach to the décor and beer lists. A bar you go to to meet your friends, and not new people. For two's and four's to sit in a booth and chat, or at the bar for a sharpener. Not for ten's and twelve's at a long table. We did get seven in one of the booth tables, but that was a squeeze.
My friends also ordered some sharing platters. The calamari was excellent. Al dente, retaining it's bite and flavour, but with a crispy coating that was not oily or over powering. The five layer dip looked expensive, but was served with a whole packet of toasted pita breads. I was surprised (though I shouldn't have been thinking about the logistics) that it all came from the Garrick's kitchen, given that I've not thought the food that side was worth the time. Maybe it was the plating, a good day for the chef or just what was ordered.
So, all-in-all, I've had two relaxed bar nights in there, and been very happy with it. It's moved to the top of my list of places to meet and drink. I even whispered in hushed tones that it might even be as good as the best days of Solomon's for range and atmosphere. But with faster service. I think I need a few more trips to decide...