We’re back with our second installment of the West Coast Cocktail Commentary’s Cocktail Bar Reviews!
Now, it’s important to state our intention when doing these reviews. They’re more of a celebration than anything remotely critical. We love our cocktail culture here on the west coast, and all the creativity, effort, and love that goes into each glass. If there’s a cocktail bar or other establishment that we aren’t crazy about, we likely won’t go and spend our cash there, and therefore they won’t be featured on this blog.
Our second feature perhaps should have been our first. Since opening in 2008, well before the 2013 changes in B.C. Liquor Laws that catalyzed the boom in the craft spirits market, Clive’s Classic Lounge has been at the forefront of the west coast cocktail scene. Basically, the people at Clive’s are masters of mixology, and have been for longer than anyone else - even before it was cool. One might say that Clive’s helped make cocktails cool again out here on the coast. And for that, we salute you.
Our party of four stepped into the cozy confines of Clive’s on a hot July evening, but it always feels the same in this lounge. It’s an ideal destination to slow down, avoid the noise, and have a genuine conversation. Catching up with old friends? Perfect location. Celebrating a Friday? Few better places than here to do so. Want to class up a first date? Pretty much guaranteed to secure a second one (sitting at the bar for a first encounter can be a great icebreaker - it’s casual and there’s lots of conversation pieces...just as long as your date doesn’t fall for the smooth moves and accommodating smile of the drink-slinger).
The conversation at Clive’s inevitably moves to the cocktail list. The menu is cleverly categorized into flavor profiles: Bright & Fresh, Herbal & Complex, and Bold & Pure. There is also a tempting array of Tiki Cocktails (which I now regret not ordering. Guess I’ll have to go back). Despite it being the midst of summer, my attention immediately went to Bold & Pure. Perhaps it’s my nature to be bold (can’t say I’m totally pure), but rich, deep flavors are my cup of...whisky.
Everything about the experience felt thoughtful - the glassware, the garnishes, and the service. At times, in a cocktail bar, the server isn’t exactly an expert of the craft, and questions are deflected back to the bartender. This was not the case. Not just prompt and gracious, our server, Paige, was also quick to provide comprehensive answers and even brought back a sample of an unacquainted ingredient (Bornholmer Amer - a Danish bitter liqueur that’s stunningly complex but not exactly a sipper).
In terms of the cocktails, we were pleased with all, but the “Scenic Route” took top honours. Even though it featured Cynar, Aperol and Abano Amaro (all relatively bitter spirits), it was well-rounded with the addition of coconut syrup, and extremely satisfying.
Another favorite was the delicate yet deep “Solitude,” with Japanese favorite Suntory Toki Whisky leading the way, and cinnamon-pear dark balsamic providing bright acidity. As we didn’t stay solely in the Bold & Pure category, the “Garden Party” was also enjoyed, allowing us to feel as if we were tipping it back in Victorian England, alongside biscuits and cake, all the while discussing the sordid scandals of the aristocracy.
If you haven’t paid a visit to Clive’s of late, it’s high time. It can be easy to forego a classic in favour of the new, shiny bar in town, but sometimes we need to pay tribute where it’s due. After all, if we didn’t have Clive’s, who knows what the rest of our cocktail scene would look like?