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Refuge provides just that for loyal local clients

Taproom dodged the COVID-19 bullet and is now thriving
Darren Ainsley opened up Refuge just over four years ago. (John Atkinson)

By John Atkinson

Darren Ainsley created the Refuge Tap Room from scratch just over four years ago and is buoyed by its progress to date — particularly the way they tackled the COVID-19 curveball.

Ainsley, 52, spent 17 years in the food and beverage industry before taking a break and resetting his life and career goals. Sprouting from that reset was the budding Refuge Tap Room.

“We’re a small local tap room which offers all local B.C. craft products, including our award-winning Oatmeal Stout Perfect Storm and an array of other beers, wines and beverages,” Ainsley said. I sampled the Oatmeal Stout and it was to die for.

Townsite Brewing in Powell River is one of their main suppliers.

“We opened just over four years ago, in July, starting from scratch and spent eight months putting it together before COVID-19 hit. We’re in much better shape now.”

“It’s always nice to find a refuge at the end of your day, and the comfortable and inviting atmosphere of our tap room is intended to be just that,” Ainsley said.

Refuge offers a 38-seat bar and secluded back patio — the perfect place to relax and unwind with friends over good food and drink — and is open from 4 p.m. to midnight seven days a week.

Refuge serves up shareable snacks like charcuterie boards. (John Atkinson)
Refuge serves up shareable snacks like charcuterie boards. (John Atkinson)

High-quality and intriguing craft beer and cider options are at the heart of the tap room’s drinks menu. The tap room management has carefully selected 21 delicious BC craft beers and five BC craft ciders including a collection of ales, pilsners, lagers, stouts, and sours, and easy-drinking ciders with distinctive notes of fruit and spices.

Wines on tap have been chosen for their unique tasting notes and ability to stand alone; from opulent reds to bright whites and effervescent sparkling wines. Enjoy a full pour by the glass or select any three to craft a wine-tasting flight.

Refuge also stands out with its unique aesthetic and decor, including curved sequoia wooden tables which add real flair and uniqueness to the bar.

“We found them from a local arborist who knew the contractor we worked with. But I designed most of the aesthetic in here and made it happen myself.”

“Everything in here is also curated,” added Ainsley. “Bath soaps, beer, hand towels and hand soap … everything is intentionally designed.”

READ MORE: Behind Bars: Irish Times serves up the best pour of Guinness


1. What is your signature drink?

“We don’t really have a signature drink, but people come here because they know they’re going to have a different experience every time. We also have a good solid regular clientele that keeps us going.”

2. What makes a great bartender?

“Someone who has excellent product knowledge and attends to the customers’ needs. Multi-tasking is also key, especially during our peak periods when the orders are flying in and it’s all hands on deck.”

3. What do you offer customers on the food front?

“Our menu features shared plates including warm, marinated olives, salty snacks, wasabi, house-made hummus and a charcuterie cheese board.”

4. Where does Refuge sit within the fabric of the Victoria car scene?

“We are pretty unique and have our own niche, not a nightclub or a cocktail bar. People come here to get away from those places and literally take refuge. We’re also professionally run and try to offer a classic bar experience.”

5. What’s been your best memory at the Refuge Tap Room?:

“It’s been a blur pretty much from the start, but putting COVID-19 behind us was huge, and we have lots of really great people in here—both staff and customers.”

Check out located on Fort St. for more details.