By John Atkinson
When it comes to offering something different to entice customers, The Games Room scores a touchdown most nights of the week. One of nine — yes, you read that right — bars at the Strathcona Hotel, The Games Room draws a huge crowd of loyal patrons. Senior bartender Cory Gislason, who moved to Victoria from Winnipeg in 2003 and initially landed a job at the hotel’s liquor store, The Strath, said the secret to The Games Room’s success is the fact it stays open until 2 a.m. and offers two of the most popular pub games in the world: pool and darts.
“We’re the ‘only game in town’ on slow nights because we stay open to 2 (a.m.),” said Gislason. “So we’re always going to have a good night and make money.
“When I first started, The Games Room offered more than just pool and darts, including the video game The Golden Tee, which people loved. So there’s always something to do in The Games Room, rather than being a bar where you just sit and bury your head in your drink.”
Gislason said another draw is that patrons can dictate their own terms around the building. “A lot of times you can control the music and the lighting. Unless there’s a function, a DJ or a big weekend.”
Gislason is into his 21st year working at the Strathcona, primarily in The Games Room, and works a lot with Andrew Volk, another great bartender. He says working with excellent staff is a key to The Games Room’s (and the Strath’s) success.
“I met my girlfriend working here and have made lifelong friends working here. It’s such a big place, with such a revolving door; people coming in and out. Plus, the demographics for clients and staff is huge. You get a little mix of everything in here.”
“Technically speaking there are nine bars in the Strathcona – plus every once in a while they’ll set up a beer tub — and when the whole place is going, with a big show in the nightclub or a packed patio in the summer, we’ll have over 2,000 people here.”
Q&A with Cory
What is your signature drink?
“The Strath is known for the Shaft (cocktail) and our (homemade) lemonade. But the Shaft is probably our signature drink, even though the menus change every three months. It was originally vodka, Kahlua, extra strong coffee and some sort of Irish cream. People treat it like a shot, though it looks like a cocktail. And it’s known for being a West Coast and specifically Victoria thing. Everyone makes a different version of it, some adding chocolate or peppermint.”
Where do you feel the Games Room fits within the bar culture in Victoria?
“We’re the last call bar. That’s our niche in town. Most people come here specifically because we’re open late (2 a.m.). Spiced rum and Crown Royal were also two big sellers this weekend with the hockey tournament in town. Everything opens at 11:30 a.m. — with the exception of Big Bad John’s, which is noon.”
What year did The Games Room come to life?
“The Strathcona was built in 1913, I believe, and then bought by the family of the current owners in the mid-1950s. The Strathcona Room became Big Bad John’s in 1962 and then it’s been a real hodge-podge of different name changes and renovations, styles and expansions. In 1991, the Sticky Wicket and Games Room were built. And every bar gets renovated every 10 years.”
And what’s your highlight from working here 20+ years?
“Hard to say, but the annual ski trip is always fun – going to Mount Washington for the day. And when it comes to the people I work with, the good outweighs the bad. It’s made for a very comfortable living so far. Also, this is the longest-standing bunch of the same people coming into play pool – 10-15 people at least once a week. Pretty remarkable.”
To learn more about The Games Room, visit https://strathconahotel.com/games-room .