The Churchill, like a younger brother to the boisterous and prolifically-tapped Garrick’s Head Pub around the corner – both are in the Bedford Regency Hotel – is quietly making a name for itself in its narrow, yet cozy space down on Government Street.
With 30-plus cocktails on the menu and more beer taps than many larger bars, The Churchill is a “come as you are” place that benefits from the tourist trade, but has developed a strong local following, says bar manager Tyler Rowe. He helped open The Churchill five years ago after two years at the Garrick’s Head.
“We’ve got the third-biggest tap list in town and hundreds of bottles of spirits,” he tells me and my beverage partner on the day, Monday restaurant reviewer Allan Reid. With so many ingredients close at hand, Tyler says even the most unusual cocktail orders are no problem: “We just Google it.”
He methodically mixes Allan and I a Hispaniola Kickflip. It’s a combination of two different cocktails he was working on a while ago and he decided to keep both names.
This mixture of Bulleit bourbon, rooibos simple syrup, fresh muddled Washington Bartlett pear and Angostura bitters provides a refreshing and fruit-forward beverage that can go down well any time of the day. The pear gives it a slightly thicker consistency that allows one to sip, rather than guzzle this drink.
Allan notes the presence of the rooibos, adding that this tea flavouring gives the cocktail its “dusky undertone.”
Tyler enjoys the fact his bar has good relationships with local brewers and distillers alike. It allows them to promote Victoria “consumables” to visitors and locals alike.
Now let’s hear more from this veteran city bartender:
Your claim to fame/best up-the-sleeve trick or technique? For the Churchill, probably our ability to do so many different things well, with 50 taps, 88 whiskies, dozens of cocktails. We strive to do as much as we can at a high level.
What’s hot right now? New flavours. In general, cocktails seem to have captured the imagination of our younger clientele, and there are new frontiers being explored in beer as well.
What traits make a good bartender? A bartender’s focus is always on the customer, but a crucial part of that is being vulnerable and letting our true selves be seen. People know when we’re being real, and it goes a long way to their enjoyment, knowing it’s authentic and off-script.
What’s your signature drink? We emphasize simplicity and purity of flavour more than exotic experimentation. Our Old Fashioned couldn’t be simpler, and it’s pretty darned good. All our whiskey drinks are probably what we’re known best for.
What are you drinking these days? Anything local. We’re so lucky to have such talented distillers, brewers, roasters, chefs, winemakers, etc. on this island of ours. I’m very enthusiastic in particular about the Ancient Grains whiskey from DeVine.
Best memory from behind the bar? I once had a couple say to me, “we had planned to leave after one drink, but we’ve decided to stay because we are moved by the depth of your character.” I was floored – what a lovely thing to say! I love it most when family and old friends who don’t work in my industry come in to see me. It means a lot to be able to share my passion with them, and show them all the work that goes into what we do.
The Churchill, 1140 Government St.
In case you missed them, here’s some of our previous features: