Located in the beating heart of Government Street, The Churchill has made a name for itself on the Victoria bar scene by offering a cozy and classy yet affordable experience in a uniquely intimate corridor-bar setting.
And, by retaining the ‘dive bar vibes’ that once, so the story goes, saw a biker ride his Harley into and right up to the quirky bar during its early years.
The Churchill attracts “an eclectic mix of customers, changing between day and night, when we become ‘The Cave’ — a nighttime hideaway,” said bar manager Michelle Mignealt, 27. “The Cave” is her nickname for the one-of-a-kind evening ambience.
Head bartender Drew Whiteside, 32, said regularly switching up the bar’s menus and offering 50 B.C. craft beers — plus fare from the U.S. or Belgium — help them stand out. The 50 chalk-crafted beer slates mounted on the wall above the bar showcase the current selection.
The Churchill retains the name of the site’s former Churchill Hotel, which was open from the 1940s to 1970s, and opened itself just over nine years ago as more of a bikers/dive bar.
“Bikers regularly frequented the hotel and rumour has it a guy once actually rode right up to the bar on his bike!” said Mignealt.
“We’re still carrying on those welcoming divey vibes,” added Whiteside. “But also offering a higher quality of product than the original Churchill.”
I sampled the tasty deep-fried brussels sprouts and poutine — washed down by the Aloha Kentucky Sour, one of their standout cocktails.
Focusing on expanding their eclectic wine list and background music playlists also make The Chuchill unique — while they recently held a themed surf rock night which was a big hit.
In addition, the 40+ black and white movies they play daily across four mounted TV screens add an extra dimension. A monster-themed movie night, featuring Godzilla, is planned.
“The black and white movies have been a core part of The Churchill since it opened nearly a decade ago and are chosen specifically for their exceptional tone and aesthetic. The Turner Classics are among our roster and Drew’s always adding to it,” said Mignealt.
The bar’s decor and interior design is an eclectic mix of old school hotel lobby and dive bar remnants, with a ram’s head on the wall and other historical memorabilia. “It’s got a timeless feel to it,” added Whiteside.
The Churchill is connected to the Bedford Regency Hotel and neighbouring Garrick’s Head — part of an umbrella ownership of all three — but runs independently.
In the future they’ll aim to host more themed events, evolve the diversity and range of their menus — including elevated pub food from their talented East Indian chef — and continue teaming up with local breweries, such as Phillips, for fun promotions.
What’s your signature cocktail & dish?
Michelle: “The Aloha Kentucky Sour (Bulleit Bourbon, Malibu coconut rum, pineapple juice, lemon juice and raw simple syrup) is popular, but the Capt. Pickard (Earl Grey-infused gin, raw simple syrup and fresh lemon) is our signature cocktail. On the food front, we’re known for our charcuterie board, poutine, delicious house-made fries — and making everything in-house.”
What makes a great bartender?
Drew: “Someone who makes everyone feel really comfortable. We have a wealth of different clients. Some people are just in it for the beer and will ask a million questions about the various craft options. And some come in just wanting something cold in a glass. We just want to offer anyone who walks in the door a great time and quality products.”
How would you describe your ideal customer experience?
Michelle: “Making people feel like this is their second home and providing a safe space. And ensuring new customers enjoy the quality of service so they return. We genuinely love what we do and want to spread that love amongst whoever we can. Now that the cruise ships are in full swing, we’re getting more tourists and this summer is going to be special.”
Where does The Churchill sit within the cultural fabric of the Victoria bar scene?
Drew: “It’s a veteran at this point. We’re tight with the Garrick’s — one of the longest-running bars in Victoria — but doing our own thing. The Churchill covers the gamut of different customer interests in a way not many places do. A lot offer either craft beer, cocktails or wine — and we have all three, plus a trio of locally-sourced ciders on tap.”
To learn more about The Churchill, visit thechurchill.ca.