Bodega's Chili Berisoff

Bodega brings Spanish flair to downtown Victoria

Behind Bars with John Atkinson

Bodega Tapas Bar is bringing a little slice of Spain to Victoria’s Trounce Alley, one of the must-visit gems in the city.

Bodega celebrated its eighth birthday in June, and is sister restaurants with next-door neighbour The Tapa Bar, which has been open for more than 30 years.

Owner Emily Henderson says, “The Bodega interior was designed by celebrated architect Sandy Nygaard, and she won a design award for her efforts. Her husband was also the general contractor who fitted it out.”

Along with promoting a Spanish ambience, Henderson says Bodega’s attention to detail and friendly, homely setting ensure lots of regular customers.

“We’re also a space that caters to everyone: every age range, young and old alike.”

Head bartender Chili Berisoff adds, “Once you try a sherry, everybody likes a sherry. It’s not uncommon for us to have punks and businessmen all sitting together enjoying sherry.”

Berisoff notes that the Spanish theme sweeps right through Trounce Alley.

“This whole alleyway adds a sense of romance because of all the fairy lights. And, like in Spain, all the tapas bars are usually next to each other, so you can kind of do a tapa hop. We have three restaurants in a row now that all do similar things, so it’s kind of cool for our customers to feel like this alley is a Spanish street.”

Berisoff, who’s been at Bodega almost six years, said Bodega was launched as a passion project to offer a uniquely Spanish experience.

“Next door is a bit more of a fusion tapas house, offering Mexican, Latin American and even some Portuguese dishes. In contrast, we wanted to open up a space that was traditionally Spanish, while still using local West Coast produce.

“We’ve focused on trying to teach people about the lifestyle of tapas and Spanish culture. We like to bring in exclusively Spanish spirits and wines, and we also specialize in fortified wines.

“Fortified wine is more of a lifestyle, and we teach people that it’s actually quite trendy. Sherry is actually not so much a grandma’s drink, and it’s really nice to drink with your tapas. Vermouths, too. Most vermouths are traditionally made in Spain, France and Italy, but now there have also been lots of cool local ones and there’s a resurgence happening here on the island.”

Here is more of what Berisoff had to say: What traits make a great bartender? Somebody who can multitask, provide good service and be a teacher at the same time. So, for example, if someone has questions and is interested in what you are doing, not only do you continue providing drinks for everyone, but you also take the time to teach people and help them learn the lowdown on fortified wines, cocktails and even food. Ideally, every customer leaves with great memories—and a new slice of knowledge.

What’s your signature cocktail?

We don’t usually have one, but every couple of months we like to flip our cocktail menu and name it after famous singers, musicians or bands that we’re really into. So right now my entire cocktail menu is based on songs by Nina Simone. The one before that was Black Sabbath, and before that we did Steely Dan. We also like to put sherry and vermouth in all of our cocktails, as most people will use juices or citrus.

Describe your ideal customer experience. I definitely like people who come in not knowing what to expect, so we can surprise them. That’s always fun, when people are like, “I don’t know what sherry is.” And everyone’s usually pleasantly surprised. I’ve never had anyone who’s said, “Actually, I really don’t like sherry. Can you please send that back?” Everyone’s like, “This is awesome. What a cool experience. Who knew that you could elevate a food and drink experience like that?” Sherry is generally meant to be paired with food and not just offered as a dessert drink.

Where does Bodega sit within the fabric of Victoria’s bar culture? I think small plates in general are a really classy way to eat, and it’s opening up a door for people to be more open to trying new things and sharing. Lots of notable places, like Wind Cries Mary and End Dive, do small plates. It’s just a very cool new style of eating which came from the traditional tapas and has spawned into a different kind of culture. So we like to still keep it really traditional, including classic dishes like patatas bravas on our menu. I think we fit in really well. Especially when it comes to cocktails. I like people to eat when they’re drinking, and little bites can heighten and transform your entire experience.

To learn more about Bodega, visit

Food and Drink