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Behind Bars column visits Rebar

Comfort dining and cocktails with a twist

- Words by John Atkinson

Rebar began as a juice bar in a hole-in-the-wall spot on Johnson Street. It quickly relocated to Bastion Square to allow for expansion, and more than 30 years later is now a blend of juice bar, regular bar and vegetarian restaurant.

“Audrey, who opened Rebar and wrote the famous Rebar cookbook, was a real foodie enthusiast with a penchant for vegetarian comfort food,” said front-of-house team member Andrea Lee. “That was sort of the inception of Rebar and we created a bit of a niche.”

Rebar added an actual bar more than 20 years ago, and now, along with its famous juice blends and vegetarian fare, serves beer, wine and cocktails. The latter are based on classic concoctions, including the Caesar, Mojito, Margarita, Cosmo and Mule.

I sampled a new entry— the Espresso Martini— and enjoyed a refreshing blend of vodka, Kahlúa, Frangelico and espresso. The coffee twist was memorable.

“Right now we’re doing a lot of coffee-based stuff, while offering our menu of regular classic cocktails. All the fruit juice we use is freshly squeezed, and we do hot juices as well, such as the Spiced Winter Zinger. We mix freshly squeezed apple, lemon and ginger with spiced rum, and then steam it up. It’s delicious; like a play on apple cider, only stronger.”

The drinks menu changes to reflect the seasons.

“Our Axis Shift is probably one of the more popular juices, blending carrots, apples, beets and ginger. And each of these juices probably has five full apples, so they’re packed with servings of fruit and veg. And you can throw a shot of vodka in an Axis Shift, why not?

“From the cocktail menu, the Cosmo is really popular because of that freshly squeezed orange juice and cranberry juice combo, along with our Mojito, featuring fresh lime and pineapple. Beer and wine come more to the fore in the summer, but the juices and cocktails are strong sellers year-round.”

Lee has been part of the Rebar story for around four years, beginning life as the head chef before transitioning to one of the front-of-house members two years ago.

Rebar’s vegetarian dishes also make it stand out from the crowd, offering homemade and hearty comfort food made from scratch.

“Our famous almond burger, with an original and secret recipe, is delicious and has been a customer favourite for 30 years. The peanut noodle bowl is another favourite and our tangy peanut sauce is awesome. We have nine or 10 key sauces that bind a lot of this menu together. Some people also just come here for the multi-ingredient Rebar salad.”

Beyond the food and drink, what makes Rebar unique?

“We have a lot of regulars. And it’s the people that won’t stop coming, which is a real blessing. So, I would say familiarity, consistency, knowing what they’re going to get, and knowing it’s going to be exactly how they want it.

“Rebar was sold to Anil and Neha Dangra three years ago and they’ve been dedicated to preserving the legacy that we’ve built. They also renovated the kitchen and dining room, streamlined our suppliers and are pretty hardcore about preserving the high standards we’re famous for.

“I hope we can continue to survive in this market. The pandemic years have been pretty brutal for everybody. My hope is we get through them and pick up where we left off. Regain full capacity and ultimately thrive.”

Q&A with Andrea Lee

What’s a fascinating fact about Rebar? “The Rebar cookbook, and having a cookbook so widely available and popular. I meet people from all over the world who come here and buy a copy and then tell me they already have it, but they’re taking a new one home for their friend or mother-in-law. It’s cool the recipes have been preserved that way. People feel invested. We have people that come in and say ‘every year on my husband’s birthday I make that Rebar carrot cake. It costs me $50 and takes two days, but I make that cake.’”

What traits make a great bartender? “Efficiency, high standards and the ability to do multiple things at once—all while carrying on a conversation. In the swing of things, you have to be able to maintain an ongoing conversation with customers, while putting out perfect products. It’s not something that can really be trained. Great bartenders have that innate ability and instinct.”

Describe your ideal customer experience? “One where they feel at home, are thrilled with the food and drink, and enjoy the whole experience. They leave satisfied, full and feeling good about what they consumed. Feeling like they got the ultimate value for their money.”

What’s your best memory working here? “Meeting Billy (Rebar’s other front-of-house star). I kind of gained a best friend there. He’s a special guy and sometimes holds Rebar up by the foundations. He’s loved it from the moment it opened and has basically put his whole adult life into this place. Front-of-house is not my natural place, so I’ve learned a lot from watching Billy. He’s sort of a master.”