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Behind Bars with bartender Alex Snow

Uncovering the mysteries of The Mint

Subterranean tunnels…underground passageways…hidden stairwells. Local myth or truly legendary?

Knit firmly into the historic fabric of Victoria are the stories of such hideaways. And it doesn’t take much to confirm this truth; just a simple stroll downtown provides all the evidence needed. And it’s right at your feet. See those embedded purple glass tiles on the sidewalks in the heart of downtown? Yes, underground hideaways.

There is nothing better for the Monday Magazine taste team than discovering a bar with a bit of intrigue, a bit of mystery. And we found it just a short walk from the corner of Yates and Douglas, and so tucked away, you might have passed it dozen of times without a thought. We entered through unmarked rod iron gates, down a hidden stairwell and into a low-lit brick hallway.

Behold The Mint, a well-known secret for the past 20 years, featuring great food and drinks, and a mystery-laden spot ideal for social gatherings.

If you’re looking for “boozy on a budget” (or happy hour), The Mint is well worth the adventure to get there. Bartender Alex Snow proved this from the moment the Monday team walked in. The Mint is the perfect environment for an alchemist like Alex, and just the stage for him to practice his passion for mixology. Classic cocktails and seasonal specialties have names that play like an ode to literature. In the world above ground, we learned Alex is studying for an English degree, so here you’ll find drinks like“East of Eden” and “Shake Hands with the Devil.”

Alex went to work, pouring just the right amount of Sheringham vodka with Legend’s Harvest Gin, Esquimalt Lavender Tonic Bitters and a touch of cranberry spirit to produce “Listen to the Hummingbird.” Smooth, silky, sour—just the ticket after a hard day’s work.

Our second drink, “The Old Man and The Sea,” emerged in complete contrast—sophisticated with deeper flavours and hints of tobacco and leather—blending Old Grand Dad Bourbon, Cuban Smoked Havana dark rum, Cynar, topped with a little demerara syrup and Vanilla Cherry Bark bitters. You can’t get that at home!

The taste team declared: The Mint is mystery no more! But let’s hear more from Alex.

What’s your claim to fame; your best up-the-sleeve trick or technique? Shaken drinks. Anything frothy. I embarrassed myself years ago when I was still a pretty green bartender by attempting to make a ginger Jameson’s sour and I remember being so nervous, the foam came out inconsistent and “frog-eyed.” So, I practiced until I mastered the micro-foam, and I now pride myself on having mastered the sour with any spirit.

What’s hot right now? Non-alcoholic cocktails, or mocktails, and beers. This is something I am tremendously excited about. The sober lifestyle is becoming more and more appealing during the pandemic, especially to those who have been having a rough time of it. But just because alcohol is taken out of the mix doesn’t mean you have to give up delicious drinks. Long gone are the days of soda waters and Sherry Temples. With so many new non-alcoholic substitutes emerging on the market, the mocktail scene is just as colourful as regular cocktail programs. The Mint is working towards being more and more inclusive to the sober crowd with our full length mocktail menu, our newest was released February 1 for Dry Feb for Cancer.

What makes a good bartender? There are so many kinds of great bartenders, but I think one thing they all share is a unique sense of creativity. Mixology is an art, and like any artist, each has their own style and flair. Another pertinent trait is being a good listener. We develop what I like to call “bartender ears.” We have to simultaneously listen in for someone down the bar talking about getting another drink, as well as monitor whether certain conversations are going sideways. Most importantly, we need to be able to gauge whether someone has had enough to drink, or if it’s just merely time for them to go home.

What’s your signature drink? I’ve had a few over the years, but on our most recent menu, my signature is The Old Man and The Sea It’s strong, sophisticated and classy.

What are you drinking these days? I love the winter months most of all for the dark malty beers and spirit-forward whiskey drinks.

Best memory from behind the bar? My first ever menu launch. I was so excited for it and made a little party of it. I had GrossBuster DJ’ing and all my friends came down. Seeing the first chit rang through with the name of a cocktail I’d created was unlike anything I’d felt before. I still get that feeling even after several new menus.