BEHIND BARS with John Atkinson
Pumping at the heart of downtown Victoria’s Bastion Square, Wind Cries Mary (WCM) has been providing delicious food and drink and exceptional service for just over three years.
Launched by hospitality entrepreneur Jesse Dame in the summer of 2019, WCM seats 110 diners at capacity and also offers a late menu, open from 4 pm to 1 am seven days a week.
Assistant bar manager Bronwyn Hawkins says supporting local businesses and forging fine relationships with liquor and produce providers is one of the keys to WCM’s success.
“I think what’s nice about this size and space and the people that work here is that we have cocktail, wine and food programs we’re very proud of. All three focus on relationships with good local products and a commitment to details,” said Hawkins.
Blended with a thriving tourism industry, WCM also has strong community support and loyalty from regulars—something that helped them navigate the treacherous pandemic waters.
“We have a good combination of tourists and regulars. We have a very loyal local following and that helped us survive COVID-19. They are very supportive, excited to see what we’re doing and interested in the changes we make to the menu and the products we serve.”
Along with two principal dining areas, WCM offers front and back patios and 12 seats at the bar.
WCM’s cocktails stand out from the crowd, several created by Hawkins herself. I enjoyed sampling a pair of her creative concoctions, the Watermelon Spritz and Island Time.
The Watermelon Spritz blends an apple-based Alchemist vodka, white flour, a house-made watermelon syrup, cucumber bitters and sparkling wine. Island Time, meanwhile, is a mix of volcan blanco tequila, woods amaro chiaro, house dry vermouth blend, agave, aloe acid and Mount Fuji bitters.
Hawkins said WCM regularly rotates its cocktail menu and will look to expand the program, along with their secret and designer menus.
“I love doing menu creation. We’re always in the process of building up the program and making it as well-rounded and fully formed as it can be. Taking that skillset and identity as far as it can go is the plan.”
Its food menu stands out as all the dishes are made to be shared with friends and family.
“The food is designed to be served family-style,” said Hawkins. “Our chef’s intuition is that eating should be a community experience and based on collaborative and thoughtful engagement with the food in front of you. My personal favourite is the tasting menu. Five savoury courses, one sweet course and a sorbet. It’s also served family-style so it feels really engaging and surprising every time.”
Hawkins, 25, who has been at WCM for 18 months, says always being busy and working with an enthusiastic 30-plus-strong staff make it a memorable experience.
Being sharply dressed and displaying personal style—in tandem with professionalism—is also encouraged.
What makes a great bartender? “Multitasking. Being able to do two things at once. Patience with everyone that comes to the bar, being enthusiastic and continuing to learn things. It’s a developing field and I think there are always things you can learn from your peers and colleagues who have had varied service experiences. There’s a whole bank of knowledge in the people that you’re working with.
How does Wind Cries Mary fit into the fabric of the bar culture in Victoria? We have the benefit of being a well-rounded cocktail bar but within a really great restaurant. And then we’re open late and have our late night menu and so the space is nice for industry people to be able to have a drink and decompress after work. I really like that people from other restaurants enjoy coming here.
What’s your best memory from behind the bar? I’ve been very fortunate to work with really talented bartenders here, including our GM who started as a bar manager and Soren, our current bar manager. Also, training new people and developing and engaging with their skill development are some of my best memories.