Big Bad John’s is legendary as Victoria’s most notorious hillbilly watering hole since 1962. Renowned among tourists worldwide. But tourists are few this time of year, and we’re all in the need of a little warmth, so….
Only a crooked wooden sign hangs over the black door, awkwardly recessed. It’s easy to walk right past, and hardly noticed next to two full-colour and unrelated advertisement panels. Although you might trip over the small dark sandwich board on the sidewalk, even the glass door reveals little. But go ahead, open it. Don’t be afraid.
The dim shadow within reveals, as the eyes adjust, a mess. Must be a rough crowd, imbibing uncaring of the chaos all around. It’s like a whirlwind has swept through and plastered almost every surface with every scrap of discarded paper sucked in off the streets. And just to prove that there is no place where little bits of paper can’t tuck themselves, they are crammed under the glass top of each live-edge wood table, too. Feel free to tuck in your own business card, shopping list, bar receipt, performance pamphlet, gum wrapper, magazine clipping. Any printed paper will do.
Booths and banquettes, and the partitions between, are rough hewn and stained black. The partitions are perforated with windows one might expect at a lost mountain shack. Even the upholstery is lumber-themed. High shelving groans with a junkyard collection amid women’s bras dripping like stationary rain. Graffiti covers every surface left exposed.
It is overwhelming stimulation in such a small room—maximum capacity 74, including staff—but once you recover from the initial shock, it is, in fact, safe to proceed—crunching peanut shells underfoot.
Each table is provided with a bucket of these roasted salty delights, and what you don’t finish, and any shells you might have thoughtfully, neatly returned to the bucket, will assuredly be dashed to the floor by the waiter who carries away the empty bucket. So go ahead, let go of your inner neat freak, let loose your wild abandon, and toss or flick your shells with glee.
Obviously, Big Bad John’s is a drinking establishment, but don’t expect some fancy-dancy cocktail like you might find at Clives or Little Jumbo. Here, drinks have either one or two ingredients. Period. Beer, of course, is one ingredient. Spirit is also one ingredient, to which you may add one other thing. That’s it.
Also, for most of the clientele, peanuts are the perfect accompaniment to their beer. If you must insist on something more, your friendly waiter will bring menus from the Sticky Wicket down the street. But there are only three menus, so be prepared to share.
I choose a couple of appetizers, feeling that a full entrée is too out of place. The Cod Tacos ($12) come as a pair and include chipotle aioli, shredded cabbage, shaved radish, diced tomatoes, cilantro, lime and a dusting of mild cajun spice. Very fresh tasting and light, so I paired them with the Hot Spinach and Artichoke Dip ($12), which is served with triangles of naan bread. Made with asiago and cream cheese, the dip, and its naan, fill in all the empty spaces.
Of course, I wash them down with a couple of pints of Big Bad John’s 5X Lager, on tap and custom brewed by the fine folks at Vancouver Island Brewing (vibrewing.com).
And when I’ve had my fill, I make it out alive and well enough to tell you about it.
Big Bad John’s | 250 383 7137 | 919 Douglas Street