(Editor’s note: Monday Mag stopped in at the Hotel Grand Pacific’s Pacific Lounge before the closures brought about by the COVID-19 outbreak. The lounge is currently closed, but we encourage you to read a little about its senior staffers.)
In a quiet, but cozy corner of the Pacific Restaurant in the Hotel Grand Pacific, longtime bartenders Patrick Woo and Cory Burden are contemplating what to serve a writer who has come to hear their stories.
These beverage partners have each been honing their craft at the Pacific Lounge roughly 10 years and bring differing approaches to the trade.
Cory is a craft beer aficionado who also happens to enjoy the creative side of cocktail development and service. Patrick is an enthusiastic whisky fan – the Hotel Grand Pacific is home to the uber-popular Victoria Whisky Festival – and relishes using the wide variety of that spirit in the cocktails he creates.
The senior bar staffer of the two by a matter of months, Patrick started right here in the hotel, working room service. “I always knew I wanted to end up here,” he says.
Cory spent three years at culinary school and worked in the restaurant industry before coming to the Pacific Lounge. He jokingly refers to bartending as the “booze kitchen,” in reference to the creativity bartenders can exhibit in their work.
Showing that the pair’s food service background is never far away, they enjoy experimenting with different flavours and natural ingredients. A “secret spice cabinet” in one corner of the bar contains a variety of elements that make their way into future cocktails.
Cory proudly gives me a taste of their house-made caramelized honey, a yummy ingredient in Shanghai Nights, one of nine original creations on their Contemporary Cocktails menu. I secretly imagine having a jar of the stuff in my kitchen at home to put in my coffee.
After some discussion about the menu, I select the High Tea, a mixture of Earl Grey tea-infused gin, Lillet blanc aromatic wine, housemade ginger syrup and lemon. It’s a light, breezy cocktail that goes down easy. The gin and Lillet complement each other nicely, leaving the bergamot flavour subtle, while the ginger syrup provides a delightful snappy finish.
The cocktail menu here changes every few months, based on the season. Heavier combinations and spirits tend to be featured more in winter, while lighter, fruitier drinks come on stream in spring and summer. There are also the occasional requests for cocktails that were on previous years’ menus, Cory says. They must have good memories to remember the ingredients, I ask. “If it was a popular one, we’ve likely made it hundreds of times,” he says with a grin.
Being connected to a busy hotel in the heart of Victoria’s tourist district tends to bring a lot of visitors their way, from first-timers looking for something local, to others seeking something familiar.
“U.S. visitors like vodka more than Canadians,” Patrick says, despite vodka’s very Canadian traditions. Many customers request local products, he adds, so they do their best to stock a variety of local and Island spirits and beers.
Taking the lead as the senior man behind the bar, Patrick graciously provided us with more of his own thoughts about the craft and his experiences:
Your claim to fame/best up-the-sleeve trick or technique? Keeping cool, calm, and collective.
What’s hot right now? Non-alcoholic cocktails, local spirits
What traits make a good bartender? Strong customer service, efficiency and cleanliness. Nobody wants a dirty bartender!
What’s your signature drink? Anything whiskey based
What are you drinking these days? Local craft beers and Soju
Best memory from behind the bar? The hotel hosts the annual Victoria Whiskey Festival in January. Many fond memories from those weekends. Especially one, where a guest demanded to drink Bailey’s from his shoe!
Pacific Lounge in the Pacific Restaurant
Hotel Grand Pacific
463 Belleville St. 250-386-0450
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