What To Do For the Winter Olympics

So I haven’t posted in about a month. What can I say? Travel’s a bitch. But not a bad bitch. It’s actually one of the betters ones. Except when you’re in coach. Then flying is miserable. Anyway, I spent two weeks in Chicago until New Year’s and then spent another two weeks in the 2010 Winter Olympic host cities, Vancouver and Whistler, BC. Unfortunately, I forgot my camera, but I’ll try and give you a decent recap.

Chicago:

Hopleaf: As I’ve said before, the Hopleaf is my favourite beer bar in the city. And they serve more brews than any other Chicago bar.  Check out my lengthier review for more. While there, I enjoyed the Delerium Tremens Ale, reputed to be the finest beer in the world. It’s good. Real good. But as Belgian sours go, it’s not too special.

Chief O’Neil’s: The Chief’s is our favourite Irish pub in the city. The have acceptable craic, and pour a good, but not perfect, pint of plain. Standard Irish pub fare and a good location for when we are out shopping round out what makes this bar good. They have a wonderful whisk(e)y selection with both old and new world distillates. Of course, they focus on the Irish whiskey but good selections Scotch, Bourbon, and rye can all be found behind the stick. Their pint of stout is quite good, and fairly opaque, but doesn’t compare to Nash’s in the Pale.

While there, I learned that Guinness is holding a competition for “best pint.” Their scoring rubric seems to have more to do with prominently displaying the Guinness logo than anything else. Of course, given Guinness’s long history of marketing genius, I don’t know why we should expect anything else.

Park 21: This new restaurant from the same people behind Carnivale, a restaurant sensation is practically the same. While the service is impeccable, the atmosphere pleasant and vibrant,  and the wine list good, the food is mediocre at best, and the bar program leaves much to be desired. I suggest if you must eat there, you stick with vine, beer, or neat spirits.

O’Hare Airport: It is a sad truth that while traveling, we must spend a good deal of unpleasant time in airports. For the drinking public, however, it is getting better. While Patron has become de regour at most bars, I saw many airport bars making a concerted effort to stock at least one premium offering in each category, including Hendrick’s gin, a variety of sippable rums, good Bourbon and rye and belike.

Vancouver:

The Chef and the Carpenter: We only spent one night in the city, and we went to this wonderful French restaurant after the old school. The Caesar salad is still made fresh, tableside, and with a real egg yolk. Quite possibly the best Caesar I’ve ever had. The rest of the food was equally good. Their cocktail program was outstanding. The maitre d’hotel was a competent barkeep, and while they did not have a bar menu, he could mix up all the classics with a practiced shake or stir from a surprisingly well stocked bar. If you find yourself in Vancouver, I recommend you visit this outstanding Robson street establishment.

Chow: While I was there a year ago, I never mentioned this fine and progressive restaurant serving the fine Pacific Rim fusion cuisine. Another restaurant with an impressive drinks program including fine beer, wine, and, of course, classic cocktails. You certainly can’t go wrong here.

The Cat’s Paw: Another gem from last year, this Granville Island bar has innovative cuisine and reasonable prices, and is, by and large, filled with locals. Another great place to take a load off.

Whistler

The Dubh Linn Gate: This has been our longtime apres hangout. The best beer bar in Whistler, though that doesn’t say much, with a good selection of Scotch whiskies as well, and excelent food, this is as good a spot for dinner as for taking a load off after a hard day on slopes.

Black’s Pub: A reasonably indifferent bar with little to speak for it. While it has good bar staff, an indifferent drinks program and reasonably standard beer menu, as well as non-distinct food doom this to my “eh” list (and not in the way the Canadians say it either).

Milestone’s: A step up from Black’s. A fairly nondescript cocktail menu at least is supplemented by interesting local microbrews and better food. They offer the Wild Horse Winter Ale a refreshing, medium bodied beer with just a hint of winter spice. It is much less spiced than most American winter offerings which is quite a bit more refreshing.

The Cinnamon Bear Bar: Hotel bars tend not to be good, and whether I hit them on an off day, or something else, this is no exception. There are literally no redeeming features to this bar. Avoid it.

Merlin’s, The Girabaldi Lift Company, and Dusty’s: These three mountain-owned bars are surprisingly good. While the beer selection isn’t what it has been in years past, they still stock the Alexander Keith’s Pale Ale, a reasonably standard pale ale after the British style, and their Amber Ale, a heartier, more flavourful brew on tap. This, combined with good food, make this a reasonable place to recover. Dusty’s is supposed to have wonderful barbeque, but I admit to never having tried it. Similarly, both Merlin’s and the GLC have distincive personalities and menus. All have live music and are steps from the slopes.

Ceeta’s Bistro: This bar has a reasonable beer selection, and good, relatively inexpensive sandwitches. We were there for the Canada-Russia game of the World Youth Hockey Championship, which was epic. We also had the Okanagan Spring Pale Ale, a relatively non-descript pale, and the Okanagan 1516, an even less flavourful brew. Unfortunately, Ceeta’s is likely closing soon, so Whistler will loose this quarter century old establishment.

Rim Rock Cafe: This is not somewhere you go for the drinks, not because they do not have a wonderful bar, outstanding wines, and good beers, but merely because the food is so good. One of Canada’s top ten restaurants, if you are in Whistler, and can remotely afford it, you need to try it. One of the best meals of my life.

Hope this list has helped you if you are traveling out there. There are a lot of positives on this list, but I have been to Vancouver and Whistler enough to avoid many of the bad apples, though not all, as the list suggests. Again, I apologize for the lack of pics.

May wind fill your sails,
The Scribe

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2 Responses

  1. As someone who has lived in Vancouver and worked in the hospitality industry there for ~18 years I have to say, you really hit the wrong places. While I’ll agree with you on Chow, I was forced to say something when you mentioned Milestones (I worked there eons ago, it is a chain restaurant, and the food will fill you but it is hardly good) and then the Rim Rock Cafe. Canada’s top ten restaurants!!!!! Top ten!!!! It’s not even in Vancouver’s top ten restaurants let alone Canada’s. Hell it’s not even Whistler’s best restaurant (try Araxi or Bearfoot Bistro).
    And is the Cat’s Paw the Cat’s Meow (another awful restaurant, but a fun place to hang out?)
    Sorry to harp, but I love Vancouver and wouldn’t want people steered the wrong way. Vancouver has one of the best restaurant scenes on this continent, right up there with New York and San Fransisco! If one is interested in Vancouver’s dining scene, http://www.urbandiner.ca is a good source to find out what’s new and good.
    Cheers!

    • Hey Jamie,
      I get out to Vancouver for a weekend or two per year, usually bracketing a trip up either to Whistler for some skiing or further north for backpacking (though if I get a job in the Pacific Northwest, it may be a bit more than that, fingers crossed), so I’ll admit that my experience is a bit more limited than yours. Also, since these are one off experiences at any given restaurant (at least in Vancouver, not so much in Whistler), how I feel about a given restaurant may have as much to do with how “on” the kitchen is that night, how good my server is, and, frankly, what I had for lunch.

      I also think you may have misunderstood my comment on Milestone’s. I meant that the food was better than Black’s, not that it was particularly good. I think if I were to rank bars in Whistler by food, it would have to go Dubh Linn Gate, Amsterdam Cafe, Ceeta’s, the Intrawest-owned bars, Longhorn, Milestone’s, Black’s, Cinnamon Bear, and I’m not completely sure from there. There is also the relevant question of what is a bar. Is Monk’s a bar? If it is, it has better, or at least more upscale food than most of the other “bars” in town. If Bearfoot Bistro is considered a wine bar, then from what I’ve heard, it’s far better than any other “bar” in town, and so on.

      On the other hand, with the possibility of the Wildwood Bistro for its first two years (it became a chain shortly after that, and I think the chef may have left), I feel that Rim Rock is the best restaurant in Whistler, though I will admit that I haven’t tried Barefoot Bistro. While I may have hit Araxi on an off night, it rubbed me the wrong way, and I felt that they thought more highly of their food than I did. In my humble opinion, the best restaurant in the province is a burger joint in Goldstream (?) about an hour and a half north of Pemberton may out in the middle of nowhere, though I am sure that that had more to do with the fact that I had been eating rehydrated food for the past month than the objective quality of their burger, and if I tried a McDonald’s burger along side theirs right now, I might think the Maccer’s had a better sandwich.

      Sorry, that went on for far longer than I meant it to. Regardless, I completely agree with you on Vancouver’s restaurant scene. Anyway, if you want to suggest somewhere amazing for next time I’m there, I’m all ears.
      Cheers. – S

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