Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Keefer Bar

According to local entertainment newspaper The Georgia Straight's reader's poll, The Keefer Bar in Chinatown was rated the best bar in town. Libations created with assorted Chinese ingredients, perfect for that area and the longstanding Chinese influence on our city.  The British Columbia Liquor Board publishes a magazine every season called Taste, highlighting some of their new or more esoteric products and always featuring a bar star and list of cocktails and edibles to accompany them. This fall's bar star was Gez McAlpine. Just as I go to restaurants a few times a year to sample the latest creations of the city's most innovative chefs, I seek out similar creativity in its beverage creators.
When my international bar star cousin David Wolowidnyk made one of his frequent TV appearances touting the wonders of Maraschino Liqueur, particularly in the old cocktail The Last Word, I decided to discover whether The Keefer Bar could make that drink. Although it was a cold, rainy night at the end of November, I figured the bar would be packed, considering its vast popularity. Instead, my friend and I were 2 of only 3 patrons in the place the whole 2 hours we were there. Odd.
  Passion fruit is my favourite cocktail ingredient. David has always made remarkable passion fruit cocktails for me and the greatest cocktail I've ever had was the passion fruit drink at Twist restaurant in Vegas. Could the Keeferites come through with sufficient passion for my partisan palate?  I began with a cocktail from the menu called the Keefer 7S, featuring 3/4 oz dragonfruit infused gin, 1/2 oz lavender syrup, 1/2 oz lemon juice, topped with sparkling wine, served in a champagne flute rimmed with sugar spiced with birdseye chili mixed with crushed candied rose petals. That's a lot of work! But was it good? When I go to a bar for the first time, no matter how seriously its mixology, I always start with something from the menu: better to see what the bar serves the masses before getting all idiosyncratic and singularly creative. The woman who made the drink came by and asked how I liked it. Well, it's really good initially but then the cava takes over. I love cava, and pretty much all sparkling wine, but this cava drowned out the interplay of the other more delicate ingredients, I opined. "Oh, I'll fix that for you," she told me and promptly added more fruity vodka and then added more candied flowers to the rim. This time, the Keefer 7S was amazing.
  Gez wasn't in the bar that night, but backup bartender Jared Fontaine came through with his version of The Last Word, containing 1 oz dragonfruit infused gin, 1 oz maraschino liqueur, 1 oz vanilla infused green chartreuse, 1/2 of lime juice, 1/2 oz guava juice and 3 dashes of magnolia bark tincture. I realized I'd actually had The Last Word in 2008 in a restaurant that's long gone. This was far better.
  I asked what the most popular cocktail was and was served a rosemary gimlet, featuring 1 1/2 oz gin (what kind? I didn't ask. I like Tanqueray when I make a gin tonic but don't pretend to tell mixologists how  to do their jobs) and 1 1/2 oz rosemary/lime cordial, which is made from 1/2 lime juice and 1/2 rosemary syrup. I could easily understand its popularity.
  While drinking, we feasted on delicious peanut chicken skewers with homemade peanut sauce, Peking duck sliders (a bit too gamey for me), Lapsang Smoked Pork sliders, shrimp miso tacos and the Keefer pizza with chicken. I'd never enjoyed chicken on a pizza before, but there's a first time for everything. A very good preparation for my upcoming trip to Vegas.

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