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Life is good in this Gastown Pourhouse

The concept of bartender-owned restaurants seems to be taking hold oflate, with places like The Diamond, Bao Bei, et al sprouting likeshitakes in West Coast rain.

The Pourhouse
162 Water St.


Signature Drink: Gold Fashioned
Signature Dish: Neon Squid

Rating: *****
Dinner & drinks for two: $90

The concept of bartender-owned restaurants seems to be taking hold of late, with places like The Diamond, Bao Bei, et al sprouting like shitakes in West Coast rain. The most recent to open is The Pourhouse -- courtesy of barkeeps Jay Jones and Brian Grant, and chef Chris Irving -- which strikes a speakeasy-bluesy-Prohibition note, except without the gangsters or flappers.

The highlight of the room is the acres-long bar, fashioned from a solid piece of fir and surrounded with comfy, leather, nail-studded stools. The dining area is all white tablecloths, just enough lighting so that you don’t have to squint at the menu, well-spaced tables, and square booths built for three.

The vibe is not too posh, and ever so ‘honey-I’m-just-running-down-to-the-corner-for-a-quick-one’ casual. Dockworkers are at home with Gastown professionals, as should be the case in any self-respecting gin joint, and the servers’ clothes slightly reinforce the 1920s aesthetic—think embroidered vests over knotted ties, and fringed necklaces with heavily blackened lashes. It’s not a uniform, and probably changes from night to night, but the enthusiasm to play into the mood of the place is catching and makes me think of knotted pearls and the soup bowl hat I “rescued” from my grandmother’s closet years ago. The music is the perfect wingman -- everything from Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday to modern interpretations of Ellington cycles softly through the room, never drowning out conversation or dinning on the ears.

With such a retro feel in the air, it’s no wonder that the drinks follow right along. Numbers like the “Gold Fashioned” and “Prospector” use ingredients like green chartreuse and Maker’s Mark for classic, herbal tastes, forever dispelling the notion that sweet fruitinis are the mark of a mixologist’s excellence.

However, while the drinks are sterling, for me it’s the food that’s the star. Three or four visits revealed a slew of comfortable, accessible dishes, with enough fresh invention to satisfy both the palate and digestive juices. The menu stays the same all day, and the only variation creeps in on weekends for brunch, when classic egg plates rule.

Neon squid steaks ($10) were so good, they were ordered on two separate visits. Cut thick, scored gently and grilled perfectly, the tall stack came with fresh slices of chillies, crispy garlic “flakes” and leeks. Chicken liver pate ($14) was a hearty, smooth slice of butter on the plate, but could have used an extra piece of the brioche for spreading. As it was, I finished with a spoon as it was too good to waste. A sloppy Joe sandwich ($12) was a wonder of Pemberton beef, Sloping Hills pork, tomato sauce and melted cheese, all on a warm toasted bun that held the filling in a tight embrace.

Rice pudding with caramelized figs ($7)—although causing an initial burst of surprise at its chilled state—was a splendid contrast of creamy base, bits of hard sugar, and the plump, poached figs. A hint of Maker’s Mark on the tongue just added an extra bit of damn-fine to this dish. Keeping the pudding chilled helped cut the almost-cloying sweetness of the figs in a brilliant way, but this dish could be designated for two quite easily, so maybe go halfers after a full meal. Another night saw us trying the chocolate cake, baked fresh with 15 minutes warning. Molten lava cake has been done to death, but this version was rich enough and warm enough to banish previous lacklustre memories.

I’ve had some odd experiences at “drinks-forward” establishments, but The Pourhouse has, for me, justified the trend, and exalted the humble barkeep into a figure before whom my salivatory glands bow in anticipatory worship. See you at the corner seat.

Custom drinks at Pourhouse to suit any mood

With two bartenders at the helm, it’s no wonder that The Pourhouse is a moderately drink-friendly establishment. Letting the boys create a drink on the fly is certainly a good way to spend an evening. Here’s a no-name sampling from a recent visit. This glass was filled to the top, but I was too greedy to sip before I snapped, sorry.

1.5 oz Beefeater 24 gin
0.5 oz green chartreuse
2 oz organic apple juice
2 dashes peach bitters
Splash of ginger ale

Top Shelf

Wine on the Mountain
On Saturday, Nov. 7, head to Grouse Mountain for Wine on the Mountain, a premier food and wine pairing fundraising party for Adoptive Families Society of B.C. $150 per ticket. www.bcadopt.com

Dining Out

The Game’s Afoot
Bistro Pastis (2153 West 4 Ave) is offering a three-course wild game menu for $55 during the month of November. Selections include caribou carpaccio, game and prune terrine, rabbit trio, bison osso buco, and brioche bread pudding. Call 604-731-5020 for reservations.

Drink champagne for charity
On the first Sunday of every month, La Brasserie (1091 Davie St) will donate 20 per cent of the food proceeds from its brunch service to local charities. Five dollars from every glass of champagne and $4 from every mimosa will also be donated. Brunch items include red wine-poached eggs, truffled poutine, and pain perdu. Call 604-568-6399 for reservations.

Food in Brief

Chambar has released their new house ale, with notes that match their European and North African cuisine. Stop by the bar for a taste.

Society Dining Lounge
, the latest offering from Glowbal Group Restaurants, officially opens today at 1257 Hamilton Street.

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