For the fifth year in a row, the Downtown Halifax Business Commission is throwing $150 at local bloggers for a downtown adventure, a veritable Big Day Downtown. For the first time ever, I was stoked to be selected among the top 30 bloggers in Halifax to have my own big day. Giddy up.
Most years, the BHDC develops a theme for the Big Day Downtown to guide the bloggers on their adventures. This year it was all about crowdsourcing for ideas. Now, I make recommendations a lot. Sometimes it’s a co-worker looking for a new restaurant to try and other times it’s a visitor to the blog emailing about an upcoming trip to the city. There’s not much downtown I haven’t tried though there are a few new ethnic spots on my list. When I took to the interwebs with the idea of a drink/small plates crawl, many of my favourites haunts made the cut. Obviously, my followers/readers/friends have great taste.
What was I to do but grab those gift cards and head out for a post-work Happy Hour Big Day Downtown. I hope you’re ready cuz we’ve got some drinking to do.
It is no big secret: I’m madly in love with all things Stillwell. I don’t know if it’s the stellar service where conversations over the difference between APAs and IPAs are commonplace or the creative bar menu curated by Chef Graeme Ruppel. Maybe it’s the welcoming atmosphere where 20 year olds mingle with baby boomers over pints of craft beer. Whatever it is, I dig it. And I’m not alone. It’s not uncommon to see the place packed on a regular weekday night and this Thursday was no exception. With barely a seat in the house empty at 6 pm, it appears to be the spot for the after work drink.
With a rotating craft beer menu, I get quite giddy whenever I see a beer I haven’t tried before. Yes, we drink a lot of craft beer. The staff are also ridiculously helpful and knowledgable about everything beer. If you can’t decide, owner Andrew, Chris or Laura or one of the beer-crazed staff totally have your back. On this visit, Brent went for the Trou du Diable Shawinigan Handshake, a hopfeinweiss out of Quebec, a delicious hoppy wheat beer. I opted for the Boxing Rock Vicar’s Cross. I’m sure I’ve tried it previously but without a vivid memory, I just had to get my hands on what some herald as the best IPA in the province. What better to pair with that hoppy goodness? Salty peppery Tokyo fries alongside the umami-est of dips, the famed Atari mayo. And I say famed because god damn it, the stuff should be famous. Whatever umami powerhouse is in there – perhaps dashi – I pretty much want to spread it all over myself. Yeah, that. The fried chicken is also a sure bet. Extra crispy yet sill moist, it’s the honey drizzled all over it that really nails it. According to Brent, “it’s the best fucking fried chicken in the city”. So, ya know it’s legit.
Snacks and drinks for two including tax and tip (we’re excellent tippers): $28.85
Now for most of you, when you’re going for a drink or a night on the town, you head but one place, the infamous Argyle Street. With a bar for anyone’s taste, it’s pretty much the epicentre of nightlife in the city. While many of the bars are serving up the same ol’ bar mix cocktails, Onyx is doing things right. They even have an entire section of the cocktail menu devoted to shrubs, vinegar-based infusions, which I took advantage of during the Big Day Downtown launch a few weeks back. Brent couldn’t resist so went with the Gusto, a bourbon, thyme and plum shrub powerhouse. On this visit, however, it was all Southern Sour for me. Though I’m not the biggest fan of amaretto, this version of a sour with amaretto, bourbon, strawberry and basil won me over. But it gets better.
Despite us enjoying a night out on the dime of the DHBC, the folks at Onyx surprised us by covering the bill. Apparently, sometimes when it’s not super busy, they like to spread a bit of customer appreciation around. Damn, I knew we should’ve ordered a second round. Big thanks to Drew and the whole Onyx crew for the love.
Drinks for two including tax and tip: $0
A long time favourite, Obladee, A Wine Bar is the spot to get your wine on. While other places may call themselves a wine bar, this is the real deal. The menu, while large, is focused enough to point you in the right direction. Can’t decide on a red? Get a flight with the three featured wines of the week. They even have a Nova Scotia flight to get you better acquainted with our crisp whites. Better yet, ask the staff. Stefan, like the rest of the staff, know their wine like the back of their hand. It’s like they know what you want before you do. They’re that good.
On Stefan’s recommendation, Brent chose The Crusher Grower’s Petite Sirah from California. We were immediately in love. Think dark fruit and smoke. I was intoxicated by the smell alone. I couldn’t resist keeping it local and finally trying the Planter’s Ridge Tidal Bay. This may very well be the best Nova Scotia wine I’ve tried to date.
And what are you going to eat alongside wine? Charcuterie. Always. Obladee nails charcuterie, pairing local and imported meat and cheeses with locally made pickles, chutneys, jams and olives. There’s even vegan options and chocolates available. That’s how serious they are about charcuterie. We couldn’t help but craft our own board and it was every bit as delicious as you think.
Wine and charcuterie for two including tax and tip: $53.85
No stop on the drink train would be complete without a visit to Morris East. Though the drink menu is small, it’s mighty. Katrina, the genius behind the beverage program, really knows how to create a balanced cocktail and, in my opinion, is at the forefront of cocktail culture in the city. On a visit a couple weeks back, Brent had the Kentucky Blitz, a shrub-based cocktail with gin, bourbon, blueberry mint shrub, and cucumber. It was incredible and I simply had to have it again. If vinegar in your cocktail freaks you out, I dare you to try the Kentucky Blitz and tell me it isn’t the best damn thing you’ve ever drank. Since we seem to be working our way through the entire cocktail menu at Morris East – I had the Negroni Spaglioto last visit – Brent decided on the Pepperberry Fizz , a concoction of gin, white pepper, blackberry, lemon and freshly squeezed grapefruit juice. Talk about delicious.
Though it was hard to resist the Korean chicken wings we devoured last visit – GO GET THEM NOW – we chose to share the Enchilada pizza, adding the blackened chicken for more kick. I mean how can you go wrong with a wood fired pizza loaded with roasted corn, black bean tomato sauce, applewood smoked cheddar, pico de gallo, sriracha sour cream, and cilantro? You can’t. Besides, I’ve been a long time fan of corn on pizza.
Pizza to share and drinks for two including tax and tip: $44.28
Nobel? What the hell is Noble? Though Noble is not a complete secret, I’d wager some of you still have no clue that the basement of the Middle Spoon houses a speakeasy accessible only by uttering the password to the upstairs staff. If you’re not yet in the know, consider yourselves told. This, my friends, is easily one of my favourite spaces in the city. It’s intimate and warm and you do sort of feel like VIP when you’re down there.
Whether you’re looking for a classic cocktail or a more modern version full of bitters and house made syrups, they’ve got you covered. My Cristo Blanco with lillet, Dollan’s vermouth, and Islay gin was right on the money. Brent went with the Eye in the Sky which I can’t for the life of me remember. Hey, at this point we’re five drinks in and the note/picture taking has all been forgotten.
Be warned, however: the cocktail menu is rather extensive and the prices start at $12.99. Before you get all bent out of shape about spending that much on a cocktail, some of them, like the Cristo, are 100% liquor. No bar mix, no filler. Just an expertly crafted cocktail made with love. Damn, I think 13 bucks is a steal. I also highly recommend sitting at the bar to watch Anne Marie or another bartender in their element.
Drinks for two including tax and tip: $37.24
Though we didn’t make it everywhere, there are a few other spots that are perfect happy hour contenders.
Several friends on twitter suggested the new champagne patio bar at The Bicycle Thief. We were eager to finally take our seat at the waterfront gem and even walked down only to find an empty patio and a chilly waterfront breeze. Hopefully sunny patio days are not yet over.
Since their opening, I’ve been a huge supporter of everything 2 Doors Down: the relaxed service, the incredible comfort food built upon the freshest of local ingredients, the drink menu where local takes centre stage. It all sort of feels like home. We had hoped to include 2 Doors Down in our big day – despite the fact that we had been there the day before – but it just wasn’t in the cards. If you’re looking for great eats and a drink menu with something for everyone, you know where to go. Korean chill cheese fries and Beggar’s Beer are all you need to know.
The Drawing Room
On the weekends – Friday and Saturday – the top level of the Henry House transforms into the coziest, most romantic cocktail lounge. The cocktail menu is also huge, with drinks grouped according to era. Like Noble, The Drawing Room is for people who love cocktails. Come, join us.
Though we had spent the full $150 (and then some) on our Big Day Downtown, I returned the following day to grab a bottle of that smokey petite sirah we relished at Obladee. The thing about Bishop’s, other than their incredible wine, craft beer and small yet thoughtful spirits collection, is that incredible service. It’s not the kind of place where you feel uncomfortable buying a bottle of wine less than $20. They legitimately want to help you find exactly what you want. $20 or $200, they’re there because they simply love wine and it comes though every single visit.
If you’re looking for more ways you can love downtown, check out what other bloggers had to say about their Big Day Downtown. You even have a chance to win your own downtown shopping spree so keep your eyes peeled to the twitter.
Is it wrong that I want to do the whole thing all over again?