Bard & Banker Public House is listed as one of the top places to eat, drink and be merry in Victoria, British Columbia. As a connoisseur of beer and food in general (let’s be honest, I love beer and I love eating), I was very excited to visit!
I contacted Bard & Banker a few weeks before my trip to let them know I was coming to town. General Manager, Trevor Romanow, responded to my email and said he would be happy to host my best friend Janine and I during our visit. After a two hour drive to Port Angeles, a 90 minute ferry ride, getting settled into our Airbnb, I was so ready for dinner!
Bard & Banker is located in Victoria’s famed downtown on the corner of Fort and Government Street. The Public House is steeped in the rich history of British Columbia. In 1883, the Bank of British Columbia purchased the land to build their Victoria branch, and construction was completed in 1885. In 1901, they became the Canadian Bank of Commerce after the two banks merged. During the 1920’s, the building was expanded and improved twice and after yet another merger, it became the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce. Then, on January 15, 1988, the bank branch closed and the location operated as the Spirit of Christmas retail store until 2007. In June 2008, Bard & Banker opened it’s doors to the public. Bard & Banker was a Scottish pub until three years ago when it transformed into a family dining experience.
Why the name Bard & Banker? That’s because of Robert Service. Robert was born in England in 1874. In 1896, he resigned from his position at a bank in Scotland and moved to Canada in search of new adventures. He eventually made his way to Victoria in 1903 and took a job with the Canadian Bank of Commerce. While employed at the branch (the current location of Bard & Banker), Robert spent his nights sleeping on the vault, which was located at the top of the staircase (hence the name of the room now, The Vault). Robert later transferred to a different branch location in Whitehouse (Yukon Territory). Robert almost met his ultimate demise in the Yukon, when a bank teller thought he was a robber and tried to shoot him in the head but narrowly missed. A month or so later, Robert attended a party where he heard a fantastic story, which gave birth to the poem Canadians know as “The Cremation of Sam McGee.” Robert’s poems would become so popular and profitable, he was able to leave his position at the bank and focus on his writing. By 1914 and the start of WWI, the Toronto Star asked Robert to be a correspondent, giving him an outlet to yet again, live the life of adventure. At the conclusion of the war, Robert stayed in Europe, spending the rest of his life in France (which is one reason why the wine list at Bard & Banker is heavily French influenced). In 1958, Robert passed away, but his work lived on as he was widely referred to as the Bard of the Yukon. Through his writings and banking career, the name Bard & Banker came to be.
Now, onto our dining experience! Trevor greeted Janine and I at the front lobby and took us to our table. Annie was our very helpful and knowledgeable waitress. She answered all of our questions throughout the evening and was very attentive to all of our needs. Trevor told us that approximately 900 people come through the public house on a night when a band is playing (there was indeed a band playing on the night we were there – more on that later). The atmosphere had a high level of energy and the interior architecture was stunning. The bar area was classy and upscale, but still had a casual feel, not giving up its elegance. The wine vaults were made in Italy to follow the look of British opulence. The black pillars in the public house are the only original structures left, with all the other touches being newly constructed. Trevor said each staff member has been at Bard & Banker for years, and turnover is very low because everyone loves working there.
Janine stays away from alcohol for the most part (unless you put Riesling in front of her), and she asked Annie what she should try. Annie suggested Bard & Banker’s homemade root beer, and upon her first sip, Janine was in heaven. As Trevor put it, the root beer tastes like Dr. Pepper and sarsaparilla. It wasn’t heavy and there was no licorice after taste.
For me, Trevor suggested I try the Victoria Flight based off my beer preferences (which mostly is just that IPA’s don’t agree with my taste buds). Each flight has four 6 ounce pours, and the Victoria Flight featured the Hoyne “Hoyner” Pilsner, Phillips “Blue Buck” Ale, Driftwood “New Growth” Pale Ale and the Lighthouse “Racerocks” Amber. I really enjoyed all of them. The Hoyne Pilsner had a sweet, light taste. The Phillips Ale was clean and smooth with no after-taste. The Driftwood Pale Ale was very citrusy with just a slight amount of hoppiness. The Lighthouse Amber was sweet like honey and went down smooth. All the beers from this flight are from breweries within walking distance of Bard & Banker. As an advocate for always shopping and doing business local, that made me very happy.
For an appetizer, Annie suggested the Garlic Sauteed Prawns & Chorizo Sausage. This dish had three garlic marinated prawns with crispy fried chorizo sausage, roasted garlic and onion creme fraiche, haystack potatoes and paprika oil. The chorizo had a kick to it and nicely complemented the garlic marinated prawns. For those sensitive to heat, the creme fraiche cut down on the bite of the chorizo. It was delicious.
For our entrees, Trevor suggested we try the Bard Burger and the Halibut & Chips. I ordered the burger and Janine ordered the halibut (her favorite fish).
The Bard Burger is made with in-house ground beef short rib, brisket and chuck burger and is topped with smoked bacon, cheddar, sweet onions, tomato, pickle and mustard aioli on a toasted brioche bun. In a slight attempt to add some health benefit to my meal, I ordered it with the market greens salad. The burger was so tender and juicy and melted in my mouth. I thoroughly enjoyed the burger and almost didn’t want to let Janine try any of it.
The Halibut & Chips come ale battered or potato chip crusted and Annie suggested Janine try one of each. The fish is served with house-made lemon tartar sauce and crisp coleslaw. Both tasted delicious but that potato chip crusted halibut…..both Janine and I wanted to steal the recipe from the executive chef and make it every day for the rest of our lives. If you love fish and chips and you find yourself in Victoria, you have to eat the potato chip crusted halibut. YOU HAVE TO. I CANNOT EMPHASIZE THIS ENOUGH! I’M EVEN WRITING IN ALL CAPS BECAUSE ITS THAT GOOD!
After indulging ourselves in the most delicious meals known to all of British Columbia, Annie came back and carefully placed the dessert menu at our table. Not one to turn down dessert, even on a full stomach, we obliged. I ordered the White Chocolate Creme Brulee and Janine ordered the Sticky Toffee Pudding. You’d think Bard & Banker had outdone themselves with dinner, but no. The desserts completely capped off the perfect evening of tastes for our palettes.
The White Chocolate Creme Brulee is served with cranberry biscotti. Is it a sin to say this was heavenly?
The Sticky Toffee Pudding is served with caramel praline ice cream and butterscotch sauce. Janine may or may not have had an out-of-body experience while savoring this.
Trevor spent time chatting with Janine and I about the history of Bard & Banker. He told us how actively involved the owner, Matt MacNeil, is with the local community and how he has instilled to “Think Local First” with all the employees. Matt sits on the Victoria Conservatory of Music board and they sponsor local sports teams. Bard & Banker does not charge cover when bands are playing (which is seven nights a week!) and they compost and recycle all their food! Trevor also told us some interesting tidbits about Victoria, like how happy hour (discounted drinks in a day) just became legal in British Columbia a couple years ago (you can read an interesting article on that here) and how Victoria has more restaurants per capita than San Francisco.
Our night sadly ended, but not before a local band took the stage downstairs. Mosaic is a cover band that focuses on dance-oriented rock and pop music, covering a wide variety of styles (such as The Beatles, Stevie Wonder, etc) while delivering a fun show. We thoroughly enjoyed listening to them play popular songs from all the decades while the dance floor filled in with happy patrons.
I cannot recommend enough for everyone to stop at Bard & Banker on your next trip to Victoria. I plan to eat here every time I visit so I can try out the entire menu!
Bard & Banker
1022 Government St, Victoria BC