If there's an award for the Vancouver restaurateur most likely to break the mold, we'd be willing to bet a few toonies that Sean Heather would be its first winner. Ever since he launched the original Irish Heather 15 years ago, before coming up with Shebeen, Salt and Judas Goat (and more since), the Gastown entrepreneur has shown a unique ability to be on the cutting edge.
Settle into the bench that surrounds the room at Bitter, the newest addition to the ever-growing Heather Group, and it won't take you long (if you hadn't already figured it out by the name) that this low-key, laid-back spot on the corner of Hastings and Carrall is about one thing--beer. And very good beer, at that. Take time to browse the list and you'll find everything from Mort Subite Kriek and Caracole Nostradamus, to rare as proverbial hen's teeth Pretty Things "Jack d'Or" and the Prince Charles-owned Duchy organic.
Bitter offers an unabashed hommage to the perfect pint, carefully chosen and properly poured. Its staff are passionate and well informed about the 60-plus bottles on offer from the upper echelons of the beer world, as well as the eight rotating craft brew taps. In short, it's a beer lover's paradise.
Much of Bitter's appeal flows from its uncompromising and unpretentious simplicity. There are good eats here, too. Nothing fancy, the fare is prepped elsewhere, so there's no kitchen with aromas of wafting deep fryer oil to mess up your Tripel. But the more than respectable pub fare includes snacks such as the excellent Deviled and Scotch eggs, mains such as a hearty cassoulet or zippy roasted cauliflower, and a trio of sausage choices ($14 to $16) from link-meister Drews Driessen.
The latter come in batches of five (no more no less, and no combos), kept hot in their own tureen and served with condiments of sauerkraut, diced pickled vegetables and stone ground grainy mustard with chopped gherkins and capers mixed in. Washed down with a pint of Crannog Back Hand of God stout, or with R&B's milk Stout, both currently on tap, they're just the ticket.
Not surprisingly, the central round bar is the main attraction--its low-lit amber glowing backdrop of ales and kegs is a refreshing substitute for the usual barrage of conversation-killing flat screens. However, when game night does come around, a pull-down big screen and projector obliges, tucked away in back, in the well concealed Prohibition Room, with its interesting timeline of Vancouver's brewing history.
Exposed red brick, the restoration of the heritage tiled floor and a translucent window frieze of an archival photograph of the corner add to the overall retro suggestion of an old time saloon.
While there's plenty of emphasis on the beers, it's not that geeky of a place, confides our well-travelled server. However, the serious tasters tend to go earlier in the week, when there's more time to chat, with livelier crowds coming towards week's end. As for us, we'd be happy there any night.
Bitter, 16 West Hastings St., is open daily from 5 p.m. to midnight.
Coming up fast, March 29 sees more than 215 restaurants involved in Dining Out For Life. Head out for a bite that night (or day) and 25 per cent of your bill goes towards helping people with HIV/AIDS through A Loving Spoonful and Friends For Life. For a list of participating restaurants, go to diningoutforlife.com/vancouver.
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Belly's Budget Best
Langa Réal de Aragon Cava Brut. Here's a crisp, well textured apple and even slightly brioche toned Spanish bubble that won't break the bank. BCLS $14.99 (Spain)