You could definitely say there are many places to grab a drink downtown, but are there really any great bar bars? Y’know that place with a solid bartender, a fresh and eclectic mix of tunes, friendly staff serving up a menu of select thoughtful snacks while still maintaining a premium on cocktails, to a crowd of carefree vacationers and grateful locals, all coming together in a funky room that feels both like a hideaway, and is welcoming as all get out?
After checking out the new downtown spot, Jack’s Pizza & Liquor, this should well be a coming reality. They see the ticket to this bonhomie as rooted in a strong emphasis on music – but not as you might think with deejays or live bands dominating the room, rather it’s the spirit of the place: evident in the development of the drinks menu, the décor, and of course the soundtrack to your night.
This Must Be The Place: The Music Connection
As the proprietor, Craig Lewis explains it, “I believe that music can bring people together in a unique and honest way that very few other things can accomplish”. And he's certainly onto something, I mean, just try not having a convo about one of the many varied album covers adorning the entire west wall of the place (or about if you ever wanted to share a bathroom stall with Anthony Kiedis). And while this may initially feel a little concept-y, any place that has the entire bar singing the Backstreet Boys’ “I Want it That Way” in unison, can mix me another Call Me Maybe cocktail!
Like music, they want Jack’s to be for everyone. Hoping to become a mainstay in the community, their goal is to be about much more than food and drinks. “We believe we have created a space that will allow people to forget their worries, live in the moment and enjoy the company of friends, family, co-workers and even complete strangers that become friends as the night goes on”.
"Any place that plays both Dolly Parton and Depeche Mode in the time it takes me to down one is fine by me".
Can I Kick It? (Yes You Can): It's All About the Vibe
While you can’t exactly create this vibe out of thin air, designer Brandi Dea has done a great job, bringing her talents from the fashion and branding world, to create this foundation for the fun.
The long narrow space, typical of any good urban tavern, has a decent-sized bar that seats about eight or so, looking onto a wall of what they claim is Kelowna's largest liquor selection (more on this later), with the sides of the room flanked by long banquette bench seating, hi-tops and few tables. This is a social space, and while smallish, it feels airy with its super high industrial wood-beamed ceilings, and free form: its lightweight Parisian rattan chairs make scooching over to that cool neighbouring table's convo effortless.
Talking to Brandi, also a local fashion designer plying her trade as Gypsy Soul in downtown Kelowna, and her business partner Craig – they’re behind the newly relaunched Salt & Brick on the same block – you get the feeling that they’re not just trying to create something for the city, but that they’re also of the city themselves. So while weekend warriors and tourists add much energy, it's nice that they're here for the locals, part of the downtown fabric. To this end, they also have a Pizza For The People initiative – a daily ’za creation that sends a dollar from each back to the community in the form of a donation to a local charity (personal aside: a downtown Kelowna business that wants to give their neighbours sleeping on the street a hand up would be welcome indeed).
Stir it Up: Drinks that Rock
So, about that “largest liquor selection in Kelowna”, they’re certainly into all those neat newer flavours that mixologists are getting creative with: the bitter amaros, floral notes like lavender and hibiscus, herbal aromatics like anise and chartreuse, and of course all the fruity focus you’d expect from a bar smack dab in the fruit basket of Canada (plus citrusy shrubs too!).
The cocktails range from creative riffs on the classics (the Thriller Night, a spin on a sparkling Negroni won my bitter heart: Ungava gin, aperol, sweet vermouth, Odd Society "Mia Amata Amara Amaro" and prosecco [$15], while the SO was all pinkies up with his Aviator-like, Major Tom: Odd Society Wallflower gin, creme de violette, Luxardo maraschino and lemon [$13]), to the outright inspired (the Detroit Rock City has been a popular seller since their soft opening: cucumber infused Absolut vodka, honey dew, lemon, hibiscus foam, original sweet and citrus [$12]). And some are fun party tweaks to the distribution model: the Wobbly Pop is a mini liquor bottle upturned into a soda pop with garnish.
Me, I was especially happy to see some nice mezcals and reposados make their way onto the list, as well as spirits from local producers in Vancouver and the Valley (Odd Society gins, Okanagan Spirits rhubarb and blueberry liqueurs are stand outs). Beer and pizza purists will be happy to know that they'll still be able to chase the dough down with a nice BC lager, ale, IPA, ISA or saison as well.
Nighthawks at the Diner: A Sweet Select Menu
Smartly, they have focussed on doing just a few things, really well. Here it’s pizza and appetizers. We dig that Jack’s completely dispenses with over fussy gastropub tropes (they have plates! and cute mismatched ones too) and instead owns the casual comfort food vibe with some serious respect for underrated grub greats like fried bocconcini (like a refined version of the Wisconsin fried cheese curds) and hot pickled chicken (a southern comfort food staple), and playful nods to Okanagan fare, both agriculturally: apples and peaches turn up in surprisingly tasty places; and culturally: you health-conscious granola, coconut, cauliflower and kale-lovin’ mammas will see your tastes represented here.
Pizzas provide the bulk of the menu: thin crust ’za perfect for a solo entrée or late night snacks. And before you start thinking that the last thing Kelowna needs is more pizza, check out the ingredients they’re rocking: each pizza's flavour profile, while seemingly a bit kooky at first glance, is underpinned by a strong combo of flavour, contrast and texture. No doubt this is due to the menu creator being Salt & Brick's Chef James Holmes. To wit: the “Blanco Verde” has cauliflower, truffle gouda, apple rosemary granola, and garlic pepper cream. These are some solid entries in the David Chang there’s-no-such-thing-as-authentic-pizza-and-that’s-fine take on pizza. The daily Pizza For the People we tried was especially unexpected and awesome, with bbq sauce, roasted cauliflower, roasted chicken, candied sunflower seeds (so good – who knew?), and smoked cheddar, with a nicely sea salted crust.
The official opening is at 3pm Friday, July 6th (and they'll be open til late seven days a week following that), so everybody put your glasses up, yeah yeah!