If there’s one thing the Hired Belly finds hard to resist it’s a decent pint, particularly when it’s properly poured, and at the right temperature. I’m sure it’s one of the many very sound traits inherited from my dad—who I still sorely miss.
Growing up, beer was very much a church and state kind of thing—literally. After church on Sundays my parents would often head down to a local pub, The Regent, where my sister and I would sit in the car and consume Babycham (for her) and Smiths Crisps and Cherryade (ugh, now, for that food matching!). Mum and dad, meanwhile, socialised inside. The highlight for me was checking out the cars in the parking lot (saw my first E-Type Jag there) and finding that the little blue wax paper bag of salt wasn’t so damp that it would no longer pour on the chips. Yes, in those days you actually had to salt your own …
Beer more than wine may have contributed to my current waistline, particularly when it involves my love for all things porter.
Recently, for no particular reason other than it’s very drinkable, we’ve been doing our bit to help Okanagan Spring Porter sales. When we dropped into Gastown’s Bitter Tasting Room recently, where all things beer-ish rule, it was a natural progression to renew our acquaintance with the balanced and well textured Crannog Ales Back Hand of God. And, from there, of course, it would have been highly impolite to not check out the nicely weighted, far from sweet R & B Milk Stout, made exclusively for Bitter.
If there’s ever 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 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.