After a bit of a disappointing anniversary celebration for the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, my friends and I decided to find somewhere nearby downtown to watch the Canucks game. Of course, finding anywhere downtown that has a table open on game day is a crap shoot as we’re one of the craziest hockey markets in the world and fans head out in droves to catch the Canucks on a big screen with friends and a few beers.
After a bit of calling around and searching, we ended up at The Charles Bar, which seems like a bit of an upscale sports bar. It has hints of the modern bar or a bit of a night club feel but the flat-screen televisions on the walls makes this primarily a sports bar. The clientele is a bit more diverse than your average sports bar though. Lots of club hoppers getting their pre-club drinks on as well as four girls at the bar obviously having a bit of a Sex in the City night amongst the hockey fans yelling at the players on the ice. The decor is tasteful and aesthetically pleasing with plenty of woods and exposed brick giving it a sort of modern/rustic fusion look like someone mixed a vodka bar with a log cabin. The Charles Bar is open late and a couple tables are cleared to make way for a DJ as it gets later.
There are a lot of seats around but good luck finding one on game night. Our party only had enough seats for half of us so we had to do a bit of musical chairs when our food arrived. There’s a number of booths, bar seats and a very large communal table in one end of the restaurant.
The food is mostly slightly fancier versions of regular bar food such as wings, fries and pizzas.
There are some nice touches such as mini-frying baskets used for serving items like wings ($10) and these lobster mac and cheese balls ($11).
Some of the other things ordered at our table were these mini pulled pork sandwiches ($11 with a side of fries)…
…and poutine ($7)
I started with an order of buttermilk onion rings ($7). As you can see, they’re just massive. There was probably an entire onion in this order. The rings are nicely battered. Not too thick and not too oily but lacking in flavor. They’re served with a smoked paprika aioli but the rings could’ve used some seasoning themselves. The aioli was decent but again, very mild. Everything here is just so timid…where’s the spice and kick? If I’m honest, I might be crazy but I like the onion rings at A&W better.
Our waitress recommended the beef shortribs flatbread pizza ($12) with crushed tomatos, green onion and horseradish cream. I’m a huge fan of horseradish but I didn’t really taste any of it here. Like with the onion rings, this dish lacks kick which is a shame because I thought the crust was very good. It’s just thin and crispy enough. The shortribs have great flavor and tender to the point of melting in your mouth but it’s all a little one note without that horseradish.
I can understand that some people can’t handle too hot of horseradish but it would’ve done wonders here. When you see “horseradish” on the menu, you expect bolder flavor but it’s just missing. There’s a good mix of texture but something crispy or maybe some spinach or arugula to go with the shortribs would’ve made it better.
The food at The Charles Bar was a bit underwhelming but a few tweaks and it would be quite good. Prices are reasonable for the Gastown area and the staff are friendly and helpful. Our waitress had quite a time figuring out our bill after we checked in with Foursquare for a 20% deal. She took awhile but our table was large so I understand.
It’s a shame that the food doesn’t really impress because The Charles Bar has so many things going for it. It’s a decent place to watch the game but there are probably some better options around.