Spend enough time at the Commodore Ballroom, and you’ll realize there’s a downside to those great nights when the band on-stage is firing on all cylinders and the crowd couldn’t be more stoked. When the houselights go up, you’ve suddenly got a problem. How in the hell do you keep the evening going when you’re revved up from doing shots with Kid Rock? Or drinking bourbon doubles to Tom Waits? Or getting freaky with Die Antwoord?
The problem is compounded when you throw food into the mix. Let’s be honest: nobody enjoys choking back greasy buck-a-slice pizza at Robson and Granville, and then queuing up in a never-ending club line with drunken bridge-and-tunnel people.
All this makes the Bottleneck—which is run by the Commodore—a more-than-welcome addition to the Granville strip. The low-key restaurant/bar is located directly below the city’s most fabled nightclub, and therefore within stumbling distance after a show. It also makes an excellent, not to mention convenient, pre-gig starting point.
The vibe is chill enough to offer a welcome respite from the jackasses, loogans, and Jersey Shore wannabes who’ve turned the city’s entertainment district into a full-blown animal show. In fact, if you aren’t looking for the Bottleneck, chances are good you’ll walk right past it; forget a glitzy neon sign—the club has taken the understated approach, its name etched into a pane of glass at the door.
That less-is-more approach is intentional. As anyone who’s been floored upstairs by the White Stripes, Black Keys, or Grinderman is well aware, the folks at the Commodore know how to host a rager. But they also know that the Granville entertainment zone isn’t exactly overrun with places where you can kick back and hold a conversation without yelling.
“We kind of modelled it after something that’s not going on on Granville Street,” says Gord Knights, who oversees the Bottleneck in his role of Commodore general manager. “There are lots of great businesses along Granville that do a great job of offering a certain style of nightclub life. We wanted something that was a bit of a departure. We found there was a bit of a hole in terms of places that were less about the weekend crowd, and more about people who are downtown already, working and living in the neighbourhood.”
The goal of the Bottleneck, says Knights, is to deliver quality pub food in a sophisticated setting. Mission accomplished there. The room—which for years was a Commodore storage space—looks pretty great with its exposed brick wall, high ceiling, and wooden bar roughly the length of a football field. And give the Bottleneck credit for aiming higher than pub staples like chicken wings and nachos. Chef Hugh Carbery recently rolled out his summer menu, even though summer in Vancouver was a little late showing up to the party.
Plates range from $3 (fried pickles, marinated olives) to $15 (Pemberton Valley beef burger and house-made fennel sausage pizza), which means that, assuming your name isn’t Mr. Creosote, you won’t be blowing the bank. On a recent rainy June night we opted for four dishes that didn’t disappoint. The crispy rice balls stuffed with buffalo mozzarella were all gooey goodness when cracked open, a zippy tomato-based sauce giving them an extra flavour zap. Pickled red peppers and carrots were a welcome addition to the caraway-crusted beef carpaccio that would have had no trouble standing on its own.
A crispy duck confit was falling-off-the-bone tender without being dry, the sweet corn purée farm-fresh. On the guilty-pleasures front, the crispy pork belly lettuce wraps probably aren’t exactly heart-smart, the fat practically exploding in your mouth when you bite into the deep-fried goodness. But damned if the dish—which comes with marinated rice noodles and pickled cucumber—doesn’t prove again that everything tastes great when doused in hoisin sauce.
Dessert brought the only miss of the night, the parfait with lemon curd and fresh raspberries too heavy on the whipped crème fraîche. More than compensating for that, however, was the sinfully delicious twist on a banana split, featuring a fried banana, vanilla rum ice cream, and a peanut brittle with a killer coffee-crunch aftertaste.
If the Bottleneck needs to step up its game a little anywhere, it’s with its cocktails. The Jameson-based Velvet Underground and English Garden with muddled cucumber were both watery and underwhelming. Still, a mai tai got the often-tricky balance of rum, lime, and orgeat syrup just right.
For those who demand their bartender do nothing more than pop the cap on their beer, the Bottleneck has a suds selection that doesn’t disappoint. A quick scan behind the bar reveals everything from St-Ambroise Apricot Wheat Ale to Russell Blood Alley Bitter to Früli Strawberry.
The next time you’re on Granville Street, head to this out-of-the-way space and order a Brooklyn Lager, if only because it makes you sound like you’ve just jetted in from Williamsburg to catch Sleigh Bells or Chairlift upstairs at the Commodore. That you know who such bands are is proof that you think a bit outside the box, which is fine because the Bottleneck speaks your language.