Looking for a decent place to drink, with a six person party, on a Friday night, without reservations: options are limited. We thought “Steamworks” would be a safe bet with its multiple levels and various rooms. The logic is that a big space would accommodate a lot of people. The problem was, the rest of Vancouver also thought this way. Things weren’t looking good with a 40 minute wait inside. One that would have to be spent standing in a heavily trafficked foyer. So much was going on, on so many floors. And not a place to sit for six? The bar only had a few stools to spare and every where else either had people in seats or groups lingering in corners, blocking the way. We didn’t believe there was nothing available as we pushed through the bistro, basement, and bar. Giving up on indoor warmth, we eventually found a spot on the patio. It was as louder outside than in, thanks to the additional noise from humming heat lamps, pedestrians clomping on sidewalks, and the sounds of cars driving and honking this way and that. The patio area was covered with a tent for rainy days and strung up with lights for that wintery feel. Every inch was utilized and tables were bunched in to maximize sitting allotment.
On this colder night our waitress came in a puffy bomber jacket, a knitted toque, and Canuck branded gloves. She passed out menus and mentioned a greeting with steamed breath. The heat lamps overhead hardly covered our entire table, and the towered lamp behind us did nothing to keep us warm. Instead its artificial fire caused a flickering nuisance and its bottom panel kept falling, hitting against our chair each time a server pasted by.
The food menu is a giant page of bar cuisine. The classics of simple soups, salads, and pastas; meets the most popular of burgers, chips, fries, and wings. And for a limited time there is a page insert mentioning their winter feature menu. This listing focused on three seafood inspired entrees, a Mediterranean pizza, and their guest tap: beer from “Granville Island brewery”.
The noise level was so loud that conversations were shouted and mistakes were made. Orders couldn’t be heard past all the chatter and laughter. Drinks requested neat came with ice. Beers we wanted upsized to über came just as a normal pint. And any chance of witty server-table banter or server-guest recommending was impossible.
Two of my guests were self proclaimed beer snobs and beer brewers; and they both spoke highly of “Steamwork’s Blitzen Christmas ale”. A drink so strong with an over 20% liquor content that each guest was limited to two a night. However I was disappointed to learn that it was still too early in the season, and they were still running fall’s pumpkin ale. So instead I took on the “Steamworks taster pack”, as I couldn’t decide from the over 50 options offered. I asked my server to choose what she thought were five of the best beers currently on tap. When she returned with five mini pints loose, I was sad to not have the usual flight paddle or any written detail on what was what. It was loud and she was busy so I didn’t bother getting her to clarify anything. Though I think I heard the words light, chestnut, and syrup as she ran through her mental list.
This is how any beer upgraded to a 24 oz “über size” stein looks like.
All the food was pretty standard. It tasted like how one would expect. “Caesar salad”. Crisp romaine, house baked garlic croutons, in a creamy Caesar dressing; topped with fresh Parmesan.
“Yam fries” with a balsamic glaze and pesto mayo.
“Honey garlic chicken wings” with a side of celery and blue cheese dressing. The wings were over cooked and dry as a result. Its generous coating of sticky sweet sauce was not enough to over look that fact. Luckily our extra add on of the blue cheese dressing, helped to give things a creamier texture.
“Nachos” with corn tortilla chips, jalapeños, scallions, tomatoes, olives, and plenty of cheese. The amount of cheese is what really makes or breaks a nacho plate. For the best results the chips and cheese should be layered in alternating levels, as was the case here. The dish came with a modest portion of salsa and sour cream on the side. And we paid extra for the guacamole and passed on the addition of chicken or bacon to the mix. Nachos loaded like this come so flavourful that the addition of meat is uneventful and therefore a waste. I just wish they doubled the potion of dips. Everyone likes to over load a cheesy chip. I appreciated the mountain of tortillas, and liked the wicker tray and news printed wax paper on the bottom of its presentation. This was quite the sight to see walked up to our table.
The “seafood fettuccine” was overly creamy in its lobster sauce. But still left my guest with a longing for more. More of the promised baby calms, salmon, prawns, and fresh muscles. The cherry tomatoes gave the heavier pasta a light pop of freshness. A scoop more of everything would have made for a more filing portion.
“Signature angus burger”. Beef patty, double smoked bacon, aged cheddar, relish mayo, lettuce, tomato, and pickle in a sesame seed brioche bun. This was accompanied by your traditional salted cut fries. Nothing like a classic beef burger, especially if the patty is this juicy and the bites you get are this meaty.
The “lamb burger” was made from freshly ground lamb sirloin seasoned in Indian spices. Raita (an Indian yogurt sauce), mayo, tomato, and shredded cabbage on their grilled Parmesan and black sesame brioche bun. The meat was a little dry, but the sauciness of all the condiments combined more than made up for it. A unique twist to the classic hearty bar burger, it definitely had a more grown up taste.
Going to the washroom was a journey. A walk down winding stairs, travelling past pool tables, bronze vats of brewing beer, and casks of fermenting wine. Don’t miss the signs telling you to take the sharp turn just before the open stainless steel kitchen.
Would I come back? – Yes.
Would I recommend it? – Yes.
I like their close to transit location, it makes a great spot to drink at without the need to drive to. It is on my list of solid bar choices, as the food is better than at most places, and they cover all your favourites. I like the fact they brew their own beer and are able to pour and sell it in restaurant, and at their shop next door. The seating space varies, which allow for a different types of interactions. Casual banter at the bar or rowdy laughter over a game of pool. Don’t expect much from the wait staff as the place gets busy and they spend majority of their time running back and forth. But a great night was had with a great group in a place known for their fun atmosphere. Don’t deny your cravings.