When the Volstead Act emerged in Edmonton in 2011, the pop-up cocktail company was at the vanguard of the city’s craft cocktail movement. Led by local “alcohol geeks” Evan Watson, Andrew Borley and Jordan Clemens, the Volstead Act served upscale cocktails at special events across the city long before the craft cocktail trend had truly arrived in Edmonton. However, with the opening of their new physical location this fall, the French-inspired bar Clementine, the trio have found themselves in a much more crowded scene; their new project is just one of many upscale cocktail bars to open in Edmonton over the past five years.
Despite the recent growth of Edmonton’s cocktail scene, which includes mainstays such as Woodwork, North 53, Three Boars and more, Watson doesn’t seem too worried about Clementine’s success. Clementine’s French-inspired aesthetic and menu set it apart from the city’s other high-end cocktail bars by offering a more defined niche, as well as several unique features, such as an extensive selection of absinthes and sherries.
Growing out of a pop-up model gives the new bar some advantages as well. Watson says that the Volstead Act’s five years of operation before opening Clementine allowed them to refine the concept and expand their repertoire of cocktails, as well as build an audience excited to see the new space.
“Pop-ups are a good way to push yourself creatively,” he says. “Every time we did it, we got a little more away from the grain of what other restaurants do. We could push the bounds a little more, and see what we could get away with.”
Watson stresses that although Clementine serves amazing cocktails, it’s more than just a cocktail bar. The trio wants to be just as well-known for their food and wine, which have received just as much thought and care as the cocktail menu. The 36-seat restaurant’s three chefs trained in Europe, and work extensively with unique ingredients, such as house-made misos, cheese butters, and local grains. Their wine-list includes primarily old-world wines, with some low-intervention new world options. “Wine, for us, is an agricultural product, and there should be a lot of transparency between who’s making your wine and where it’s coming from, in the same way that we demand that of any chef in the city.”
The trio’s creativity is equally reflected in the bar’s interior, a massive DIY project that was undertaken by Watson, Borley, and Clemens with a few contributions from friends.
“Anything that would kill someone if we did it wrong, we hired that out, but all of the finicky design things, like the wood, the walls, the floors, we did ourselves,” Watson says. That includes all the art nouveau stylings, such as the elaborate liquor cabinets with leaf cut-out doors and marble-topped bar. The bar’s old world atmosphere extends beyond just the impeccable interior design to the music and other more ephemeral elements, including the mystery audiobooks that play in the bathrooms. The whole effect is one of warmth and comfort, making Clementine a perfect spot to check out this winter.
If you do stop in for a visit, pull up a seat at the bar and be sure to try the Provence cocktail ($15, and this writer’s personal favourite) as well as the cheese butter ($11) and crispy humpback shrimp ($18).