Cocktail culture finds home in the Exchange

By Brenlee Coates

There has been a bit of a cocktail movement in the city – not only reviving classic and new mixed drinks, but celebrating the men and women behind them.
Event posters have plastered the names and faces of mixologists known for their creative dash, and they help fill seats for things like RAW:almond’s cocktail bar, the Made With Love mixology competition, or the Table for 1200 afterparty with featured bartenders.
But no permanent venue had ever made the bar or its tenders the nucleus of its being – until now.
“I think we’re the first in Winnipeg to put the drinks first,” says Mike Fox, bar manager of Albert Street Cocktail Company. “It’s always a really great restaurant, and then the bar’s just a small focus of that.
“We got to set this place up sort of ideal for a bartender to work at.”
The long, marble bar is like a stage at Albert Street – bartenders steal guests’ attention with flame-poured cocktails and elaborate processes. And they have a captive audience: clientele is interested in cocktail culture – and can even leave with their own gear.
Albert Street Cocktail Company is one of the first places in Winnipeg to make high-end special bitters and syrups available for retail, and they sell barware along with them, sending you home cocktail-ready.

The El segundo cocktail at Albert Street.
The El Segundo cocktail at Albert Street.

Bartending resume
Mike moved to Winnipeg from Brandon five years ago, after working as a bartender while completing his studies in music.
He worked a few gigs in Winnipeg, and then applied to Peasant Cookery on a whim.
He admittedly didn’t have a lot of cocktail bartending experience, and Kaitlynd Landry was sort of trailblazing the cocktail renaissance there. “She was doing it five, six years ago, (when) people weren’t really doing it here. She taught me a lot.”
Peasant Cookery encouraged Mike to come up with his own cocktails early on, so he hit the books, and the um, bar, and learned to love the creative freedom of mixology as much as music. “I’m still doing music… but cocktails are right up there too.
“In my own time, I’m always reading blogs and websites.”
As a name and face who’s filled his own special events – The Mitchell Block had a full house for a one-night-special bar menu created by Mike – he was a natural fit for heading the bar at Albert Street.
The owner and general manager, Richard Krahn, approached Mike about four months ago with his concept.
After hitting a stalemate at the old Ragpickers building, Richard looked into the former Mondragon space, which had an eccentric interior, but good bones. Richard and his business partner stripped the place and brought it to a classy environment with character.
Some of the furniture was built by hand, and the modern fireplace mixed with antique furnishings and cocktail glasses gives it the right amount of elevated retro comfort.

Things infusing in vintage cocktail ware.
Things infusing in vintage cocktail glassware.

“I feel like we got the best place for this in Winnipeg,” says Mike, of the location. “The cocktail revival has been going on all over the world in the last 10 years.
“If we didn’t do this, it was coming (to Winnipeg) within a year.”
Mike was integral in planning the menu, which has 10 signature cocktails, as well as a fine-tuned wine and beer list. The cocktails are original – but not outlandish. “You want to be as creative as possible and do something really interesting – but not be pretentious and be accessible to everybody,” explains Mike.
Specialty cocktails range from about $9 to $15, and have inventive ingredients like jerk spice simple syrup and whole eggs – prepared with fresh-squeezed juices and herbs.
Opening its doors in late April, the bar serves from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. six days a week, closing Sundays. Light lunch fare is available as well as a pared-down snack menu in the evenings.
Check out Albert Street Cocktail Company at 91 Albert St. in the Exchange.

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