The password is “Flaubert.”
I whisper the name of the French novelist into the old-fashioned phone next to a tall bookcase in the lower level of the Devenish building on 17th Avenue S.W. Upon uttering the magic word, the bookcase swings open – a secret door that grants entry to Betty Lou’s Library. The bar’s owner, Blaine Armstrong, likens it to stepping through the wardrobe (as in The Lion, the Witch and the … ) into another world.
Inside, velvet curtains and wainscotting line the back wall, Tiffany-style floor lamps and crystal chandeliers give off a dim glow, and antique furniture forms intimate groupings atop Persian rugs. If only I’d bobbed my hair and worn a feather boa, I’d look like a lost-generation bohemian in this Parisian salon-meets-Prohibition lounge. You don’t need to dress the part here, but do leave your baseball caps and team jerseys at home – this isn’t the spot for rowdy carousing.
Almost every craft libation here is named for a female poet, writer or artiste and the lounge’s name is a tribute to Armstrong’s mother Betty Lou, an avid reader and one of the first female bartenders in Victoria. There isn’t any required reading here, only what might be considered required drinking. “We have people come and drink their way through the menu,” says Armstrong, a.k.a. the “head librarian.”
It’s a tempting prospect. My husband and I start with a couple of sours – I love the Djuna Barnes and he’s all over the Anas Nin, a rich, spicy cocktail that shakes Alberta Premium rye with spiced rum, chai syrup, lemon juice and egg white. Next, I’m hankering for something light and dangerous and can’t resist a tipple from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Bibliography.
The American novelist is the only male who gets a shout-out at Betty Lou’s. His “bibliography” consists of four elevated gin and tonics, each named for a different Fitzgerald book. I order The Beautiful and Damned. One taste and I’m smitten. I’ve mixed gin with Schweppes plenty but have never achieved such a pleasing result. The drink combines Sylvius Gin from the Netherlands with Phillips Cucumber Mint Tonic (huge props here; it makes the drink), and adds lime juice and simple syrup. It’s easy to make and astonishingly delicious – refreshing, balanced, bright, and not too bitter.
As the evening progresses, I see how a night at Betty Lou’s could easily turn into my new favourite “secret” G&T bar: everyone begins to look beautiful; sobriety be damned!
How to make Betty Lou Library’s The Beautiful and the Damned
Save this recipe card so it’s easy to make this cocktail later.