What do you get when you combine the owners of one of city’s most popular boutique liquor shops, Jesse Willis and Jeff Jamieson (Vine Arts) and arguably Calgary’s top mixologists, Nathan Head and Tony Migliarese? One of the city’s most popular places to go for a drink, of course!
Welcome to Proof, a 60-seat spot on the corner of 1st Street and 13th Avenue S.W. which is probably the most cocktail-focused establishment since Milk Tiger Lounge opened more than eight years ago. It’s a place where people who seriously love – or are learning to love – craft cocktails can come and know they’ll be taken care of.
Walking in, you’ll see that Proof is essentially split into two areas: the bar side to the left and the open kitchen seating area to the right. The room was brought to life by popular local interior designer Sarah Ward who brings her high-level esthetic touch to the long, narrow space. On the right, you’ll find a large communal table and stools along the kitchen counter and west-facing window. Find yourself on the bar side, either cozied into big brown leather couches, perched at a high-top table or right up in front of the bartenders and you’ll discover a fairly nothing jaw-dropping view of the establishment’s liquor arsenal. Running pretty much from the floor to the ceiling behind the bar, you’ll see a selection of 300-plus bottles of unique gins, vodkas, bourbons and everything in-between.
Making a decision on what to drink here may take a few minutes and more than a few pages of flipping through Proof’s cocktail options, which are organized by spirit and then by classic and “Proof originals” in each section. Order up a (classic) New York Sour, made with rye, simple syrup, lemon juice, egg white and a red wine, for refreshing drink that’s not obviously booze-forward and looks pretty sexy too. Turn a few more pages to find “A Necessary Evil,” a rum-based concoction shaken up with sherry, pineapple and agave syrup, lime juice and bitters, served in a ceramic bamboo mug. Tiki-inspired drinks (a trend to become more prominent in Calgary soon, I’m calling it now!) like this tend to pack a punch, so be careful how many you take down.
Taking a break from the cocktails for a minute, there is nice selection of wines to be found and a short list of beer and cider, but do you really want to holding a bottle of beer while everyone around you is cheersing with coupes and martini glasses? I didn’t think so.
Unlike other cocktail-focused places that tend to make food a secondary attraction, Proof makes food a priority. For such a small working space, chef Tino Longpre pulls together a fun list of small plates that compliment the expertly made cocktails that got you through the door in the first place. With years of experience working under chef Justin Leboe, you can tell some of the Model Milk creativity has brushed off on him.
For simple snacking while you’re sipping, look to the two-bite options like pickled eggs, gougeres made with Sylvan Star gouda, oysters or pork belly steam buns to name a few. More sizeable plates, if you’re more than just peckish, include the black pudding topped with apple salad and toast, the warm confit cherry tomatoes with beef butter, or the especially creative pickled shrimp “cocktail.” It’s essentially a grapefruit and side-stripe prawn salad with macadamia nuts to add some crunch, mint for freshness and whole endive leaves to scoop it all up into. Definitely not your grandma’s shrimp cocktail.
Proof does not take reservations, operating on a first-come, first-serve basis seven nights a week starting a 4 p.m. Being a relatively new kid on the block and receiving such favourable reviews thus far, I think it would be wise to come early and avoid a line-up.