Alibi Room

June 28th, 2008 · 2 Comments

alibi room extAlibi Room
(604) 623-3383
Address: 157 Alexander Street, Gastown
Food menu

Of all the watering holes in all the cities…
a restaurant review

By Jason Chin
Eat Vancouver writer
Saturday, June 28th 2008

** (of four stars)

Alibi Room feels like it was cooked up behind a bar by a couple of industry vets, “You know what I’d do if I started my own place?”

The reply, sarcastic in a I’ll-keep-this-going-if-at-least-to-kill-time-kind-of-way: “Yeah, what?”

“Well there’d be a huge draft beer list. Stuff you can’t get anywhere else.”

“Obviously, what else?”

“A kick-ass burger.”

“And laid back service, you know, so it’d feel like you were just hanging out at someone’s house?”


You know the conversation I’m talking about.

I don’t know if this is how Alibi Room came about, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was something close. In that respect, it’s a prime example of what those of us bored with Earl’s and Cactus Club mold want a watering hole to be. And with a few tweaks, it could be nearly perfect.

Tucked away in a relatively undeveloped block of Gastown, Alibi Room is easy to miss, even if you are looking for it. I can’t imagine its patronage, by and large, extends beyond locals, which if true is a shame indeed. Alibi Room occupies a handsome heritage space accented by lots of wood and metal, likely some kind of warehouse in a former life. Long communal tables line a room highlighted by a bar and adjacent open kitchen. It’s a beautifully spartan space, distinctive, and surely full of history. Besides the washrooms, the lower level houses a large area that can be rented for parties, a feature that apparently comprises a large portion of the restaurant’s business plan.

Despite the establishment’s fine design, the real draw is the beverage program and in particular a rotating list of 20 local draft beers. Beer aficionados, or anyone tired of the usual suspects (e.g., Granville Island, Sleeman, etc) will find great joy in this list that features such winners as Crannog’s Back Hand of God Stout with an espresso finish, and Spinnakers’ Hefeweizen, a perfect summer beer. Draft prices range from about $3 for a (very) small glass and $5.75 for a (very) large glass. For $8 a sampler of four can be ordered. The bartenders are happy to make these sampler selections for you based on vague preferences – recently I asked to try four nice summer beers – or you can of course have a go at it yourself. Non-BC beers may be ordered by the bottle and are in general a little more expensive, but equally well chosen.

It would be nice to report that Alibi Room’s food program matched that of the beverages, but that tall order just isn’t filled. The muchnables at Alibi Room, categorized as either large or small plates, fluctuate from the run-of-the-mill to the pretty good, marred mostly by trying too hard. This is disappointing because that fantastic beer list screams out for pub fare to match.

alibi room cakesMy first venture into Alibi Room fit this pattern, exhibiting both direct hits and near misses. My dining companion and I grabbed on of the few spots left at a communal table on a busy Saturday night, made our beer choices, and soon tucked into our grub. Although our server was a bit stretched due to the crowd, she was pleasantly chatty and helpful in navigating the menu. We decided on the duck confit tortilla ($9) and wild salmon and crab cake ($11) to share, and ordered two sandwiches, the Montréal smoked meat ($12) and onion confit burger ($14). We enjoyed the salmon and crab cake the most, which was surprisingly light as well as fresh tasting, and accompanied by a refreshing lemony green been salad that added an important textural change of pace, or in another words: a nice crunch. The duck confit tortillas turned out to be a small portion of duck confit served with flour tortillas, sour cream, and beet. Bland. The frustrating-as-hell award went to the burger, which has an unseemly amount of promise but fell flat. The meat was perfectly cooked at medium and just dripped juice – a calorie counter’s burger this was not. But the bun, which turned out to be a large slice of ciabatta was just too big and the lone topping of confit onion was nice but I just think a burger needs more than just onion, as decadent as that onion might be (read: duck fat). But served with fries and salad, it’s at least a decent deal. The Montréal smoked meat sandwich, served on the same bread, was unremarkable but also reasonably priced.

A few weeks later I managed to snag one of Alibi Room’s prized four outdoor tables on a particularly sunny June day. To accompany my beer sampler, I tried the yam fries with chipotle mayo ($6), which have become ubiquitous in Vancouver area bars for some not immediately obvious reason. Alibi Room’s rendition sticks out, however, due to their unique shape (broad but thin) and the fact that they are battered for added crunch. Unusual, but it worked. The sausage main unfortunately did not. The nicely spiced Oyama sausages were marred by an oddly chosen Indian curry sauce and bland potatoes. You’d think: sausages and beer, how can you go wrong? Well, they found a way.

Fortunately for Alibi Room, their fine section of fermented beverages, interesting space, and knowledgeable staff more than make up for a few menu miscues. If the food improves slightly, this destination will truly become one of the few watering holes in this city worth stumbling in and out of again and again.

Alibi Room on Urbanspoon

Tags: Burgers · Modern Canadian · Pub fare

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Style Dish // Jun 30, 2008 at 12:32 pm

    I would say another ubiquitous menu item in local restaurants is a plate of edamame. Also reason for its popularity is a bit of a mystery. Cactus Club charges $7 while you can easily find it under $4 at any japanese restaurant.

  • 2 Jason // Jun 30, 2008 at 5:18 pm

    Yes, that’s a good one too.

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