Checking in With Our Bars of the Year

It's been one Mother of a bumpy ride.....

The last few months have been tough, but I’m pretty sure they’ve been tougher for those who own and operate bars than for most. This year we made the radical decision to split the spirits categories from the food categories in our annual Restaurant Awards for the first time in 30 years. The results were that Best Bar, Bartender of the Year, Brewery of the Year and Somm of the Year all appeared in our January issue, while the remainder of the food categories would come in the May issue and…well, we all know how that played out.

The good news is that the Restaurant Awards issue is now coming out next month (yay!), and we’ll be sending out more info about how the (now online) awards will go shortly. But in the interim we wanted to check in on our bars—who’ve been absolutely steamrolled by Covid. Here’s what’s what with them.

Trans Am

It was with heavy hearts that we announced in mid-June that our Bar of the Year, Trans Am, was closing. I suppose it wasn’t a huge surprise: it’s tiny and narrow and one of the reasons it’s awesome is that it’s always packed. Also it always felt like a passion project from owner Gianmarco Colannino, something he wouldn’t debase just to turn a buck (not that there’s anything wrong with that in these times). But damn, if he and his team didn’t rebound in the exact way you’d want from your Bar of the Year. Last week he opened the reimagined Turbo by Trans Am and it’s awesome. There’s the legendary burgers, but now you can get them for takeout. There’s premixed cocktails. There’s vinyl, there’s vintage clothing, there’s hand-tooled leather gear. There’s cast iron pans for sale!  Most importantly it has the same vibe that Trans Am did—friendly, irreverent and a heart full of soul.

Turbo by Trans Am, 1879 Powell St., Tuesday – Saturday 12-7

Campagnolo Upstairs

Well, it’s not all sunshine and lollipops. Two weeks ago when we were having an Instagram Live session with owner Robert Belcham he relayed the brutal news: both Campagnolo and Campagnolo Upstairs would not reopen (they closed in early March). It was a true double whammy with the city losing a great bar and a legendary restaurant. Belcham and his partners actually own the space, so there’s no discounting that when things are back to normal it might morph into another great watering hole, but for now it’s raise a glass time to a truly memorable spot.

If there’s a silver lining it’s that head barkeep Peter van der Reep has already secured a landing pad courtesy a mash-up with our friend Andrea Carlson of Burdock & Co. and Harvest Community Foods. The new spot will be just steps from Harvest at 237 Union St. and there will be a natural wine focus, paired with what Andrea calls “eclectic” snack offerings. 

Bar Gobo, 237 Union St., Wednesday—Saturday 3:30-late. Check bar.gobo on Instagram for updates.

The Keefer

Another narrow spot that, save for its great but small patio, is not built for social distancing. But in what may be in the running for the bar pivot of the year, they’ve expanded to the vacant lot next door, put in a bar, some stools… and a mini golf course. Rebranded as the Keefer Yard, it’s a creation for the both the COVID age and the Instagram age. The course ain’t Augusta, but that’s beside the point—we live in an age where packing up your tent is the logical choice so the A for Effort the Keefer gang has shown is worthy of a toast. They’re also continuing with their Keefer at Home, which features takeaway cocktail kits, tools and some very well priced bottles of vino (like Perrier Jouet Champagne for $80).

The Keefer Yard, Monday-Friday, 1-5


Our Bartender of the Year, Katie Ingram, has recently left Elisa, where she crafted the bar program. We hear rumours she’s starting at AnnaLena (please be true, please be true). And our Somm of the Year, Robert Stelmachuk is back slinging the good stuff at Mott 32 and killing it with his online tutorials.