New Whitehorse bar goes for an old vibe

The newest bar in town doesn't have a sign out front yet. Of course, with two large moose above your door, that's probably enough to get people's attention.

The newest bar in town doesn’t have a sign out front yet.

Of course, with two large moose above your door, that’s probably enough to get people’s attention.

“We might put our name up somewhere,” co-owner James Maltby said with a smile when asked about his future plans. “That’s one thing, people say, ‘What is this place?’”

It’s Woodcutter’s Blanket, a cocktail bar that opened this month in the iconic log cabin on Second Avenue near Strickland Street. Its been filling up ever since.

The building itself was constructed in 1930. After about a year of work, the interior now has the vibe of a speakeasy from about a decade earlier.

The place is the vision of Maltby and long-time friend Tytus Hardy.

The menu offers classic prohibition-era drinks like an old fashioned, a negroni or a Manhattan.

“For me, that was an easy place to start because every new drink these days is kind of based off of the old staples,” Maltby said.

“I just felt like I really wanted to have my team understand what those staples are and be able to make them whenever and kind of build from those building blocks.”

He expects the drink menu will change with the seasons.

Behind the bar Maltby works methodically when mixing a drink.

The bar makes its own simple syrups, squeezes only fresh lemons, and uses a specialized ice machine for oversized ice cubes. That’s to keep the drink from getting too diluted, he said.

“Really, with this place we’re about the craft side of the drinks. It takes time for us to make the drinks and I’d rather us spend a bit more time and focus on that, doing it right, then just kind of blasting it out.”

The bar is tiny. But touches like exposed logs and church pews refurbished as benches give it lots of character.

Moving a staircase that used to run through the middle has helped create more usable space, but even with an addition on the back to add main floor bathrooms, the place is only about 800 square feet.

That puts capacity at 35 people, including staff.

As soon as the ground is soft enough, plans are to build a deck out the back, which should increase their capacity by 15.

Still, both Maltby and Hardy have no plans to leave their day jobs. Maltby works in computer programming and Hardy owns a construction company.

Right now the bar is only open three days a week: Thursday, Friday and Saturday. This is much more of a passion project for both of them.

“It was really important for me to come back and have something like this. I needed another creative outlet,” said Maltby, who grew up in Whitehorse and returned from a job in Calgary to open the bar.

For him, that creativity comes in mixing and creating drinks.

About two years ago, Maltby downloaded a cocktails app on his iPad. The program offered more than just a list of recipes, it included video tutorials from established bartenders walking you through exactly how things should be done.

For years before that the passion also took over his travel plans. Everywhere he went, in the U.S. or Europe, Maltby would track down niche cocktail bars to learn from the drinks there.

The key to a good cocktail is the balance, he said.

“When I started traveling and trying these drinks in different places, it was the balance. You don’t have one thing overpowering the other. These are cocktails that are meant to be sipped. They’re complex.”

The bar’s drink menu also includes wine, beers and scotch. The plan is to include beer on tap from Winterlong Brewery once the new Yukon microbrewery is up and running, he said.

As far as food goes, the bar is sticking to tapas-style dishes thanks to their small kitchen.

The menu last week offered smokies, brownies and cream puffs.

The bar’s name is an homage to that extra layer of fat some Yukoners build up over the winter to keep warm.

It started out as a joke between the two friends when Hardy came to visit Maltby in Vancouver one winter looking a little “plump,” Maltby said, as if he had a blanket around his middle.

“He said, ‘Yeah well, you need a blanket for chopping wood.’ They had a wood stove at the time,” he said.

When renovations began in June of last year, Maltby immediately started getting questions about the fate of the two moose on the cabin.

Not to worry, he said, they’re not going anywhere.

“We were never going to do anything with the moose. They were never at risk.”

Maltby said he’s been told those moose make the cabin the second-most photographed building in Whitehorse next to the Log Skyscraper.

People often come by to snap a shot, he said.

From what he’s been able to gather, the building was originally a family home built in 1930.

It used to be on Fourth Avenue near Strickland Street before 1979, when it was moved to its current location.

You can still see steel straps on the inside that are likely from that move.

Shortly after the move is when the moose arrived and the place became a taxidermy business.

Maltby said he sees the bar developing over time.

“In a year, I don’t know. We spent so much time just getting it to this point. This thing is just going to evolve organically into this really interesting space.”

More information on Woodcutter’s Blanket can be found on Twitter and Facebook.

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com