This week, Saint John’s newest and most hotly anticipated bar, Hopscotch Whisky Bar, quietly opened its doors to some discrete fanfare. After breaking ground on the project in October of last year, delays in the project had the public asking, were they ever going to get to have a wee dram at that new whisky bar? On Tuesday, August 30th, the answer finally came, as the bar had their soft opening for a select few in the know, and those lucky enough to happen upon it.
At less than 700 square feet, Hopscotch is a small but impressive space, located at the epicentre of Uptown urban revitalization, on Canterbury Street. The city’s first whisky bar, it’s owned by local restauranteurs/legends Holly and Ken Singh and sits right next door to their restaurant, Thandi.
The space is designed by Judith Mackin, who says she had the idea for a whisky bar in Saint John for three years but it wasn’t until the Singh’s signed on that it became reality. Mackin is quick to reflect credit for the project back to the Singh’s, saying, “Holly and Ken are a gift to this city. Setting aside their restaurants and the constant upgrades they’re making to their businesses, they’re commitment to community…they do so much for this city.” Mackin’s signature touch can be seen throughout the space, in the form of warm and unique lighting, the blending of modern and natural elements, and local flair, such as the Saint John Tartan, featured throughout the bar.
With seating for approximately 50 over two levels, the space is intimate, but doesn’t feel cramped. Exposed structural beams serve as the framework for glass shelving for the nearly 70 types of whisky included on the menu. The cozy bar area on the main level encourages conversation among and between tables, while comfortable banquet seating upstairs welcomes patrons to stay awhile, at least long enough for one more dram. A modern restroom welcomes all and maximizes space on the bar’s basement level.
Most likely to spark conversation is the commanding presence of Hopscotch’s spirit animal, a large sculptural Jackalope that leaps joyfully through the air of the upper level lounge. Sculpted by Canadian artist Emily Jan and based on the logo created by Bonfire, Hopscotch’s half rabbit, half antelope mythical creature connects the whisky legends of historical Scotland to modern New Brunswick and might even bring you a little good luck, to boot.
Hopscotch is undeniably a whisky bar, but it’s not just a whisky bar. Non-whisky drinkers need not fear exclusion. The drink menu is surprisingly varied, with several draught, local and imported beers to choose from, as well as wine and a good selection of cocktails. As for the whisky, there are plenty of choices, ranging in price from quite affordable to ‘selling your kidney for a shot’.
Hopscotch General Manager, and long time veteran of Thandi’s, Dan Vienneau admits to having limited whisky knowledge prior to the project. Over the last six months, he’s quickly gotten a crash course, seeking out the advice of local whisky experts Johanne McInnis and Graham MacKenney on which brands should be included on the menu.
Hopscotch is just the latest in a series of recent projects injecting new life – and money – into the Uptown core. “We’re very excited to be part of the revitalization of the area,” Vienneau says. On the addition of an upscale whisky bar to the scene, he says, “I think it’s an idea whose time has come…I’ve been overwhelmed with the response so far. How many people, I had no idea, who were into whisky and were excited about this place”.
Judging by the buzz surrounding the project and the impressive way Hopscotch has packed in the patrons in its first week, we’re pretty sure we know why that Jackalope is so damn happy.