First Look: The Old Firehouse Wine Bar

Left: from left to right, Sommelier Sonja Todd, Owner Jeff Downie, Dessert cook Michelle McHugh, and Kitchen Head/Music coordinator Shawn Allen. Right: dessert flight (Tiramisu, Mayan chocolate cheesecake, and a tea infused cheesecake) Photo: Meredyth Cole


Jeff Downie, owner of Duncan’s Old Firehouse Wine Bar, describes himself as a man who “understands the psychology of real service” and guests at the Old Firehouse are likely to agree. Located on City Square in Duncan’s downtown core, the charming wine bar is housed in the city’s old fire hall. Downie is a long-time professional in the hospitality industry, having opened thriving local bookshop and Duncan institution Gallowglass book in this location in 1998. It wasn’t until the Old Firehouse opened its doors this year that Downie made a long-awaited return to hospitality, inspired by a Christmastime vision in which he saw his bookshop transformed into a wine bar. In its newest incarnation the building has returned to its social hub roots; as the city’s longest-serving fire hall, the space was home to parties and late night poker games throughout the fifties and sixties and the atmosphere of community pride and good times is still palpable.


The wine list pays due reverence to the wineries that pepper Vancouver Island, as well as offering an international selection of wines from Europe, South America, New Zealand and California. Sommelier Sonja Todd is on hand to guide selections and even offers a lecture series for those interested in developing their palettes.


In addition to wines and a chic cocktail list, tapas, fondues, flatbreads and decadent deserts fill up the menu (and soak up the drinks on offer). The warm marinated figs with prosciutto and goat cheese in a balsamic reduction is a standout and paired wonderfully with a bottle of Duncan’s Zanatta Damasco. Shawn Allen, the man responsible for the fresh and artful creations in the kitchen, is also behind another of the Wine Bar’s first-rate offerings: live music. Every Friday and Saturday, the wine bar plays host to a changing lineup of musicians, ensuring the talent is as varied and local as the menu.

Pianist Cheryl Baudin performing some jazz piano on a Friday night of live music. Photo: Meredyth Cole


The wine bar also offers an urbane mixture of special event lectures, films, and poetry readings. Downie’s hope is to take Duncan’s cultural identity and “wrap it up in a slightly different package” through the wine bar. By creating a sophisticated and intimate space that looks unlike anything else in the small city’s bar scene, Downie’s vision is now an enticing reality.


40 Ingram street, Duncan B.C,
Phone: (250) 597-3473


— by: Meredyth Cole

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