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In the Noble 

Halifax’s blossoming cocktail culture gets a taste of old timey at a stealthy new speakeasy-inspired bar.



By Riley Smith

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click to enlarge Jenner Cormier shakes up the bar scene downtown. - RILEY SMITH
  • Jenner Cormier shakes up the bar scene downtown.
  • Riley Smith

Jenner Cormier holds a lit match to a slice of orange peel and squeezes. The peel's oil sparks a mini-fireball, leaving the smell of birthday candles in the air and the taste of toasted citrus in the drink. It's the Depth Charge: Ice crushed by hand with a 1940s Ice-O-Mat, fresh mint, raspberry, almond liqueur, absinthe and equal parts gin and Lillet Blanc, a fortified wine and sweet aperitif.

"It's almost like a dish in a glass," the 26-year-old award-winning bartender says, paraphrasing one of his mentors. "The thing I really find interesting is trying to cross the line between culinary and cocktail."

Barrington Street's newest bar, which combines the foodie, cocktail and speakeasy movements, is unadvertised. There's no storefront, no windows. There's a password, which changes each week. A server asks you to wait at the bar while she makes a call. Moments later she leads you down a flight of stairs, past students gossiping over desserts, through the Middle Spoon kitchen, down a concrete hallway and finally into the dimly lit underground bar, Noble.

Soft jazz fills the concrete room. A black leather banquette runs the length of the longest wall. A bookcase packed with encyclopedias fills the wall opposite the bar. Glasses and jars containing fresh rosemary, mint, sage, thyme, raw eggs (the whites froth the drinks) and even pinecones line the ash and maple bar in the middle of the room.

One year ago, this space was the Middle Spoon's garbage room. Cormier was bringing the garbage down to the basement space—which was two rooms at the time—when the idea occurred to him. And nagged at him. That wall would have to come down...

He pitched the idea to the owner and last spring the project started. Boasting construction and design experience, his family, friends and the bar owners translated Cormier's ideas into executable plans, while the bartender, who didn't know a thing about building, became a self-described "grunt."

Cormier is quick to mention the people who helped make Noble happen. His brother, Justin, and friend and Dalhousie architecture student, Matthew Kennedy, built most of the bar. And inspired by a tomb the bartender saw in New Orleans, another brother, Jeremy, painted a mural of an angel on the wall opposite the door. "These guys deserve just as much recognition as I do," Cormier insists.

Aside from his culinary cocktails (try the Beet It, made with fresh beet juice and a sprig of rosemary), Cormier's contribution to the space has been his fascination with antiques. Old, interesting items are everywhere: A vault scavenged from an out-of-business laundromat sits by the door, a functioning brass cash register rests behind the bar and drinks are served in glassware collected mainly from rural Nova Scotia. "The drinks are the focus and the rest creates this allure," the ex-Drawing Room bartender says.

Fresh fruit and homemade ingredients fill those glasses. Though he makes a proper Sazerac, Cormier is leaning away from classic drinks. He likes to play with the palettes of his mainly business-class customers, presenting them with four or five layers in each drink.

Down the road, Noble might host live music, but Cormier's keeping future plans close to his chest. He hints he's spoken to a few local musicians, but won't say more.

The 1895 antique candlestick phone—retrofitted by the bartender's friend—rings and Cormier answers the call. The server gets the all clear and brings another group of nostalgic guests through the kitchen and concrete halls leading to Noble.

To get Noble's password for next week, investigate the Middle Spoon's Facebook page.

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