If you have any lingering doubts about the health of Halifax’s restaurant scene as it emerges from two years of indoor gathering limits and social distancing, a visit to Queen’s Marque on a summer evening ought to give you some hope. Here, in the shadow of the luxurious Muir hotel, Toronto-based hospitality group Oliver & Bonacini plans to open a total of 11 restaurants over the next two years, creating a new upscale nightlife district on the waterfront. Among them is Bar Sofia, which opened early in the year with a menu of elevated pan-Latin dishes, offering a lively and casual antidote to the tweezer-plated seriousness of Drift next door, complete with a live DJ on weekends. Bar Sofia’s new patio, which opened earlier this month, adds harbour views and an outdoor bar into the mix, making it one of summer’s hottest tickets.
“The food, the vibe, the colours… the whole concept takes you on vacation,” says general manager Gabriel Buhnila. In keeping with its border-hopping theme, Bar Sofia’s menu ranges from street food favourites like tacos and empanadas to more complex fare like Nova Scotia lamb ribs glazed in quince molasses. As a marked departure from other well-worn waterfront dining options, it’s a trip that plenty of Haligonians and visitors have been so far eager to take, Buhnila says. With requests for reservations far exceeding the capacity of the dining room, however, the patio’s 80 seats (more than the capacity of the indoor restaurant, it turns out), will allow many more diners to experience Bar Sofia’s popular offerings.
Like the restaurant’s interior, which is foliage-filled and done up in tropical pinks, blues and yellows, the patio is the work of local design studio Breakhouse and carries the festive theme outside. The space is dominated by a Gaudi-esque wall of undulating mosaic tiles, flowing from a row of banquette seats (the corner booth is the best seat in the house for a small group) to a full outdoor kitchen. Opposite, bar seats offer a view of the restaurant’s skilled bartenders at work, competing for attention with Edoardo Tresoldi’s wire mesh sailboat sculpture and the water beyond. Outfitted with a retractable awning for summer heat and blankets to shield against cool ocean breezes, Bar Sofia’s team has made every effort to create a welcoming and comfortable space for guests and (thanks to last year’s change in Nova Scotia law) their dogs, too.
“It’s such an Instagrammable spot,” says Sarah Merriam, the restaurant’s social media and marketing coordinator, as she snaps a tableside photo of a happy-looking pup. The patio’s colourful backdrop, she says, has quickly become popular for social media posts, especially with one of Bar Sofia’s tropical cocktails in hand. “Lots of people come to get a drink and a photo,” Merriam says, steering us towards the Blue Parrot, a Caribbean-hued concoction of Fisherman’s Helper rum, blue curaçao, lime and coconut water, or the Spicy Sandia Margarita, with tequila, Scotch bonnet watermelon syrup and a spicy rim of Mexican Tajín seasoning. For real clout, however, nothing compares to the Partners in Crime, which is made from Fisherman’s Helper white rum, lime juice and Malibu, and served in an entire hollowed-out pineapple studded with flaming sparklers. At $29 it might be the most expensive cocktail in the city, but pleasantly ensconced in Bar Sofia’s patio on a warm summer evening, it’s easy to feel like you’re not in Halifax at all.