Story by Adrian Brijbassi
VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA — Robert Bartley is one of the best off-season acquisitions the Vancouver Canucks made last summer. But even the most ardent fans of the team couldn’t tell you who he is. That’s because the only ice Bartley sees at Rogers Arena are the cubes packed beneath the chilled seafood that diners enjoy on game nights.
Bartley arrived from Toronto, where he helped launch the food services program at Air Canada Centre and the mammoth Real Sports Bar & Grill that has been named by ESPN as the best sports bar in North America. The Aquilini Investment Group, which owns the Canucks, made it a priority to upgrade the food and drink choices for fans who attend games and concerts at the arena. The owners recruited Bartley, who worked for chefs such as Susur Lee and Lynn Crawford in Toronto.
Under Bartley’s leadership, Rogers Arena’s food offerings have soared past greasy hot dogs and French fries. When I dropped in earlier this season, Bartley said the biggest sellers were prime rib sandwiches at the new Carve eatery and the lobster rolls at Catch. The hot dogs are gourmet choices sold at stands called Steamers, named after Stan Smyl, a former Canucks forward who was a fan favourite.
Steamers started with eight varieties of hot dogs, ranging in cost from $5.50-$7.50, and aims to up the number of options to 12. The choices include a Bartley’s Famous (bacon-wrapped hot dog with onions and cheddar cheese) and a Poutine Dog with cheese curds, gravy, hickory sticks and fried potatoes. Bartley says they go through close to 1,000 hot dogs per game per stand.
“We’re feeding 19,000 people a night and that has a lot of challenges,” says Bartley, who works with 1,200 staff, including 200 cooks. “But there’s no reason why people have to settle for average food when they’re at an event.”
Bar Jones Serves Up Cocktails to Hockey Fans
Nor mediocre drinks. The other significant addition to the Canucks’ food-and-beverage roster is Jay Jones, the esteemed bartender who has a dedicated following in Vancouver. In the fall, Bar Jones opened in Rogers Arena, serving cocktails and craft beer.
“Being a life-long Canucks fan, this is a dream come true for me. I feel like I have spent my career diversifying my abilities so that I can do what I am doing here,” says Jones, who oversees between 75-100 bartenders on game nights. “One of the toughest things is knowing that we are going to be serving 19,000 people. Even if it’s just water, you have to anticipate that everyone is going to want something to drink — and you only have 15 minutes to serve them between periods.”
Eventually, Jones will likely be serving even more people. Part of the plan for Bar Jones is to open up a section of it to the public who don’t have tickets to the game but still want to partake in the atmosphere from outside of the arena.
Among the cocktails fans can enjoy are specialty ones for each visiting team. When the Ottawa Senators visited in November, Jones made a cocktail called Remembrance in honour of Remembrance Day and fallen soldier Nathan Cirillo, who was killed by a gunman in Ottawa last fall.
“We want to be respectful of the teams when they come in and also offer something unique for the fans each game,” Jones says.
With Jones and Bartley, Canucks fans are getting distinct flavours. In the new Loge Club, fans can reserve tables of six for sit-down meals, including sushi selections prepared by chefs who work at Miku and Minami, the twin Japanese restaurants known for their aburi sushi. The Centre Ice Grill on the top level of the arena serves cuisine inspired by Vancouver’s ethnic communities.
Part of the reason for the commitment to high-quality food for fans and concert-goers is the Aquilini Investment Group’s experience in the restaurant industry. It owns Toptable Group, whose stellar restaurants include Araxi, Blue Water and CinCin.
“We really want to offer the best food service of any arena,” Bartley says. “The experience isn’t only about the game. We want to do our part to make coming here as enjoyable and satisfying as possible, even if the final score doesn’t always turn out the way fans hope for.”
MORE ABOUT ROGERS ARENA
Location: 800 Griffiths Way, Vancouver, BC (see map below)
Upcoming Canucks Home Games (all times Pacific): The team begins a seven-game home stand next week. January 27 vs. Anaheim Ducks, 7 pm; January 30 vs. Buffalo Sabres, 7 pm; February 1 vs. Minnesota Wild, 12:30 pm; February 3 vs. Winnipeg Jets, 7 pm; February 5 vs. San Jose Sharks; February 7 vs. Pittsburgh Penguins. Click here for tickets and schedule info.
Upcoming Concerts: Sam Smith, February 4 (tickets: $45-$105); The Tragically Hip, February 6 (tickets: $35-$143.80).