As summer slowly creeps into view, patio seating becomes a hot commodity. There's something wholesome, almost healthy feeling, about getting drunk out of doors, as if exposure to sunlight and fresh air counteracts the ill effects of boozing.
If that's true, then NE Alberta's Bye and Bye—a spacious, stylish bar with an entirely vegan menu—is an ideal place to get soused this summer. A group of tables sit outside the bar's front door; large, open windows invite much of the outdoors into the main room; and there's a roomy bamboo-fenced back patio where smoking is permitted. The large, homey bar has already become a neighborhood fixture; families, trendsters, and locals stop in for beer, cocktails, and vegan fare, although there's no table service, and the bar's popularity means it can be crowded.
The cocktail list at Bye and Bye boasts a handful of house specialties, most of which are variations on familiar drinks, like the North Williams, a strong, super-sized bourbon 'n' ginger, or the Loose Trousers, a Bloody Mary with house-infused lime and jalapeno vodka. The Bronx Bomber (gin, vermouth, OJ) is compulsively drinkable, and the shockingly pink Victrola (pomegranate vodka, cranberry, grapefruit) straddles the line between sweet and tart. Meanwhile, an extensive bottle list augments the solid selection of local microbrews on tap.
The menu at Bye and Bye is entirely vegan, with their MySpace page posing the question, "What if you went to a barbeque, and all there was to eat was barbeque?" The answer, apparently, is tofu, prepared in a variety of ways with mixed results. The Weeping Tiger sandwich is flavored by jalapenos and avocado, with crisp green lettuce providing traction against the slippery tofu, all housed in thick, fulfilling slices of como. However, the Georgia Bowl decorates its tofu with collard greens for a bland, swampy assemblage, and the Eastern Bowl has squirts of gluey peanut sauce on top of broccoli and brown rice, making all of its ingredients unappealing.
However, vegans and meat eaters alike should enjoy the meatball sub, with veggie meatballs and marinara inside a crusty baguette. This is a much better choice than the flavorless grilled cheese, which inserts fake, liquidy cheese inside a panini-style sandwich for an unmemorable, unsatisfying meal. Side dishes are generally strong: Braised Brussels sprouts are salty, crispy, and juicy, but the edamame is dull, so instead go for the warm and hearty black-eyed peas.
Sadly, the service at Bye and Bye is lacking—quite literally. There just isn't enough of it. As popular as it is (and it will only get more so in the summer months), there's usually one bartender manning the entire joint. All drink and food orders go through him, and the line frequently backs up. Meanwhile, the cooks act as runners and bussers, which means they're stretched far too thin. On a recent balmy Saturday evening, we grabbed the last available table on the crowded patio, which had leftover dishes and glasses, not to mention a wet, unappealing dishrag in the center of the table. It took over half an hour and a couple specific requests to the bartender for the table to be cleared.
Still, the weather was perfect, the beer did what it was supposed to do, and the setting couldn't be beat. With so much going for it, it's likely that Bye and Bye will be a neighborhood stronghold for some time to come. It's also likely they'll work out the kinks, by and by.