Garrick's Head doubles size of historic pub

After nine months of renovations and tie-ups with permits and licencing issues, the expanded Garrick's Head pub finally turns on the taps to the public on Friday.

There will be no shortage of space - or beer - as the historic watering hole more than doubles in size to 168 seats. As well, the selection of suds balloons to 44 varieties, including 22 from Greater Victoria breweries.

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"We've been waiting a long time for this," said Garrick's Head manager Jay Nowak. An invite-only party christens the expanded pub tonight before the grand opening on Friday.

The Garrick's Head calls itself one of Canada's longest running English pubs. It was established in 1867 during the days when Judge Matthew Begbie presided over the nearby court house in Bastion Square.

In March, the owners of the Bedford Regency Hotel took over the retail space at the Bastion Square gate. It had been occupied for more than 25 years by clothing retailer Breeze, but a new lease arrangement didn't materialize.

"We hadn't planned on the expansion ... it just worked out that way when a lease couldn't be resigned," said Nowak.

The result was a plan for the adjoining Garrick's Head pub to expand to the main gate and gain a high-profile entrance to Government Street, straight across from the Irish Times Pub.

The space is linked to the Bedford Regency and earlier had been a Smitty's restaurant, which had severe fire damage and was later rebuilt.

"What this does is give us some great exposure," said Nowak. "I think a lot of tourists missed us because we were just off the track there a bit."

Nowak said approvals from the city took more than three months and the further licencing from the provincial liquor commission dragged even further. The hotel's maintenance staff - as well as Nowak and other staffers - rolled up their sleeves in the renovation.

"It's a pretty basic space. A lot of people are saying it reminds them of a Seattle or Portland beer hall," he said.

The existing patio will close at 11 p.m. to comply with city bylaws and the famous old fireplace will be left untouched.

Nowak said both sides of the pub will remain open until the new year. Early in January, the existing pub will close temporarily to allow for upgrades and expansion to the kitchen. That project will take about a month, he said.

The pub has hired eight new employees in preparation for increased volume.

Nowak said when all renovations have been completed, the Garrick's Head will offer private functions, beer pairing dinners and will accept reservations.

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