For a culinary capital, Quebec City has not yet caught the craft cocktail bug. Perhaps it is due to Quebeckers’ penchant for beer — the province boasts 120 microbreweries — and wine from their French roots. On my first trip to the “Paris of the North” last month, I met one man aiming to change the trend. And he so happens to be at the helm of one of the prettiest bars in town.
Nader Chabaane is the director of mixology at Chateau Frontenac. For those who haven’t visited Quebec City, the Chateau Frontenac is the towering castle in the heart of Old Quebec. Both landmark and luxury hotel, the Fairmont-run property is pure splendor. As part of a recent restaurant renovation, Fairmont tapped Chabaane to revitalize the venue’s bar program.
Swanky hotel bars are inherently intriguing, with their sumptuous settings and globe-trotting guests. At Fairmont Le Château Frontenac’s Le Sam Bistro, Chabaane holds court at a golden bar, the centerpiece of the stylish, Art Deco space. The impressive collection of bitters, syrups, and tinctures atop the bar are liquid clues to Chabaane’s skills. He and his well-trained staff concoct cocktails that mirror the season; the winter list features Jam le Sam (a vodka, cranberry jam, maple syrup, and pink pepper) and Glam Me More (whiskey, Calvaods, pear, and maple syrup).
When I ask Chabaane where he’s from, he cheekily responds, “All over the world.” As is fitting for an international hotel, the peripatetic bartender was born in Tunisia and got his first bar gig in the Dominican Republic. He has also worked in China, Greece, New York City, and Paris. The latter is where he honed his liqour talents. At the Blind Bar, a swank boîte at the Hotel La Maison Champs Élysées, Chabaane was renowned for his bespoke drinks. He brings this blend of passion and prowess to Le Sam Bistro.
The charming Chabaane enjoys introducing customers to innovative ingredients (like shrubs, for example) and flavor combinations. A mixologist’s ego can expand as his or her career is on the upswing, but this isn’t so for the refreshingly humble Chabaane. He is happy to explain and teach, which are both apt attributes considering he learned bartending on the job by observing and asking a million questions. Chabaane has a knack for refining classic recipes. Case in point: his gin and tonic. Born from his shock that so many ritzy hotels made “crap gin and tonics,” Chabaane’s comes with quality gin, homemade tonic, and slices of lemon, lime, and grapefruit rind.
Fittingly, Chabaane is one of the four esteemed bartenders, aka the Fairmont Tastemakers, who helped create Fairmont’s Classics Perfected cocktails.
I got a sneak taste of the upcoming menu with the refreshing Sparkling Collins Royale (Belevdere Vodka, Veuve Clicquot, lemon, mint, and cucumber) and the Fairmont Old Fashioned. Chabaane explains that the rum (Mount Gay Black Barrel) gives sweetness to traditional bourbon (Woodford Reserve) drink without adding sugar. An avid Old Fashioned imbiber, I can avow this is one of the best I’ve ever sipped.
Launched at London’s Savoy on November 2nd, the Classics Perfected menu has been at Fairmont Le Château Frontenac since December 1st, which is another reason to grab a perch at Nader Chabaane’s bar. As they say in Quebec City, á votre santé!