The Iron Man – The Derrick Gin & Mill Kitchen
Nathan Newman hasn’t worked on the rigs, but that doesn’t take away from his passion to honour those who work in the industry. After dabbling in several successful restaurants in Calgary, Newman decided to pursue black gold in the form of The Derrick Gin Mill and Kitchen. Decorated with historical photos of the oil patch and original artwork with a western Canadian motif, The Derrick boasts 50 plus types of gin and several handmade cocktails that would appeal to any Roughneck. If you’re in Calgary and thirsty, the “John Lee Hooker”, made with bourbon, scotch, and beer (and a touch of reduced pipe tobacco!) is well worth the trip, and they have one beer that is priced based on West Texas Intermediate—a pretty good deal with current oil prices.
On the menu, The Derrick has an ever-evolving offering of excellent appetizers, and mains, and their goal is to produce as much of the menu in-house as possible, including curing and smoking their own meats. In fact, their meat and cheese board has had a homemade “spotted ham” that was one-of-a-kind delicious. Newman and his kitchen staff are always looking for new ingredients and creative ways of keeping the menu exciting.
Located in a venue that had previously hosted a few different kinds of establishments, The Derrick’s comfortable but refined décor and excellent staff have seemingly hit a chord with the local clientele. “Blowout Hour” and “wine Wednesday” draw big crowds, and the restaurant is open early for breakfast as well.
The Hitch sat down with the restauranteur and asked him about The Derrick, his latest dining adventure.
How long has The Derrick Gin Mill & Kitchen been open? Our doors opened up just over three months ago.
What prompted you to open a themed restaurant based on the oil and gas industry? Are you originally from Calgary? I had just lost a business and found myself in a position of opportunity. In the short time I was “retired,” I had coffee and many discussions with people that were really down on the city and the recent energy sector which seemed to be causing the current economic downturn. I thought: why not have a little fun and remind people what we built this great city on. We did this by adorning the restaurant with historic pictures, themed cocktails name, “Roughneck” and “Spring Breakup,” a Happy Hour called “Blow Out Hour,” and trying to create a homey and casual environment where people can feel comfortable and at the same time get quality food.
Did you work on the rigs previously or do you have some other personal connection to the industry? I have never worked on a rig or even in O&G — but I have countless friends in the industry.
Did you consult any rig workerwhen setting up your menu, décor, and other branded elements to ensure accuracy and “street credibility”? I asked several people what they thought about the idea and took recommendations on names, etc.
How did you acquire the industry artifacts that adorn your restaurant? Witold Twardowski helped with acquiring some of them.Most of the older O&G photos are from the Glenbow Museum.
Did you approach the branding of the restaurant mainly from an historical perspective? Not at all, we wanted the main target to be a get-away from the workplace. However, the food program came from my chef Marc Bourgeois and my childhood foods. Marc and I have French Canadian mothers so we both felt comfort with that cuisine. The spirit program is extremely modern and on trend. To my knowledge, we are Calgary’s first gin and cocktail-focused bar.
Did your menu items reflect the O&G theme as well? In a way yes, a lot of people that work up north or on rigs come from all over Canada. We chose our food menu based on what we thought would remind us of home. We thought this would strike a cord with some and would be easily explainable to most.
Have you had any customers identify themselves to you as actual rig workers? If so, did they share any comments about the restaurant’s theme? Yes we have had plenty! Some have commented on the glasswear we chose for some of the cocktails, (i.e., the “Roughneck” is presented in a small coup glass. Most people have been very supportive and happy that we decided to honour their industry.
What is your backstory with the restaurant industry? I’ve been involved in restaurants from a young age doing nearly every job the industry has to offer. Most recently, I was owner and oper of the UBU Lounge and Black Betty Burger & Wine Bar.
Tell us a little about the gin theme. Do you have any signature gin cocktails? We decided to focus on gin because of its versatility and how magnificent it works with cocktails. “Payday” has been a favorite cocktail since we opened.
What can CAODC members look forward to as a house specialty when they visit The Derrick? Montreal Smoked Meat Sandwich, this is Chef Marc’s original recipe and is all-seasoned, braised, and smoked in-house over an eight-day process. For gin and tonics, we have over 50 gins and eight tonics which are all served a la carte, so you can build it your way.