A- / 4.06 (RB = 82)
vibe: 4.5 | quality: 4 | service: 3.5 | selection: 4.5 | $$$
Fifth stop on a recent trip to Cambridge, Hamilton, and Niagara Falls with mrmanning. This overlooked gem resembles a 1920s cigar bar with faded wooden tables and chairs dispersed throughout an enormous, narrow establishment. A display of dusty beer bottles greets you at the front entrance. We grabbed a booth in the back where we enjoyed a night of drinks and laughs with our new-found friends from Bar Towel.
The main attraction at Chester's is the extensive vintage bottle list, which includes hundreds of LCBO seasonals and private imports from various Belgian, English, German, and American breweries. All of the beers are listed in a book that invites patrons to "keep any can or bottle as a souvenir." Some brews are 10-20 years old and many of them cannot be found at other beer bars in Ontario, so this place gets high marks for its rare, gigantic, and "aged" selection.
Len and I both started with a Theakston Old Peculier, then split a 1996 Liefmans Goudenband, a 1998 Suffolk Strong Vintage Ale, and a 2009 Vapeur Cochonne. The Goudeband tasted excellent and the Cochonne was quite good; however, the Peculier and Suffolk were past their prime. We had a feeling that the low-mid gravity stuff would be less than stellar (since it's not meant for cellaring), but we took a gamble anyway and got burned. Hence, I would recommend sticking to the stronger (7% or higher) offerings on the menu.
Service was prompt and courteous, though our waitress didn't know much about the beers. They were also "out" of several bottles that we ordered. Michael, the eccentric owner, did not seem to recognize Len despite having shared numerous hard-to-find Belgians with him a few years ago. But all of the drinks arrived quickly and in their proper glassware, including a dubbel that came with a wooden coaster.
Overall, we had a great evening here helped along by locals who know the Hamilton beer scene. Chester's is a destination for any beer geek seeking high-end vintage bottles. The selection is extremely unique in this province as no one else has been (or is?) willing to cellar bottles for such a long period of time. A must visit.