Archives for the month of: September, 2012

The Birth Of A Barrel



My 12th stranger bar was Toronto Temperance Society. This is one of the bars in Toronto where you really need to know your method and your palette needs to be in top form. Every drink on the list (or off) is done consistently, no matter who is on the bar. I worked with Oliver Stern who is really, really good at his job, has been in tonnes of competitions and is pretty funny.

The first thing I did was borrow a vest from him*. Then I started muddling pineapple, orange rind, lime rind and some booze together. After that, we added some simple syrup. This is the TTS pineapple syrup.

The room filled up quickly due to Sidecar (downstairs neighbour) being extraordinarily busy for a Wednesday. For the most part I stayed out of the way, but Oliver would occasionally tell  me proportions for drinks while he was on his way to bus a table or top up water. “Muddle, 2, 1, 3/4, spoon, big rock” or something like that, which makes no sense to anyone that doesn’t bartend.. It’s cool that he felt comfortable leaving me to it.

Once dinner was over we got a good crowd of industry folk. You might recognize this girl from a two-page Belvedere spread in last week’s Grid.

Or not.

Then the Sidecar staff headed up stairs and started ordering Tiki drinks from us. So we lit some stuff on fire and continued to geek out.

It was great working in a spot that pays tribute to the idea of the speakeasy. With everyone in there being a member and having a set of printed rules to follow there isn’t much room for misunderstanding or misbehaviour. So when 4 guys that clearly did not read the rules started asking ridiculous questions about why the 2″ ice cubes weren’t clear and why don’t we order blocks of ice in a very diminutive way, and went on to say “It’s funny to make fun of cocktails.” Oliver looked this guest in the eye and said “Then what are you doing here?” And all his buddies laughed at him. Manners go a long way.

At the end of the night Oliver was nice enough to pour a little of this into a glass for me to sip on while we wiped and wrapped up the impressive mis-en-place. I feel more and more like I can work at any bar i get put behind. I’ll keep testing that out on Monday when I work at Ursa with my friend Robin Goodfellow. See you there.

*Sometime before Halloween, I will post about The Vest and bartender uniforms.

Before I get in to Bar Tour Day 12, dates have been added and moved. On October 1st I’m going to be at Ursa with my pal Robin Goodfellow. I don’t need to work his name into a pun which makes blogging way simpler. Also, if you know the Chantecler guys, tell them that I can’t DM them back on twitter if they aren’t following me, but that I’m down to work with them for a night. Also, the night at La Carnita is now going to be Gwai Lo Invasion, featuring at taco from Nick Liu and a cocktail that Christina Kuypers and I are working on together. Nick will give you octopus. I will give you mezcal.

Okay, last night I was at Churchill. The first few hours were pretty slow but I was working with my friend Quenton. 7 years ago when I first got into this industry, Quenton was a food runner at The Drake and I was a barback. It didn’t take long for us to become friends. Not surprisingly, this was based in an appreciation for early 90’s hip hop.


Working at Churchill was very comfortable. I have spent a lot of time in that bar and with everyone that was there last night. On Monday nights, the best you can hope for as a bartender is that everyone in your industry decides to go out drinking, because we all work all weekends. This is exactly what happened last night. Starting with the woman that designed the cocktail list for fall at Churchill. Sandy D’Almeida is someone that all bartenders should be inspired by. Her drinks, which are almost always spirit forward, and full flavoured are some of the most innovative drinks in this city, or anywhere. Her use of light syrups and herbs makes me want to be better at what I do.

She stopped by to try out one of her newest drinks on a couple of her friends. It was called Deliverance. Made up of Cedar infused Bourbon, Calvados, Fernet Branca, Maple Syrup and Berentzen, this drink tastes like fall in a cabin in eastern Ontario. Or “good” if you want to keep it simple.

The DJ, my friend Jeff Dixon played the top 100 songs from the billboard chart in 1993. Joey Lawrence, Green JelloUgly Kid Joe, Ice Cube, Tag Team and Mariah Carey. The only better than working/hanging out with friends and listening to great music is working/hanging out with firneds and listening to hilariously bad (terribilarious) music.

Tomorrow night I will be working at The Toronto Temperance Society. It’s the closest thing to a speakeasy in Toronto, so if you would like to come see me, and are not a member, please text me, or DM me on twitter and I will hook you up. See you tomorrow.


Bar Tour day eleven was really exciting. I got a call from the Hendrick’s Gin people less than two weeks ago to see if I would be available to serve drinks at an event they were sponsoring that involved a speaker that explores the earth and aerialists and human trees. (It was a tough decision, I do have some 90210 to catch up on…pfft) .

Xavier Padovani, the international brand ambassador for Hendrick’s Gin had come up with a recipe for a warm gin punch. Hendrick’s, Madeira Wine, Orange peels, pineapple, honey, nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, lemon juice and brown sugar were all big parts of this punch. For the second time on this bar tour, I had an experienced bartender tell me that they make drinks based on colour. At least in the case of this punch, there was a lot of tasting before we were done combining all these ingredients. It came out delicious.

If you’ve never been to a Hendrick’s event, they are always quirky and resemble nothing else I’ve seen in liquor sponsored events. So while I was stirring and watching to make sure the punch never boiled, I should not have been surprised when a woman wearing only gold paint walked into the kitchen prep area complaining that it was cold. She was being painted to resemble a tree.

The speaker was a 73 year old man named Charles Brewer-Carias. Among other things, he has been down the world’s largest sinkhole, has at least 20 species of plants and animals named after him and has a killer moustache. He found an organism that is silicon based. Take a minute with that. As a guy that reads National Geopgraphic and watches Star Trek, this was really cool.

When he was finished his talk, myself and the lovely and talented Megan Jones served the 125 people in attendance Gin and Tonics, Gin Bucks and the aforementioned punch. We did well considering the rush that occured right at the end of the talk. I figure everyone needed a drink to give their brains a break from all the information they just absorbed.
Then I took this sweet baby for a spin

Tonight I will be working at Churchill. My friend and former co-worker Jeff Dixon will be DJ’ing. He does a bi-weekly party there called “Tasty Fuckin’ Jams”. This edition will be all songs from 1993 because of some dumb inside joke that has been taken too far. Come by and enjoy Janet Jackson, Shai and Whitney Houston.

Bar Tour Day Ten was a real thing. I was at 1602 Dundas, which is a solid beer’n’shots bar. It changes it’s name every night, 7 nights of the week. The night that I worked, I was working with a guy named Steve. We’ve been on opposite sides of bars from each other for many years. Go figure, we worked really well together.

This night there was supposed to be some kind of high five championship qualifying round. I saw nothing official about it, but the idea inspired everyone in the bar to high five everyone else in the bar, which is good enough for me. It’s pretty hard to have a bad time when everyone is high fiving around you.

The night I worked there, because both Steve and I are visually impaired, the name of the bar was “You Wouldn’t Hi-5 A Guy With Glasses, Would You?”

Also they have a really, really impressive scotch and bourbon selection. Of course when you have that much whisk(e)y on your backbar  people are going to ask for whiskey cocktails. Anytime someone did, Steve sent them my way. It started as manhattans, but then I started playing around and the drink that ended up being my unofficial and unplanned “drink of the night” was a hybrid paper planeboulevardier drink.
1.5oz. Bourbon (I used Four Roses for some, Maker’s Mark for others)
.5oz. Sweet Vermouth
.5oz Aperol
A tiny squeeze of lemon juice.
Dash of angostura bitters.

Everyone that tried one liked it. Including Megan Jones. I felt very well supported that night. Friends of mine from Gwai Lo, Campagnolo, The Drake, Reposado, and The Rhino all came out.

This night was a 180 turn from what I had been doing all week with the very food forward night at Yours Truly on Monday, and the very precise cocktail night at the Black Hoof Cocktail Bar. The food at 1602 consisted of 4 different flavours of potato chips. The cocktails were “whatever you think it should cost for whatever you put in it”. This night made me think of when I was a kid and I’d hear an adult* walk into a kitchen at my grandma’s house and say “I know my way around a kitchen”. As a 7 year old I thought “bullshit! you’ve never been in this fucking house before you liar!” (i was a brat…was). But after this week of stops on my bar tour, I have realized that I kind of know my way around a bar. Either that or I am also full of shit.

Tomorrow I will be at a ticketed event at The Great Hall involving a talk from The Adventurists and it is sponsored by Hendrick’s Gin who have asked me to come and bartend with their international brand ambassador Xavier. Tickets are only $20 and it runs from 2 until 7.

*In case you haven’t noticed, a lot of the links I insert into my blog are kind of random images and videos that do not necessarily have anything to do with what I’m actually typing about. Please, never do a google image search for adult, unless you are in “that” kind of mood.

Last night’s bar tour stop was at Black Hoof Cocktail Bar. I was a little nervous going into this one. Jen Agg (the owner) is very knowledgeable and particular about how the drinks on her list, or drinks in general, are made.  She is only 4 or five years older than I am, but has been doing this for about 10 years more than I have so I knew if I was going to learn something it would be last night.

I showed up and helped set up the bar which, unsurprisingly, is set up in such a way that despite having different infused liquors and syrups and bitters and two different types of cherries and 8-10 different glasses, was all very user friendly. It’s nice when someone that has been working bars for years is the one that sets up the bar.

We got busy right away, which my partner in crime for the night Renee said was rare for a Tuesday. Immediately I learned how to make a Lavender Hound,
Lavender Infused Gin
Grapefruit Juice
Lemon Juice
Simple Syrup
Lavender Maldon Rim

This take on a classic salty dog was really refreshing, and an easy sell to people who might not be in the mood for a hefty three ouncer, like my favorite on the BHCB list, The Hornet’s Nest
Reposado Tequila
Punt e Mes

The first time I had this drink, it blew my mind that these ingredients could combine to make a rich, spicy flavor and was convinced that there was some kind of secret ingredient.

A little later a couple came in and recognized that I didn’t work there regularly so asked me to go off menu.
I came up with a drink sort of based in the Yellow Jacket from an event I did last month. But I used equal parts bourbon and Kraken Rum and straight honey. They loved it. I felt validated.

In all, this was the most comfortable I had felt behind a bar so far on this bar tour of mine. Maybe it’s because it was the same neighbourhood as I have been working for the past year and a half. Maybe it’s because I know Jen trusts me. Maybe it’s because these drinks were all about the same speed as what I had been making at Campagnolo. The important thing is that I felt good about it, and there is the possibility of me going back and working there more often.

Tonight I will be at a bar whose program is vastly different and I am equally excited. 1602 Dundas has a huge bourbon and scotch collection on their back bar and are hosting the try-outs for a hi-five championship that is modeled to approximate classic WWF. I really want to see how this works out.

This week is gonna be a good one. Bar Tour Day 7 was the wedding of Brett and Emilia. I did  no work at all at this wedding. No Bartending, no MCing, no driving, I was just a guest. On any tour there are dates that cancel at the last minute. Honestly, after as many weddings as I’ve attended this month, I was happy to just be a guest, with a date and be able to go home and sleep in my own bed. I spent the night drinking Moosehead.

Last night I was on the bar at Yours Truly. I first heard of Yours Truly in the months before it opened from Dan Hawkins, one of the owners. He was bussing at Campagnolo for some spare cash while the business was being built. He is a Vancouver ex-pat, so we got along right away.

Once Yours Truly opened it became a regular stop for me on my way home from work. Not only did they have great cocktails (Dan designed the list initially) but they were also serving a small snacks menu until 2am. There have been some changes recently in staff and in hours of operation but the quality of service and cocktails has maintained it excellence.

When I arrived, I met Zach who is now the man in charge of the bar. He has a great moustache. Also, his background is culinary arts. His approach to making drinks is very much that of a chef. When I asked him to clarify  his recipes for drinks, his response was : “I measure by colour.” I’m a little too nerdy and detail oriented to work this way myself, so as he was pouring, showing me his methods I was counting (all the barfolk reading this get it, if you don’t, just tweet at me, I’ll explain) his pours and then noting them the best I could.

Here’s the thing though, his drinks were consistent, even when I started making them. Different strokes and all that.

Zach’s ingredients are seriously impressive. His array of syrups, liqueurs and bitters, almost all house made are varied and original. Spiced Absinthe? Citurs Liqueur? Bitter Vermouth? Mallow Bitters? You won’t find recipes for this stuff on the imbibe website. I was really impressed by his creativity in this area.

The drink that seemed most popular was his Seabuck..
2oz. Gin
1oz Buckthorn Tonic
Dash Spruce Bitters
1oz. Grapefruit Juice
1/2oz. Lime Juice
Dash Simple Syrup

I had no idea what a buckthorn was until last night. It’s a berry that has a very nice round acidity to it. Combine that with the bitterness generally associated with tonic and it makes for a delicious and refreshing drink.

My favorite of Zach’s drinks is The Ghostface. Since The Pretty Toney Album he’s been my favorite Wu-Tang Member. Seriously, how good is Save Me Dear? The drink is a delicious, spicy/sweet/sour concoction that leaves your tongue tingling.
2oz. Bourbon (Zach uses Bulleit)
Ghost Chili Liqueur (which Zach lets ferment a little which gives it a touch of effervescence)
3/4oz. Strega
3/4oz. Lime
This drink tastes like some Kunta Fly Shit.

I should also mention the food program at Yours Truly. The briefing before service was informative and very involved. These guys do a 15-24 course tasting menu every night! And other than that they do a four course tasting menu for anyone else that comes in. It took me almost four pages of my notebook to get the menu notes down. Jeff the Chef is also very accomodating to people with allergies, vegans and anyone else that has specificities about their diet.

Tonight I am at Cocktail Bar. I am a little nervous about this one. Working for Jen Agg is something that anyone in the city should feel honoured to do. She has been playing with mixology since way before Mad Men, she has owned and managed several successful restaurants and took a chance on Dundas West years before everyone else got tired of Queen street. I’ve gotta go study. See you tonight.

God Only Knows
You’re All I need To Get By
Queen Of Hearts
Beat Your Heart Out
Rock of Gibraltar
Crazy In Love
Drain You
International You Day
She Is Beautiful


Last night I was at Wilson 96. I used to host trivia nights at Wilson 96 until late last year when I became very busy with my duties at Campagnolo. Also, last year this bar was host to my birthday party. If you know me, you know that my birthday parties typically devolve into scenes not unlike  this music video or this one.  Siobhan, the owner is one of the sweetest most genuine people I have ever met. I feel like we will be long time friends, even though she doesn’t like Dave Grohl.

When I showed up she mentioned that there was a beer delivery and that I could sit and wait until she was done with it. My response was “If I’m gonna work your bar, I’m gonna work your bar.” Then we put away the beer order. I guess she had gotten a case of small cans of PBR sent to her by accident.

A friend of mine’s brother, Graham Playford was playing a solo gig at the bar until ten (he does this weekly). His voice has just the right amount of rasp and he plays something akin to Taj Mahal or the mellower Springsteen jams. At one point a busker of questionable mental accuity staggered into the room to jam with Graham.  He was friendly enough so he hung out for a Bob Dylan cover and then minstrelled out of the bar as if he’d never been there.

It was a Wednesday, on College Street so there wasn’t a  lot of foot traffic  Everyone that came in was a regular or a friend of mine. It wasn’t particularly busy, but everyone in that bar sort of knew each other. As for drinks the two drinks that I made the most were two drinks that I never once made at Campagnolo. Pints of Guiness and Caesars. No two Caesars are ever the same (kinda why i don’t like them, well, that and exactly who came up with the idea to juice a clam, and why would you put that in your mouth?) and the Wilson 96 version has it’s own twists. The rim is lemon pepper and in place of tabasco, they use sriracha. As Caesars go, this seems like a nice version of one.

After Graham had finished his set the night was pretty uneventful, except for being able to work at a pace that allowed me to get to know the regulars, or at least what they had been up to that day. I feel like that’s a part of bartending that gets forgotten when people get too into how hoppy whatever IPA is or arguing about whether to use Cynar or Fernet (always Cynar, if you’re curious).

At the end of the night Siobhan insisted that I get paid in not only tips, but that I take the 12 of PBR as well.

In other news, I have another new date on my bar tour. It’s not on the poster and I don’t think it’s open to the public, but I have been asked to assist Xavier the brand ambassador for Hendrick’s Gin at The Great Hall on the 22nd of September. I love Hendrick’s and Xavier and I have a history of getting into trouble whenever we run into each other. So If you are around, or have been invited to this event, come say hi.


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