“Sweet­heart, do you know how to make an Old Fash­ioned?”

Where Vancouver - - Here & Now -

Fe­male bar­tenders hear a vari­a­tion of this ques­tion ev­ery day—proof that there’s still a long way to go when it comes to gen­der as­sump­tions. But Van­cou­ver has a bevy of fierce fe­males who are de­fy­ing stereo­types and shat­ter­ing glass ceil­ings.

The first woman to win the Di­a­geo World Class Canada bar­tend­ing com­pe­ti­tion, and Van­cou­ver magazine’s Bar­tender of the Year for 2015, Lau­ren Mote has re­vamped the cock­tail lists at Yew, Café Me­d­ina and Bur­dock & Co. and spent years be­hind the pine at Uva. She’s also the co-founder of Bit­tered Sling Bit­ters, which makes award­win­ning bit­ters and extracts.

When Mote moved on from Uva, she left some very big (and very stylish) shoes to fill. For­tu­nately, Sabrine Dhali­wal was ready for the task. Af­ter learn­ing the in­dus­try at pop­u­lar spots such as Re­flec­tions and West, Dhali­wal is now the bar man­ager at Uva and Van­cou­ver magazine’s Bar­tender of the Year for 2017.

Katie In­gram also did a stint at Uva, plus she worked at the Don­nelly Group of restau­rants. Now the head bar­tender at L’Abat­toir, she’s racked up sev­eral hon­ours in her rel­a­tively short ca­reer, in­clud­ing win­ning the Jame­son Bar­rel­man Bar Bat­tle in 2015.

Kait­lyn Ste­wart earned her chops at Van­cou­ver hot spots such as Cac­tus Club, Black + Blue and Boule­vard, and she’s now the bar man­ager at Royal Dinette. A fre­quent com­peti­tor in bar­tend­ing chal­lenges, she re­cently scored her big­gest win of all, tri­umph­ing over com­peti­tors from around the planet to nab the ti­tle of World Class Bar­tender of the Year.

Ste­wart has just re­turned from the Di­a­geo World Class Global Fi­nal in Mex­ico City on the day Where sits down to chat with th­ese for­mi­da­ble women. All four are al­most giddy at Ste­wart’s big win, even oc­ca­sion­ally burst­ing into song, while Ste­wart her­self still seems stunned. “I got my­self to World Class,” she says, “and sup­pos­edly I won it. It hap­pened. It’s a strange, strange thing.” She ex­presses an­noy­ance at the mis­con­cep­tion that women in the busi­ness are catty and don’t want each other to suc­ceed, be­cause that hasn’t been her ex­pe­ri­ence at all.

In­gram chimes in, “Van­cou­ver is very lucky to have a sup­port­ive bar­tend­ing com­mu­nity. We are a fam­ily and we all care and love and sup­port each other.”

Dhali­wal adds, “We’re all in it to­gether.” This elic­its a rau­cous cho­rus of “Amen!” from around at the ta­ble.

But the job does have its chal­lenges. First and fore­most, the long hours and late nights. “We’re open un­til 2 a.m. ev­ery sin­gle night of the week. You make sac­ri­fices. Some­times I miss my nephew’s birth­day party,” Dhali­wal says, adding, “I miss my fam­ily at times.”

Mote men­tions how bar­tend­ing is emo­tion­ally de­mand­ing, al­most like a stage per­for­mance, re­quir­ing them to be “on” at all times. It’s no sur­prise, then, that Mote, Ste­wart and In­gram have all stud­ied the­atre and seem en­tirely com­fort­able in the spot­light.

And the most an­noy­ing thing about their cho­sen pro­fes­sion? Ste­wart says, “I’d say the worst part is hav­ing peo­ple look at you and say, but what’s your real job? What do you want to do af­ter this?” Af­ter de­vot­ing years to study­ing and im­prov­ing upon their craft, th­ese mas­ter mixol­o­gists don’t view it as a tem­po­rary po­si­tion to be aban­doned when hus­bands or chil­dren come along. “We no longer have to choose be­tween ca­reer and fam­ily,” Mote says. “We can have it all.”

The best part of the job, all four agree, is the peo­ple: talk­ing to their co-work­ers and cus­tomers, find­ing out what each per­son feels pas­sion­ate about, mak­ing con­nec­tions be­tween them. Ac­cord­ing to Mote, “It’s al­ways creative, it’s ever-chang­ing, it’s evolv­ing, it’s worldly, and we will touch more peo­ple on a daily ba­sis than maybe even the barista at your lo­cal cof­fee shop.”

“Be­ing a bar­tender is so much more than what we’re putting in a glass in front of some­body,” says Dhali­wal. “What we do is we cre­ate the ex­pe­ri­ence.” “Ev­ery day is com­pletely dif­fer­ent,” says Ste­wart. “And it’s fun,” adds In­gram. When it’s time to take a seat on the other side of the pine, as cus­tomers, they all agree on one favourite des­ti­na­tion: “Dive bars!” The ca­sual, un­pre­ten­tious na­ture of dive bars ap­peals far more than the at­mos­phere in overly chic places where folks go just to see and be seen. Though, as Ste­wart points out, “It’s Van­cou­ver, so you could go any­where in sweat­pants, if you wanted to.” Then, once again, the topic of long hours comes up. “I never get to go out,” Ste­wart says with a laugh. “Af­ter work usu­ally things are clos­ing down, so I’m at home drink­ing choco­late milk.” When pressed to name some of the best cock­tail spots in town—places that in no way re­sem­ble those beloved dive bars—a list of mixol­ogy hot spots quickly emerges: The Di­a­mond, Ju­niper, Grapes & Soda. The women are more re­luc­tant to share their favourite drinks. “I love overly com­pli­cated, com­plex, in­sane cock­tails, but I love to make them more than I love to drink them on a reg­u­lar ba­sis,” Mote ad­mits, adding, “I like drink­ing ev­ery­thing, to be hon­est, but I like peo­ple over bars.” Ev­ery­one else chimes in to say they’re the same, seek­ing out spe­cific bar­tenders over spe­cific drinks or bars. They go to places where they can visit—and sam­ple the lat­est cre­ations of—other noted Van­cou­ver mixol­o­gists such as Danielle Tatarin (The Keefer Bar), Jay Jones (Vij’s) and David Wolowid­nyk (Botanist). “I go to see bar­tenders, I don’t go to bars,” Mote says, prompt­ing nods around the ta­ble. “It’s about see­ing peo­ple,” Dhali­wal agrees. Mote sums it up per­fectly: “We talk about life, and all of a sud­den a cock­tail just shows up.” We’ll drink to that.

K a t i e I n g r a m c r a f t s a R o s i b i t a u d s a n i n g u t h t e q u o i l a , m C a m p a r i , v e r

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