Water­loo Re­gion bar­tenders mix and min­gle for a good cause


Some artists paint, oth­ers bend metal, oth­ers carve wood. There are also artists who raise spir­its. And when they gather for a show cu­rated by Abbey Rush, the can­vases are glass and the ma­te­ri­als are mostly flu­ids.

The gallery is the Proof Kitchen and Lounge in Water­loo and the ex­hibits are part of The Col­lec­tive Cock­tail Com­pe­ti­tion.

Rush, who is Proof’s bev­er­age man­ager, wanted to cre­ate a show­case for the tal­ented bar­tenders work­ing in Water­loo Re­gion’s hos­pi­tal­ity in­dus­try, as well as raise money for charity.

“It stays very friendly,” Rush says. “Ev­ery­one is out there for a fun cause, and it’s a chance for them to show­case what they do and what they are pas­sion­ate about.”

She held the first com­pe­ti­tion in the spring of 2017 and plans to host two a year. The most re­cent event, at the end of March, was the third. The fourth should be this sum­mer but a date hasn’t been an­nounced.

Judg­ing by the crowd of mostly in­dus­try peo­ple who as­sem­bled on a Sun­day night in March, Rush is on to some­thing.

Still too cold out­side to open doors and spill onto the pa­tio, spec­ta­tors were packed like sar­dines into Proof’s lounge area. About 100 peo­ple were on hand as the evening be­gan at 7 and that number grew to about 150 over the first half hour.

Given the same ma­te­rial to use as a base for their inspiration, eight lo­cal bar­tenders put their tal­ents on dis­play, first in a Speed Round and then in a Sig­na­ture Drink com­pe­ti­tion, all in an ef­fort to earn brag­ging rights.

The evening is a tes­ta­ment to what each of them says in­di­vid­u­ally. The lo­cal hos­pi­tal­ity in­dus­try is a close, sup­port­ive com­mu­nity. “A col­lec­tive,” Rush says with a smile.

The thought of invit­ing com­peti­tors into your es­tab­lish­ment and giv­ing them a plat­form to show­case their tal­ents may seem odd in many in­dus­tries, but this tight-knit group basks in the friend­ship so many of them seem to en­joy. Given the no­madic qual­ity of this ca­reer choice, many of these pro­fes­sion­als have been

co-work­ers in var­i­ous es­tab­lish­ments along the way, learn­ing from each other as they hone their craft.

The op­por­tu­nity to come to­gether for friendly com­pe­ti­tion al­lows them to re­con­nect and com­pare cre­ativ­ity.

At the most re­cent event, the key in­gre­di­ent was gin from the Wil­libald Farm Dis­tillery in Ayr.

Bar­tenders who were asked talked about how much they liked the prod­uct. This was re­flected in the ef­fort they put into cre­at­ing a Sig­na­ture Drink in an at­tempt to win over the evening’s three judges, one of whom was Cam Formica, part owner of Wil­libald.

There was smoke, there was fire, and many other spe­cial touches de­signed to impress.

In the end, how­ever, it was at­ten­tion to de­tail, the story be­hind the drink and an el­e­vated taste that sent Melissa Bau­munk home with brag­ging rights and a $500 prize pack to ex­pand her home bar.

Bau­munk, rep­re­sent­ing Lokal at The Walper Ho­tel, earned top Sig­na­ture Drink honours with a cre­ation she called “Knock on Wood.”

Dur­ing an ear­lier visit to the dis­tillery, she no­ticed carv­ings of wood spir­its that are said to bring good luck, pros­per­ity and

pro­tec­tion. She called upon those wood spir­its to guide the liq­uid ones as she paid trib­ute to the gin and Wil­libald’s Ger­man her­itage.

“It works,” she said of the spir­i­tual helpers. “I won.”

Af­ter wit­ness­ing the ef­forts of her com­peti­tors, though, she said she was sur­prised to hear her name an­nounced as win­ner.

Bau­munk was a first-time com­peti­tor while oth­ers, such as Stacey An­der­son, have been in­volved in all three events.

An­der­son, gen­eral man­ager at Easy Pour Wine Bar in Cam­bridge fol­low­ing a stint at Lokal, has been both a com­peti­tor and a judge. She won the Sig­na­ture Drink com­pe­ti­tion at the first event, which gave her the op­tion to be a com­peti­tor or a judge the next time around. She opted to be a judge, which she found al­lowed her to re­lax and en­joy the evening a bit more.

“I didn’t have that adrenaline of com­pet­ing,” she said in an in­ter­view. “I en­joyed my­self more whereas you have more anxiety com­pet­ing. But then I found my­self want­ing to be in with that thrill of ev­ery­thing again.”

She was back in the mix for the third event.

The night be­gan with a Speed Round that re­quired the bar­tenders to make three as­signed drinks with four min­utes on the clock. First one to fin­ish, while mak­ing the drinks cor­rectly, was the win­ner. It was a tour­na­ment-style knock­out com­pe­ti­tion that started with all eight bar­tenders in head-to-head bat­tles. Then there were four, then there were two, then there was Dan Collins with his hands in the air sig­nalling he was done about five sec­onds quicker than An­der­son, the run­ner-up.

A bar­tender at Proof for two years, Collins brought glory to the home team. His prize was a Delta Ho­tel stay and a $150 gift card for Cock­tail Em­po­rium, a bar­tend­ing sup­plies store in Toronto.

It was a pop­u­lar win, with at least one fist raised in cel­e­bra­tion be­hind the main

bar when master of cer­e­monies Matthew Richard­son an­nounced “It’s Dan!”

In ad­vance of the com­pe­ti­tion An­der­son had ex­plained the Speed Round tends to favour those who work as front­line bar­tenders over those in management roles.

“It all de­pends on what you do and where your mus­cle mem­ory is,” she said.

So she im­pressed her­self mak­ing it to the fi­nal, adding she may have cost her­self valu­able sec­onds by singing along with the back­ground mu­sic.

Richard­son, who works as a server at Proof, was kept busy as MC through­out the three-hour event as were the half dozen staff be­hind the main bar and Rush her­self. She was buzzing the whole night, mak­ing sure the com­pet­ing bar­tenders had sup­plies and help­ing drive up the price of drinks be­ing auc­tioned off for charity.

In the Sig­na­ture Drink round, the bar­tenders made four of their drinks, one to be auc­tioned off to the crowd and one for each judge – Formica, PMA spirit agency brand am­bas­sador Daniel Hor­gan and Grand Trunk Saloon bar­tender Dan Reiss, the pre­vi­ous event’s Sig­na­ture Drink win­ner.

The highest bid for a sin­gle drink on this night was $165, with a Collins sup­porter reach­ing deep into his pocket near the end of the event to win a bid­ding war.

All in – in­clud­ing a sin­gle $1,000 do­na­tion – $2,580.10 was raised for Food4Kids Water­loo Welling­ton, an or­ga­ni­za­tion that pro­vides week­end food pack­ages for 340 chil­dren liv­ing with se­vere food in­se­cu­rity.

So much for a quiet Sun­day night. But for peo­ple who work while oth­ers play, it’s a per­fect op­por­tu­nity to let loose a lit­tle bit and spend time with each other, Rush says.

“It’s a very warm event,” An­der­son says. “There’s a lot of love within our in­dus­try. It’s re­ally sweet.”

Stacey An­der­son of Easy Pour Wine Bar in Cam­bridge, the first Sig­na­ture Drink com­pe­ti­tion win­ner last year, was back among the com­peti­tors at the end of March af­ter act­ing as a judge at the pre­vi­ous event.

ABOVE: Michel Richer, rep­re­sent­ing Loloan Lobby Bar in Water­loo, ar­ranges dragon fruit and sweet mango crisps while pre­sent­ing his cock­tail dur­ing the Sig­na­ture Drink com­pe­ti­tion.

LEFT: Judges for the night were Daniel Hor­gan of PMA wine and spir­its agency, Cam Formica, co-founder of Wil­libald Farm Dis­tillery, and Dan Reiss of Grand Trunk Saloon, a pre­vi­ous Sig­na­ture Drink win­ner.

Abbey Rush, bev­er­age man­ager at Proof Kitchen and Lounge in Water­loo, is the driv­ing force be­hind The Col­lec­tive Cock­tail Com­pe­ti­tion.

Ulises Sanchez of 21 Fir in Water­loo brings the heat as he puts the fin­ish­ing touches on his flashy Sig­na­ture Drink.

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