City’s Best Bartenders Sweep The Leg At Chinatown’s “Keefer”
by David Greig | In a dark bar in Chinatown, flecked with some of the first rays of a long overdue summer, a hush fell over the gathered masses. Breaths were held, as two pairs of eyes scanned the bottles lying before them. Years, nay decades, of experience tensed their minds and hands. All was about to be laid on the line in the cause of cash and glory. A judge rose to his feet, ticket in hand…
“LAST WORD AND A BOULEVARDIER!”
It was on. The Bar-ate Kid had begun.
The July afternoon saw some of the best barkeeps in the city duke it out for the honour of being named The Bar-ate Kid. The bartender who found the best blend of speed, style, knowledge and execution of drinks would be declared the winner, with $600 cash and a shiny medal to boot. 15 of the finest showed up at The Keefer to get it on, Karate Kid style, in a head-to-head knockout tournament designed to sort the wheat from the chaff and find the barstar you’d most want in the next well down when you’re four deep at the bar and have chits coming out of your ears on a Saturday night.
The first round of match ups was fast and furious, with just two drinks to make each. While there were some dubious renditions of classics being put forward for the judges’ pleasure, the standard across the board was as high, as should be expected in the Vancouver scene, particularly during the match up between Dani Tatarin of The Keefer (on home turf) and an Eiger-shaped obstacle in the form of L’Abattoir’s Shaun Layton. Their combinations of Corpse Reviver #2’s and Dark ‘n Stormy’s left the judges (myself, David Wolowidnyk of West and Scout editor Andrew Morrison) with a seriously tough call. Fantastic drinks and no lack of style made it as close as they come, but Shaun made the second round.
With Round 2, the drinks to be made increased to three per competitor. Gez McAlpine, another boy with home ice advantage, was making good use of it to sail through to the semi-finals with skills honed in Melbourne. Josh Pape of The Diamond exhibited his usual cucumber-like levels of unflappability to absolutely nail the Martinez on his list, leaving himself in the last 4 (and all 3 judges gobsmacked). Meanwhile, Jacob Sweetapple, so composed in the first round, had the wheels come off, leaving organiser and bar back Keenan Hood to clear a freshly smashed vintage glass off the bartop. Oops. The Refinery’s Graham was the beneficiary, heading through to a semi final against Gez, as Shaun continued his steady march by dispatching Diamond heavyweight Ron Oliver.
Semi-Final time, and this was where things got especially tense. Five drinks apiece to knock out, and some serious trash talking between Gez and Shaun. With Gez wrapping up in double quick time, his drinks were in danger of warming up as Shaun focused on the details on his Bijou and Hanky Panky (with some elaborate, Japanese-style garnishing action). “If you’re important, people will wait!” was his defence, although he didn’t look too enamoured with Gez’s playful offer of help as a rejoinder. Drinks were tasted, and Gez saw off the baby-faced assassin with a bar spoon. In the other semi, the wonderfully attired Graham was enhancing his reputation no end by going toe-to-toe with Josh and nearly ousting the big guy. Graham’s performance on two day’s notice deserves special mention, and his Morning Glory Fizz was spot on, along with a solid Sazerac, Pegu Club, Cuba Libre and Negroni. However, competing against Josh began resembles Indiana Jones being pursued by that huge boulder. He could run, but he couldn’t hide, and Josh’s effortless style and the speed – developed from 450+ cocktails a night at The Diamond – paid off. It was he and Gez in the final.
Seven drinks stood between the two finalists and $600. Time consuming cocktails such as the Old Fashioned and Martini were thrown in to test the boys’ time management skills, and they rose to the occasion. As The Cucumber made his way steadily down the list, banging out a Blood & Sand and a Fog Cutter, Gez was busy imitating Ralph Macchio’s famous scarecrow stance, shakers in hand, hoping to take Josh’s attention away. Both competitors wisely ignored Andrew’s spontaneous addition of ‘2 vodka sodas, chief!’, and finished off their Singapore Slings and French 75’s as well as the can of beer. 10 seconds separated them in the end; Josh taking the speed points, although Gez swept the board for style. It was down to drink quality, and despite impressive showings from both, the final decision was given to Josh. Much whooping, hollering and high fives commenced, and the inaugural Bar-ate Kid was crowned.
The day was a resounding success. Fun was had by all, and the bonus rounds scattered through the afternoon kept people on their toes. The third-placed Margarita Off between Shaun and Graham also gave us the memorable sight of Shaun with a huge Buddha head on, shaking up a storm to no avail, as Graham took the prize for his strawberry and lavender effort. People went home smiling, and maybe a little bit drunk, which – let’s be honest – is why we’re all in this game in the first place.
United Kingdom import David Greig is the Cocktail Editor at Scout Magazine. He can usually be found working the wood and well at Gastown’s popular L’Abattoir restaurant when he’s not typing at home or sipping his way around town.