What happens to people when they leave Vancouver? Do they wander and wane, wither and perish? Not typically. We don’t want to cause a stampede out of this city few can afford, but it turns out that many who leave it do just fine elsewhere. This series will revisit some who have jumped ship for supposedly greener pastures, not only to register our displeasure at their departure but also to plead for their return.
by Shaun Layton | Next up in this series is Charlie Ainsbury, aka “Chino”. When he arrived in Vancouver in 2008, Charlie was already at the top of his game having worked at great bars abroad. And then came The Diamond, where he was a member of the opening team. Charlie was an instant favourite of Gastown bar hoppers, bartenders, and pretty much anyone who ever had the distinct pleasure of sitting at his bar. He kept a low profile, keeping quiet on social media and seldom putting his name down for cocktail competitions, but he was one of the best bartenders to ever work this town. His skill set combined effortless efficiency, a charming wit, a deep knowledge of booze and classic cocktails, and a creative mind capable of coming up with consistently awesome drinks. My favourite from The Diamond – still to this day – is The Parliament (Cachaca, Fernet Branca, lime, honey). When in Sydney be sure to check out his spot, This Must Be The Place, which is celebrated as one of the city’s top bars.
What made you leave our great city to go back home? I remember knowing my visa was going to expire and that I could have renewed it for another two years but I simply felt like I needed to go home and build my career from there.
So I hear the liquor laws in Sydney are now lamer than Vancouver’s. Tell us about it… *Stops typing, pours a drink, resumes typing* In early February 2014, the New South Wales Lockout laws were introduced; a knee-jerk, Band-Aid reaction to alcohol-fuelled violence. The lockout laws apply to any venue in the lockout zone, which is the area that was roughly defined by the NSW government as the Sydney CBD (Central Business District) Entertainment Precinct. Laws include, no entry or re-entry after 1:30am, after midnight you are not allowed to serve shots, doubles, neat spirits of any kind or rounds over four and all service must cease at 3am. This applies to every venue that sits within the lockout zone despite what licence you have. Regardless of whether or not you have a 24-hour live music licence, you are a neighbourhood pub, a 25 seat cocktail bar or 300 pax nightclub — the laws apply to everyone.
As you can imagine, this has had a devastating effect on a lot of businesses, especially our old red light district, Kings Cross; I say “old” because it no longer exists. It’s really levelled our confidence and self-esteem as a leading global city, as if we can’t be trusted to drink like adults.
To add insult to injury, the two places that have been conveniently left out of the lockout zone, even though they have every reason to be in it due to high levels of violence associated with drinking, are the casinos. They remain immune to the lockout laws operating 24/7.
I could go on but if you want to stay informed, look up ‘Keep Sydney Open’.
What do you miss the most about Vancouver? I miss the bar community and being a part of the industry on that side of the world. I felt like I arrived at a poignant time for the growth of the Vancouver bar scene; whether they knew it or not, Vancouver was ready for a surge in bar culture and I’m happy and proud to be a small part of that. So many bars and restaurant bars opened up in the years I was there and from what I can see it’s still going strong. And Ice Hockey. Fuck I miss Ice Hockey.
Charlie Ainsbury behind the wood at a special event inside Boneta in June, 2009
What don’t you miss the most? Your lame liquor laws…wait a minute.
You recently opened your own spot, This Must be the Place. It’s an awesome name! Tell us about it. We wanted to go against what a lot of venues were doing in town and that was opening dark, basement-level beer and whiskey bars or ‘good time bars’ as we call it. Absolutely nothing wrong with that, but when it came to writing a business plan and opening our very first venue, we simply wanted to do something different. My business partner (Luke Ashton) came up with the idea of a Spritz bar; a lower ABV, Sydney-climate-friendly drink that could be moulded into much more than simply Aperol and Prosecco. Spirits are used as a seasoning as opposed to the base of a drink leaving more room for wine infusions and fortifieds. They are always refreshing and effervescent thanks to the help of our in-house carbonation system. With that, cocktails are prepped well beforehand so we can simply carbonate and pour, getting that drink out as fast as you would a gin & tonic. We have some shit hot wines too.
Words of advice for Vancouver bartenders from Down Under?
Loonie = A dollar
Toonie = Two dollars
Americano = Coffee
Double Double = Coffee with Sugar and Cream
Cream = ½ Milk ½ Cream
Blueberry Tea = Not Blueberry Tea
Creg = Craig
Creg = Greg
SOMM-AHH-LEE-AY = Sommelier
Where would you be slinging drinks if you were still in Vancouver? The Diamond – no question.
Poutine or meat pie? Meat pie.
What lesson have you learned behind the bar since being back in Sydney? Back then, certain bars in Van had the same sense of hospitality as Australians do and that is we’re not here to serve you but rather take care of you. There’s a good sense of humility and humbleness in Canadian bartenders that I admire despite having that tipping culture you guys do. In places with strong tipping cultures you can’t help but feel like they’re serving you well just to increase that tip percentage. Australia doesn’t have that, so I think naturally you weed out those that seek monetary reward and fill the bars with people that want to take care of other people. Vancouver shares that same essence of hospitality.
Have you ever heard of a Poke-ritto? Any hilarious trends in Sydney right now? A Poke-what? Is that a Pokemon thing? There are a few things about; some venues are jumping onto that Frozé bandwagon but even that feels like it’s been done already. Sydney loves cheeseburgers at the moment too and most things Americana. In & Out have done a few pop-ups here and there. Guaranteed there’ll be a line as if a new iPhone is being released.
The ingredient you wish you had from BC in your new bar? Speaking of Americana, 5.9% PBR’s.
What are three things you LOVE about Sydney? As much as I love being overseas, traveling and all that, I do really love coming back to Sydney. Not just Sydney, but Australia is blessed with incredible produce. Being so geographically isolated has oddly worked in our favour in terms of obtaining the best produce. Being an extremely large country, we have great bio-diversity whether it’s the tropical climate of the central and the north or the cooler climate of the south. Tasmania’s climate in particular is so similar to Japan’s, we’re able to grow things like Yuzu and Wasabi as well as create whiskies akin to that of Scotland. Pair that with our incredible mixture of cultures you’d be trying really hard to eat poorly in this town. If you miss the cuisine of a certain country or even a specific region of that country, chances are you can satisfy that hunger with a short cab ride.
What are three things you HATE about Sydney? Well, it goes without saying, the NSW Lockouts but in a broader sense the city has been dampened and depressed by over-regulation. Every year a handful of new laws will be put in place slowly tightening the chokehold the government has on what used to be a really fun city. I have been very fortunate to travel a lot for work, especially to cities with a great and rich drinking and dining culture and when overseas I occasionally have moments of confusion and bewilderment, which then leads to frustration and anger over my hometown. When we have guests from overseas in the bar, more often than not I’m embarrassed but forced to tell them things like “Sorry, nothing is open now”, or “No, that’s illegal in this city.”
Favourite neighbourhood in Sydney? To be honest, Bondi. I used to live very close to my place of work and that was in Surry Hills / Darlinghurst, which is the Gastown of Sydney. Living so close to work it never felt like I left work. I still work in the same area nowadays but I’m living in Bondi so you can imagine it’s a pretty sweet place to come home to. Bondi Beach eventually leads on to 4 or 5 other beaches, all within a 15-minute walk of one another. There’s enough restaurants and bars in the area but not too many so it still feels like a beach town. Transport in and out to the city is easy but it’s just far away enough to feel like a different world.
What’s you favourite cocktail at the new digs? We’re working on some drinks for a new Thai restaurant and Luke came up with a banger of Green Mango Gin, Pandan, Coconut Water and lime. I’m working on a drink called a Flamingo. No actual drink yet, I just wanna call it Flamingo.
What are two Vancouver restaurants you would gladly transport to Sydney? 1. Kingyo – More so for the memories I have of that place. It was the place for staff get togethers, dates etc. so it seemed to work for everything, and of course the food was tasty. I especially liked buying beer for the kitchen to then have them come out to the table and neck the entire glass. Fantastic times. 2. Deacon’s Corner – Again, more so for the memories. This is where I first learned how to order breakfast in North America, you know, specifying how to cook every fuckin’ element on the plate. Man, I’d hate to be a breakfast chef… But to answer your question, it was a great place to get together, get the day planned or recap the night before over seven coffees. Perfect.
What are two restaurants that Vancouver needs from Sydney? 1. Chat Thai – I have still yet to find decent Thai food in North America, let alone Van. If you find yourself in Sydney before Thailand, this is your first stop. They do Isaan food too, which is Central and North-eastern Thai, the stuff I grew up on. 2. 10 William St. – Either a wine bar with really good food or a small restaurant with really good wine, this place is something that would fit perfectly in Van. A place where you could dine alone or with a small group, whether it’s a date or a business meeting it all seems to work. It’s even cramped when it’s empty but it’s never empty. I haven’t really kept up with BC’s wine laws but if it ever loosens up and you’re looking to open up a venue, this is the way to celebrate.
Do you still follow any North American sports? I’ve always been about the NBA and since living in Vancouver, the NHL too — although being a fan has its challenges here. Bars and pubs are highly unlikely to play the game and even then it airs live at 10am. If you get past those two hurdles you’re likely to be sat next to some smug prick telling you, “The puck moves too fast”.
What’s your typical day off like? I live down the road from Bondi Beach so if I manage to get up early I’ll go down for a swim. What follows is generally a whole lot of nothing. I’ll always have a bit of work to do on the bar though; the only difference is that I won’t go in to the bar to do it. I like to cook as well so hopefully I’m on the pans or the barbecue for dinner. Yep, the barbecue. Stereotypes exist for a reason.
Instagram or Twitter? I approach Twitter the same way Americans approach the metric system, so it’s Instagram (@charlieainsbury, @_thismustbetheplace_)
Where do you go after work, and what you are drinking? There’s a pub down the road from us that’s outside the lockout zone so that suits us just fine. By the time we walk out of work our options for a post-shift beverage are severely limited anyway. Cold, flavourless lager as always.
Who would you trade in a blockbuster deal to bolster your team at This Must Be The Place? The entire opening team of The Diamond.