Catching Up with Bartender Kelsey Ramage of Global Pop-Up ‘Trash Tiki’

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 Expats Revisited series will check in 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.

Next up is Kelsey Ramage, who was at The Oakwood in Kits before she bounced to the UK. This turned out to be a great move. Kelsey and her partner, Iain Griffiths, have not only worked at some of the best bars in the world but they have also raised awareness about an emerging facet of the trade: sustainability. With Trash Tiki they are making their way around the world educating bartenders on how to make the most of their products, using everything from banana peels to hulled lime shells. It’s a truly admirable initiative, and I’m happy to know that Kelsey wants to come back to Vancouver after this tour and set up shop here. Vancouver will be more than obliged!

Kelsey, Iain and Trash Tiki will be hitting Vancouver on Saturday and Sunday (Sept. 2-3), so get down to Clough Club in Gastown this weekend and say hi!

What’s your current situation: Roaming with Trash Tiki pop-ups globally.

Formerly of? Dandelyan.

Years in the Game? 12.

Career Highlights to date? Moving to London to work with Dandelyan and being part of the team as it won the Spirited Award for Best Menu in 2016 and then Best International Bar Team, Best Hotel Bar and World’s Best Bar in 2017. Last year I became Altos’ Tahona Society Global champion, and I’m headed back to Mexico to judge this year’s finals right after finishing up the North American leg of the Trash Tiki tour, which has just 1 stop in LA post-Vancouver.

Well, the weather is no better over there so what made you cross the pond to London? Definitely not. I would say it is worse, in fact. I was GM at Yhe Oakwood, competing in the odd competition and running the cocktail program there, but I really felt the need to step up my game on the drinks side and wanted to learn from some of the best in the world. London’s drinks scene definitely fit the description, plus work visas for the UK are pretty easy to get from Canada.

Sustainable bar culture is just starting to make its way over to North America, you are one of the pioneers! Tell us about Trash Tiki. Trash Tiki is a pop-up and online platform that is looking to address the issue of mass consumption in craft cocktail culture. All recipes we create will be posted on our website. With over 20 cities in the coming year lined up, a key focus will be on the varying produce and cuisines wherever we travel to. The aim of Trash Tiki is to show consumers and the bar industry alike the potential to create a more environmentally-minded bar program set to the dulcet, punk tones of The Misfits & The Ramones. Mine and Iain’s combined goal is to put some feeling back into the increasingly emotionless topic of sustainability whilst inspiring others to follow suit.

Iain Griffiths and Kelsey Ramage

How’d you come up with the motto, #Drinklikeyougiveafuck? We really needed a great hashtag that was fun but a little offensive as well. There is a book called Eat Like you Give a Fuck and drink seems to follow food. This “trend” (if thats what you want to call it) has been around in the food world for ages but it’s one that drinks culture has taken a long time to follow suit. Also, we did a pop-up in Seoul at the Four Seasons and had to edit all our material as ‘Fuck’ was all over our seminar and social media. WE had to edit it all out for the hotel. That was a long and tedious job…

Going from one expensive city to an extremely expensive city must’ve been tough, how was the transition? I’m still paying off my credit card. London is incredibly expensive, and I did have a good whack saved but also, the Canadian Dollar is worth peanuts over there. My first flat was an absolute shithole, but it wasn’t an uncommon situation for East London. Also, I was working events for the first few months over there, as Iain had forgotten to call me back about a start date after my trial shift at Dandelyan. Still, Im glad I held out and waited for it, it was definitely a defining career move.

What do you miss the most about Vancouver? It’s definitely the ease of getting out of it! The more cities I see, the more I realize that we’re so fortunate in Vancouver to be able to hop in a car for less than 20 minutes and be on the side of a mountain or alongside the ocean and completely away from the city. It’s easy to find respite from city life but it is still big enough to have a scene about it.

What don’t you miss? Housing prices. I’ve heard it’s gotten even worse since I left.

You’ve worked at some pretty bad ass bars in London, how do they compare to the scene in Vancouver? It’s pretty hard to compare the bars in London to Vancouver — there’s a much broader scope. It has been two years since I’ve been back, and there have been a few new openings so I’m definitely stoked to check some of them out. London has had bars that have really paved the way in terms of the landscape of the modern cocktail, and in turn it has drinkers who understand those cocktails.

Best thing you’ve had to eat in London? There’s a lot of good food in London. Lots of shit, but also lots of good stuff. I’ve been lucky and had some seriously good stuff. One of my fave spots is Black Axe Mangal which is a metal kebab shop with dicks painted on the floor and KISS painted over the ovens. Lee Tiernan, the chef, was previously of St. Johns and the food is just consistently fucking great.

Best thing you’ve had to drink in London? I’m partial to Dandelyan, of course, but Three Sheets in East London makes a fucking wicked pink French 75 variation that they carbonate and bottle. So damn good.

Any words of advice for Vancouver bartenders who want to move to the UK? Come with money saved, and try to find a place to crash while you’re looking for a place. There are a lot of housing agents (they are the scum of the earth) that will try and sell you a shit spot. Wait until you find the right one, but you will have to go through an agent, its unavoidable. London is not an easy city to live in. You’ll work hard and won’t make as much as you would have at home, but it is rewarding. The fam at Dandelyan will be fam for life.

Favourite English Premier League team? No idea what that is, ha ha.

Where would you be slinging (ideally) if you were still in Vancouver? Coming back now, I would probably need to open a spot. We’ve got a bunch of ideas, and honestly it would be nice to spend more than 24-36 hours on a menu!

A selection of Trash Tiki cocktails. Get the recipes here.

A lesson learned behind the bar since being in London. Stay humble and have fun, there is nothing worse than being served by someone who thinks they are better than anyone else in their team. Use each other to create better bar chat and bring up the junior staff. I was lucky that I got to work with some wicked people, but in addition to being incredible hosts, they left no team member behind. After all, we’re just putting liquid in a glass, not saving lives.

That ingredient you wish you had from BC in your current bar? There are some seriously good beers in BC. I did miss those. London has a new and developing beer scene but doesn’t even begin to compare to the Pacific NW.

Typical day off? Iain and I try to make time for a day off here and there on the road. Mainly it consists of catching up on sleep and then finding a great restaurant in whichever city we’re in and stuffing our faces for a few hours. We were lucky in Montreal — walked into Joe Beef with no reso and were sat at the bar right away and over-ordered both wine and food. Fucking great.

Are tacos and acai bowls big over there as well? What’s trending right now? Acai bowls not so much. A lot little taquerias and tequila bars have opened up in the last 6 months. When I got to London there was – at least not to my knowledge – a good taco to be had. Definitely a different story now — Breddos, Bad Sports, El Pastor all opened up while I was there. Also, there was a great mezcal pop-up bar that I donated my mezcal collection to before I left. They were doing some really cool shit with their menu — all organised by species and style, which was fun. They were talking about opening a store if all went well, and I hope they do!

Favourite London cocktail bars? Three Sheets; Dandelyan (sorry, it just is); Satan’s Whiskers.

You have three days off and an EasyJet ticket anywhere in Europe. Where to? Jerez. I really liked Madrid when we went through there, but I would really like to check that out and drink a shitload of sherry!

Preferred method of transportation? Train for sure – bigger seats, stations easy to get to, wifi… I am literally writing this on the train from Seattle to Vancouver. Although after taking the Bullet trains in Japan, Canadian trains have to be the slowest fucking things. The old train running London to Edinburgh went faster than this!

Three things you love about London? Always a new opening to check out and the tube is great. When the weather is nice, it’s beautiful. Great place to jump off to travel anywhere else in the EU.

Three things you HATE about London? The weather is always shit; for an international city. The bars and restaurants all close early and then earlier on Sunday; any excuse to close really, they will be closed. It’s expensive

Favourite London neighbourhood? Stoke Newington is where I lived before I left. I loved it, big old houses and parks, close enough to Shoreditch bars without having to deal with the hoards of retard partygoers that flock to them on the weekends.

What do you miss more, good sushi or poutine? Poutine for sure. The first thing we had in Montreal was Swartz’s poutine. I was just in Japan for 10 days, so definitely got a sushi fix there, although Vancouver’s is still some of the best.

Two Vancouver restaurants you would transport to London? Les Faux Bourgeois and AnnaLena.

Two restaurants Vancouver needs from London? Sack – Vancouver needs to drink more sherry 🙂 Plus the tapas scene there is great. Legs – natural wine bar with rotating seasonal dishes in a small room. Fave spot for sure.

Your local pub (Don’t say The Maple Leaf), where and why? HA! I never actually went to the Maple Leaf. Really should have! Sun Tavern by far. I did a shift there and it remained my ‘local’ even after I moved out of the area. Huge Irish Whisky selection, great beer and the lads there are just hilarious. Tommy always has some ridiculous story from the weekend on any day you go in.

Instagram or Twitter? What’s your handle? Insta – I have a twitter account but never use it. @bob_the_bartender. Bob was a nickname given to me at Dandelyan (no one survives with their own names there) and it really stuck. Its also a riff on Bob the Drag Queen.

Where do you go after work, and what you are drinking? Work usually ends too late to go anywhere (Dandy most nights we leave at 4ish)… It is nice to sit down with a beer and a whisky if we did make it out in time. There were a lot of park beers when it wasn’t too cold, ha ha.

Plans for the next few years? When are you coming home? We wrap up the North American leg in LA after this and then head straight into South America to complete that leg of the tour. It all slows down a little bit (We have done 8 pop-ups and 11 cities since Tales of the Cocktail), and then we head to Australia to do a longer term pop-up in Sydney and then Melbourne. We are doing more of a food pairing and focus with those, and then bring it back to Vancouver to do a longer 6 month project here but that’s still being worked on. We’ll definitely be dropping you a line when we’re ready to announce it! We definitely want to eventually use this momentum to open something but that is still a long ways off.

Give us the details on your upcoming event in Vancouver. Trash Tiki is at the Clough Club on Saturday, Sept. 2 from 6pm until close, and again on Sunday, Sept. 3 with a seminar at 2pm and then 6pm until close.

Photo credits – Steve Ryan and Elliot Davies

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