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. Expats Revisited is a series of interviews that touches base with those who have jumped ship for supposedly sandier shores, not only to register our displeasure at their departure but also to plead for their return.
H arrived in Vancouver from London with a wealth of experience, a remarkable collection of antique barware and vintage cocktail books, and a big, often entertaining mouth. We lost him to Toronto a couple of years ago, but you might remember him from such bars as Jules, Revel Room, Notturno, or the back room at The Diamond. As one of the most educated, versed-in-lore and talkative bartenders to ever work in Vancouver, he’s impossible to forget. And no, H is not a pseudonym. It’s what he’s always been called.
H doesn’t have a big ego. He could be the first person to tell someone to fuck off if they were wrong or offside, but he would never self-gloss on social media or take the spotlight from his co-workers or peers. He also worked to make our bar scene better. Young bartenders would joined him every Sunday morning for his Sunday School bartending class, where he taught on his own time and out of good will. This is why he remains one of my favourite people anywhere, a real rarity in an industry that can be very self-serving.
I recently caught up with H to see how things were going for him in the city he left us for…
What the hell, man? I thought you’d never leave Vancouver! And for Toronto? Please explain! It was time to start a new life….
OK, fine. What was the first bar you went to when you landed in Toronto? Lopan, Cocktail Bar, Harbord Room and Civil Liberties, all in one night!
Three things you LOVE about Toronto? The people, the art galleries and the neighbourhoods.
Three things you HATE about Toronto? King Street, LCBO, and the fucking Toronto Transit Commission.
Favourite Toronto neighbourhood? Kensington Market.
What do you miss the most about Vancouver? My friends and sometimes the mountains.
And what do you miss more about Vancouver, sushi or ramen? Sushi.
What don’t you miss? Don’t hold back H, let it all out! I don’t miss the people. They were very hard work. A lot of self-entitlement! It felt like I was living in a giant high school. It’s ironic that Riverdale is filmed there!
So why do they call you H? H comes from my first boarding school. There, you were called by your surname and a number. I was called H No.87, and that’s how you fuck a kid for life…
“The industry needs to be aware of what it is fast becoming: a world of bartenders that only care about awards, or working in the world’s best bars. Bollocks to that shit!”
Do you still miss London? Yes, I do miss it sometimes. I miss the city skyline, the art galleries, access to Europe (though that’s kinda gone all Pete Tong!), and I definitely miss the BDSM clubs, some of the best are in London.
How is it working at The Gift Shop? Tell me about the bar and that hood. Gift Shop was and is a whole new challenge, only 18 seats. Never done that small before. I have to keep an eye on all the details and the profit margins too, not easy. But we are getting there. Ossington is great area, lots of small bars, restaurants and cafes.
I hear Vancouver’s Donnelly Group is killing it over there, am I right? How is what they are doing over there different? Unlike Vancouver, all the Donnelly sites here in Toronto are different. And they are getting there and understanding the neighbourhood styles.
Have you been to the new Cactus Club Toronto yet? No.
You were a pioneer of sorts in Vancouver starting Sunday School, a course on Sundays organized to educate young bartenders. Is there anything of the sort over there? Yes, there are a lot of classes on. There are small schools set up by myself (Sunday Bar School TO) and Civil Liberties does a lot of stuff. Josh Lindley and Jessica Smith have been doing ‘Bartender’s Atlas ‘and Andrew Toplack has been organizing the’ Topolac Sessions’ at The Drake. Clint Pattemore and Evelyn Chick are working on the Ontario Bartenders Association. So there is a lot going on here in TO.
Give me your best Fuck Off story. Who did you tell off and why? Ok, well…there was an event organizer who was wanting to use the bar for a liquor pop-up. They started to ask for more and more so I decided to pull out. As I was trying to cancel the event, they started laughing at me. So I told them to “fuck off and die”, and said I would piss in every bottle of booze they brought into the bar. I was not happy.
Any words of advice for Vancouver bartenders who want to move east? Don’t bet on getting a job straight away. Toronto is a tough town. Save some money and check out all the areas in the city.
Local moved into the old Chill Winston space in Gastown. What do you think? Hahaha!
That thing you wish you had from BC in your bar? Private liquor stores.
Favourite Vancouver expat who also deserted us for Toronto? Alix Critchley.
Favourite city in the world? Paris.
Name two Vancouver restaurants or bars that you would want to transport to Toronto. The Keefer Bar and The Diamond.
Blue Jays, Leafs or Raptors? Canucks.
I was on the panel that voted you Bartender of the Year a few years back. It was mainly for your dedication to the craft, knowledge, and selflessness. Do you think these are traits bartenders are striving to personify these days, or is social media and competitions more important? All I see is media and competitions! It’s getting to be a bit of a joke. I now try not to hire any ‘cocktail bartenders’ or ‘competition bartenders’. I would rather prefer to train my team from scratch. The industry needs to be aware of what it is fast becoming: a world of bartenders that only care about awards, or working in the world’s best bars. Bollocks to that shit! I just want to make drinks, serve drinks, meet interesting people and have fun while I do it. Though I believe passionately in training, development and supporting future bartenders.
You were never a cocktail competition kind of guy, and definitely weren’t a PR-tender. What do you think of the current state of the bar world in the media, especially social media? The media is starting to have too much control. My view is that bartenders should not be afraid to say what they wish. I have simple rule with the media: I will say what I wish. I will be crass, rude and curse. You take a picture of me and I will give you the fucking finger! Take it or leave it. On my terms!
I love that you are on Instagram now (@hinc87). If I asked you 5 years ago if you would join I guarantee you would have told me to fuck off. What happened? I killed my Facebook, so I needed to keep one form of media bullshit.
Mixologist or Bartender? A fucking bartender.
Trend that needs to die? Mixologists.
The one drink from Vancouver that still haunts you? The Avocado Gimlet. Who was the fucking asshole that created that drink?
Where would you be slinging if you were still in Vancouver? Either Notturno (ed. note: now Tempranillo) or The Diamond. I miss those fuckers.
What do you miss about Gastown? All the industry peeps. You made me very happy.
Coolest person you’ve ever served? Not counting Christina Cottell. There is only Christina Cottell!
Non-coolest person you’ve served? I hear you have a Kevin Spacey story… Yes, I do have many Kevin Spacey stories, some I cannot say, though one I can. He was in the private bar that I was working in, and he would only let me take his order via a mirror!! What the fuck is up with that?
Favourite Toronto bar and bartender? Gift Shop and Alix (my lead bartender). She is the only person who makes my Martini.
Where do you go after work, and what you are drinking? Civil Liberties for a Negroni and a shot of bourbon.
Who would you trade in a blockbuster deal to bolster your team at Gift Shop? No one. I have the best team in Toronto and I would not trade them for fucking anyone. Though, if you asked them, they would probably trade me…
What didn’t I ask you? Is there anything you want to tell the readers about, or a final rant that you want to get off your chest? I would say this: Toronto has many opportunities. There are really great bars and areas to live. There is a drinking culture and some fucking amazing bartenders. Toronto is going to get better and better. We will soon be the best in Canada!