by Shaun Layton | “I’ll be back in fifteen, going for a cheeky…” is what you’ll hear in Gastown bars whenever there’s a lull in the action. In this job, we don’t get one hour lunch or coffee breaks. Because I don’t smoke, the only time I have for quick refreshment is after the dinner rush ebbs. The spot where I used to end up was Boneta (RIP). Now it’s around the corner in Blood Alley at a place called Gringo.
Now one year old in the space formerly occupied by Sean Heather’s Judas Goat, Gringo is now bursting at the seams on most late nights. It was started by Vancouver service industry vet Shoel Davidson, and the “Queen of Gastown”, Christina Cottell.
From where I stood, it looked as if the little lighthearted Mexi-Cali hole-in-the-wall sort of stumbled out of the gate. I think it took people (including myself) some time to understand where they were coming from and what they were trying to do. They didn’t spend a cent on PR, so it’s been a word of mouth trade to date. Online and print reviews – some funny, others scathing – probably helped, too.
“I always believed that if good people came in and enjoyed themselves, then they would tell their friends and so on,” Shoel says. “Now, low and behold, we have an ever-increasing circle of incredible patrons. It’s they who’ve really given Gringo its fun and laid back vibe.”
Speaking personally, the thing that keeps bringing me back isn’t the nachos or the slim draft beer options ($3.50!), it’s the great staff that Shoel has put together. They always remember me by name, and they know what I like to drink. While it’s true that I know nearly everyone in the industry hereabouts (which is to say that I sometimes get extra special treatment), I’ve been in a few times when a new guy doesn’t know me yet, and I’m still greeted with an introduction, a handshake, and a warm welcome.
I think this comes from Mr. Davidson’s hospitality background; he manned the wood at The Irish Heather for several years. “Treat people like people, not like a number. Especially in Gastown, which has such a tight-knit community” he says. Shoel’s also a clean freak, which I respect. He once sat and watched us clean down the bar at L’Abattoir one night and was the only bar nerd not admiring our Amaro selection. Instead, he liked how we scrubbed our stainless.
I hope that didn’t sound too creepy…
The branding (Christina’s department) literally shines. I see the bright neon trucker hats stumbling all over Gastown, and the staff all wear them with pride. They also have coasters with bad reviews printed on them — I love it when a place can LOL at itself like that. The music they play can be anything from rock ‘n roll to old school stuff like A Tribe Called Quest. There’s also a TV set showing some seriously arbitrary shit (I walked in one night and Star Wars was on).
I’m not going to talk about the food (monster size tacos, beer-friendly bites, etc) or the simply made, easy-drinking cocktails. The truth of it is that I’m there to drink beers after the rush. It’s the leading spot in the hood for kitchen staff, so that tells me the food is good enough. One thing to take special note of is Gringo’s ever-increasing bar of “haute” hot sauces. It’s similar to our collection of exotic tall boy beer cans at L’Abattoir, so if you want to drop them a bottle of something rare or interesting they’d likely be appreciative.
Shaun Layton has helped to maintain a top notch bar scene in Vancouver for ten years, and since day one at Gastown’s L’Abattoir, where he is the Bar Manager. He also runs his own consulting company, designing bar programs and training staff locally and as far away as St.John’s, NFLD. Layton has competed and travelled throughout the USA and Europe, touring distilleries, breweries and bars. He was recognized in 2012 as the Bartender of The Year by Vancouver Magazine.