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Juke’s Cassandra Darmanovic on Creamed Corn Cocktails and Underwater Bars

We often hear the same names of local hospitality titans in the media. For years we’ve worked up thirsts and appetites following their exploits but we seldom consider the individuals who toil in relative anonymity alongside them, and we’re often late in introducing those destined to join them in their starry pantheon. This series of interviews looks to introduce our readers to this new breed, one blossoming talent at a time.

Cassandra Darmanovic holds court at Chinatown’s Juke Fried Chicken | Photo: Jamie Mah

Millennials are often branded as a lazy, entitled bunch. For Cassandra Darmanovic, bar manager at Juke Fried Chicken, this stereotype doesn’t come close to fitting the narrative. Having landed her first hospitality gig at the age of 12, she’s grown up and refined her talent with savvy moves and hard work, both of which gave her the wisdom and experience to break free and run her own program at 24.

In her first year at Juke, she’s helped further the Chinatown success story with a fun a creative beverage program. Now, busier than ever (and with a second location on the horizon), she speaks with Scout about some of her mentors, where she sees herself in five years, and why she’d envision sharks as being an integral part of her dream bar concept. Say hello to Cassandra…

Where are you from? Here, essentially. I was born in Richmond and then moved around quite a bit when I was really young. We lived there most of my life growing up. I moved downtown on my own when I was 19.

Why did you become a Bartender? Well, I’ve worked in the service industry since I was 12 years old. I dabbled in a few other fields briefly but I’ve always held down at least one serving job on the side. Serving isn’t something I wanted to do forever though, so bartending was the next step. Good money, lots of opportunities, and most importantly I can be myself.

Did you ever have ambitions to do anything else? Yeah, totally. I worked in Real Estate for most of my young adult life. Property management at first, then I started working in Development. I really enjoyed it at the time but it took a few years to realize that that life wasn’t for me. I learned so much and worked with some amazing people, but I wasn’t happy. It took a while to realize that and then it took even longer for me to do something about it. It was a big change, but it was worth it.

Where did you learn? Do you have any formal training? Formal training as in like, bartending school? No. I learned a lot throughout the years by picking up knowledge at the various places I’ve worked at. I learned a lot from my brother growing up. But when it comes down to it, Ron Oliver (Owner of Mamie Taylor’s) and Scott Marshall (Bar Manager at Mamie Taylor’s) taught me everything I know. I couldn’t be more thankful to have those two in my life. Oh, and also… books. I’ve read a lot of books.

What was your first restaurant/bar job and how long did it last? Ok, well…my first “real job” was Dairy Queen when I was 12. But my first restaurant/bar was a place called Felicos in Richmond — a beautiful family owned Greek restaurant. I learned so much there. I was so young but am so grateful to have had this job throughout my high school years, because it really molded me into the hard worker that I am now. One of my favourite restaurants to this day.

Ok, now name every restaurant/bar you’ve ever worked in. Felicos, Fogg n Suds, Elephant and Castle, The Distillery Bar & Kitchen, Hellogoodbye, Bistro Verde/Habitant (Nordstrom), Mamie Taylor’s, The Diamond, Juke. I may be missing one or two.

Have you competed in any cocktail competitions? Yes, one. The Cascade Cup back in April. I was so nervous because it was my first competition, but then I won. So that was cool.

If you could be a Bartender for a week in one Vancouver restaurant/bar, which one would it be? Pourhouse.

If you could be a Bartender for a week in any restaurant/bar outside Vancouver, which one would it be? The Downtown Cocktail Room in Vegas. That place is rad.

Who have been some of your most impactful mentors? Micky Valens (My Brother), Ron Oliver, Scotty Marshall, Emmet Groves, Adam Domet.

Let’s say you had an unlimited budget to open the bar of your dreams. Really, the sky’s the limit. What would the concept be? Oh man, I’ve thought a lot about opening up my own place in the future but never with an unlimited budget in mind – that changes everything…Honestly, right now I just keep picturing an underwater bar somewhere in Mexico. The walls are all glass. There are great white sharks and colourful fish swimming all around it…Wow, I literally have the mind of a 12 year old.

Do you have a method in creating a cocktail? If so, what do you do? Yeah, I guess so. Usually I’ll get some sort of inspiration from something, then I’ll brainstorm different ingredients I might want to use, and then I’ll pick a style that I think works best. From there, I’ll jot down the recipe. Try it out. Fix it. Try it again…trial and error until it’s perfect. Sometimes I get it on the first try, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes by the end it’s a completely different drink than what I had in mind when I started, which is really cool.

Ok, now name the weirdest ingredient you’ve used in a cocktail, what’s the story? One of the weirdest drinks I think I’ve ever made was tequila based with actual creamed corn and black pepper. It started off as a joke with friends in my kitchen, but to our surprise it was fucking delicious.

What current cocktail trend are you already sick of? Are people still using activated charcoal in their drinks? Because yeah, that.

Do you have any ambition to open a bar of your own one day? Absolutely.

Two guests have just sat down at your bar. What’s your process? The standard process (greet, menus, water, drink order, etc…) but without it seeming like a process, I guess. I really try to make my guests feel as welcome and as comfortable as possible. Especially at Juke where things are really upbeat and fun. I want everything to be more of a conversation than a robotic step by step service. I want them to leave feeling like they just made a new friend.

Have you always loved cocktails or was there a drink specifically that sold you? I think I’ve always been a cocktail person. One of the first cocktails I remember falling in love with was at the Revel Room when I was 19. I think it was called the Secret Garden?

What is your favourite type of wine, beer and spirit to drink? Wine: sparkling. Beer: cider (I’m not a huge beer drinker, lol). Spirit: It depends how I’m drinking it, but probably rum.

What are your thoughts on the BC bar industry? Honestly, the BC bar industry is absolutely incredible, even despite how irritating and restricting our liquor laws are. This city is thriving with remarkable bars and talented bartenders. I’m really proud to be a part of such a great bar community.

Any favourite BC spirit producers? Waywards Unruly Gin is one of my all time favourites. That Drunken Hive Rum is real fun to mix with, too.

Have you visited many distilleries, wineries or breweries? If so, what’s been your favourite? I’ve visited many wineries growing up with my family, but not many distilleries or breweries — yet! I had a lot of fun touring Strange Fellows a few years back. And I recently got to tour Resurrection’s distillery when they launched their new gin; that was really cool.

Where do you see yourself – career-wise – in five years? Working, learning, and hopefully travelling.

As the Bar Manager of Juke, how will you look to lead and improve your team moving forward? Our bar program has been growing so fast, so I really do my best to ensure that all of our staff are kept up to speed and are knowledgeable and confident in what they are serving. We have such a small and tight-knit group which makes it so much easier to get together for tastings and little info sessions. It’s really nice to be able to get together and learn from one another.

If you could recommend just one cocktail book for any aspiring Bartender, what would it be? Ted Haigh’s Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails.

What’s the most rewarding thing about being a Bartender these days? Being able to meet and chat with so many different kind of people from all over the world. Juke really seems to be a big destination for a lot of travellers that come to Vancouver, so it’s really cool to hear everyone’s story.

You’ve just clocked out and you’re thirsty. Where are you going and what are you drinking? Mamie Taylor’s for a Negroni on tap, Juniper for a glass of wine or The Boxcar for a cider.

Outside of bartending, what are some of your other passions? Cooking, and long walks on the beach.

What’s the most enjoyable part of your job? Human interaction. It’s why I do what I do. I couldn’t imagine myself working at a desk for the rest of my life.

Neighbourhood: Chinatown
182 Keefer St.

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