When it comes to bartending, women are still outnumbered by men. But female presence behind the bar in Vancouver is growing, and two women—Sabrine Dhaliwal of Juke Fried Chicken and Katie Ingram of Elisa Wood-Fired Grill—have come in second and third behind Tableau Bar Bistro’s JS Dupuis in the Golden Plates readers’ choice ballot for best bartender.
The community of female bartenders is tight-knit, supportive, and fiercely talented. As a follow-up to International Women’s Day, we connected with a few of the city’s finest. Here’s what they had to say about their work, the industry, #MeToo, and other topics.
Juke Fried Chicken, 182 Keefer Street
Born in the Netherlands and raised on a dairy farm in Ontario, Sabrine Dhaliwal moved to Saskatchewan as a teen, then relocated to Vancouver a decade ago via Sunwapta Falls, just outside of Jasper. She was planning on becoming a dentist after completing her degree in microbiology, but the world of cocktails won her over. Today an ambassador for Belvedere Vodka and Hennessy Cognac, she gained experience working at Reflections, West Restaurant, and Pourhouse, among other places. At one point she took time off to train for the Aprons for Gloves Boxing Association’s Restaurant Rumble, a charity boxing event.
“It makes you realize you have strength in ways you didn’t know,” Dhaliwal says of being in the ring. “Your mind will quit before your body is willing to. It’s about telling your mind that you can do it. It’s the longest two minutes of your life.”
On what she loves most about her role: “There aren’t many jobs where you have instant gratification, when someone loves their drink. But it’s not just about what you’re drinking; it’s about your whole experience. The word mixologist gets thrown around a lot. Yes, I mix a drink, but I’m a bartender, and a bartender is a host. People go to restaurants to dine, but people go sit at a bar to be hosted.”
On the #MeToo movement: “I’ve stopped harassment from happening. I’ve protected both men and women by saying to someone, ‘They’re not interested in this tonight, here’s your bill and you can leave.’ I make sure everyone is safe, and I don’t drink behind the bar.”
On how the tragic passing of Anthony Bourdain helped open up the conversation on mental health: “Vancouver is very fortunate to have a program called Mind the Bar to make sure everyone knows it’s okay to not be okay, and if you’re not okay, there are people you can contact. Mind the Bar is somewhere you can go in confidence and get help. I wish there was more like it around the world. We have so much to be thankful for in Canada, and Vancouver specifically.”
Now pouring: Anyone for Tennis—a bright and refreshing drink, with Beefeater gin, Pimm’s No. 1, strawberry-rhubarb tea, lemon, Bittered Sling Plum and Rootbeer bitters, and sparkling wine.
Elisa Wood-Fired Grill, 1109 Hamilton Street
Coming from a large, boisterous family, Katie Ingram always wanted to work in hospitality. After university, she started working with the Donnelly Group at the Lamplighter and Clough Club and became increasingly curious about cocktails and flavours. She says she first learned what it really means to be a bartender through Lauren Mote, cofounder of Bittered Sling, a retail line of bitters and culinary extracts.
On what motivates her daily: “I love the creative and performance elements about bartending. Every day the guests are different, and it is your job to take care of them and create the best experience you can. I love that the possibilities are endless, especially at Elisa, where we have something for everyone. We have a lot of pescatarian, vegetarian, and vegan guests who keep coming back because of our varied menu options.”
On getting her start in the industry: “When I first began to bartend, it was definitely very hard to get my foot in the door. I was either always in the way, too slow, or ‘not where I was supposed to be’, but that attitude didn’t last very long. It was interesting sometimes being the only female on the floor some nights, but I think that gave me confidence—especially when you are working with a great team—to feel equal among the other bartenders.”
On the impact of the #MeToo movement on the industry: “There is a lot of change happening. Restaurants and bars are not tolerating unacceptable behaviour. This behaviour isn’t just behind closed doors, during service, or after hours either; it’s in dining rooms and bars as well. When the Dandelion Initiative [For Safer Bars and Spaces] from Toronto was here last year, Chantelle Gabino and Viktoria Belle taught a seminar on a wide range of topics to help prevent and respond to any type of sexual harassment. I’m very lucky to have always worked on teams with great managers that have always supported me or anyone on our team when they tell them about an inappropriate situation or encounter. It needs to be zero tolerance no matter who you are: boundaries need to be set, and the line drawn very clearly.
“One thing that I notice is that people feel that they can’t say anything to anyone: say something! How can anyone help you if we don’t know about something someone has said to you? Sometimes in the moment it is paralyzing, because you almost cannot believe that someone would say this to you or dare to touch you. It is important to remember: it is never your fault.”
On the state of gender equality in bartending: “I feel empowered by the International Women’s Day theme this year of Each for Equal. This isn’t a man’s industry anymore; it’s our industry. I am a bartender, and I got to where I am today by working hard, pushing the boundaries, and being my best possible self, showing everyone that I belong here, and you do too.”
Now pouring: Pomela, “a perfect little spring tipple” made with Volcan de Mi Tierra tequila, grapefruit and pomegranate cordial, lime juice, dry tonic, and Bittered Sling Kensington bitters.
The Diamond, 6 Powell Street
Emily Vey was 19 when she got her first job in the bar industry, in a small pub in Clarenville, Newfoundland, her hometown of 4,000 people. It was a way to work at night to pay for the university schooling she was pursuing during the day.
An avid home cook, she has always enjoyed coming up with fresh recipes and flavour combinations; working with beverages as opposed to foods opened up a whole new world.
On what keeps her behind the stick: “Once I started getting comfortable in the service industry, I realized I loved chatting and interacting with people too, learning their stories, and figuring out how each guest wants to be treated to keep them happy. I love that interaction. It shows our guests that I care about what they’re saying and makes them look forward to what I’m going to put on the table in front of them.”
On whether she has encountered any obstacles along the way as a woman: “Absolutely, I think as a woman in this industry we have to work twice as hard with guests oftentimes to show we know what we’re talking about and that our opinions and recommendations are just as great as our male partners behind the bar. I have had the experience with some patrons who still have the mentality that a woman is a server and a man is the bartender. I do notice that even though guests can clearly see me behind the bar shaking drinks, I am still often told to ‘have the bartender make me something,’ referring to my barmate, or I am met with quite a tone of surprise or disbelief that I made their drinks. My coworkers and I often laugh about how a guest will sometimes ask for a second opinion or confirmation from the other bartender because they think the guy is more qualified than I am to make a drink recommendation.”
On the impact of #MeToo: “I have noticed guests seem to be more wary of how they treat and talk to me in terms of tone and respect. It wasn’t so long ago that male guests could get away with acting in ways that would never be accepted now, especially in terms of touching or grabbing your server or bartender and otherwise acting inappropriately. This movement has been part of the catalyst that makes us identifying as women feel like it’s okay to stand up for ourselves and feel comfortable calling somebody on their behaviour—whether we say it ourselves or ask a manager to intervene.
“While I’m lucky enough to work with a great team of guys who support me, I’ve also seen firsthand that, in general, it is necessary for our male coworkers to set an example to guests to show them we’re as valued behind the bar and deserve to be treated that way. We need men to show other men that everyone behind the bar at an establishment is there for a reason regardless of gender. Once you change the attitude from within, it can set a great tone for guests to pick up when they interact with us and carry forward into other experiences.”
Now pouring: Tiger Breath, a delicate blend of Hibiscus Cachça, pineapple, lime, and jalapeño honey.
Odd Society Spirits, 1725 Powell Street
Olivia Povarchook moved to Vancouver from Kelowna in 2010 to go to culinary school. After a couple of years working in pastry kitchens, she jumped over to front-of-house. Bartending was a natural progression, using her training in flavour profiles, only in a more social environment.
On what’s behind her passion for pouring: “I love that there’s always something new to learn and that every day at work is different. At Odd Society especially, there’s so much encouragement to experiment with techniques and think outside the box.”
On being a woman in an industry still largely dominated by men: “It is baffling to me that people still think circumstances of gender discrimination are uncommon. The #MeToo movement has opened up a discussion in our industry and is allowing for more open discussion about abuses of power, discrimination, and sexism in hospitality. Change is coming, but at a very slow rate. A lot of things need to change to empower women behind the bar; but ultimately, just believe women.”
Now pouring: The Gentleman’s Sour, a long-standing favourite featuring a bittersweet mixture of Wallflower gin, Bittersweet vermouth, cassis, and “other fun things” for a frothy pink drink topped with rose petals.
Osteria Savio Volpe, 615 Kingsway
Lisa Cook went to culinary school 20 years ago and starting cooking straight after. She became interested in food-and-wine pairings and decided to transition from working back-of-house to front-of-house, first as a server at Joey Bentall One. She quickly became bar manager, then wine-room manager, helping develop the wine program there.
On what piqued her interest in the field: “What drew me to bartending in the first place was the similarity it had to cooking, following recipes, experimenting with different flavours, and being able to create something delicious that you are excited to share with guests. What I love about being behind the bar today is the guest interaction. Most people who sit at the bar want to engage and ask questions, and I really enjoy getting to know people.”
On whether she has noticed differences in the way men and women are treated in the industry: “When I first started in this industry as a cook, I noticed how few women there were and felt the pressure to work twice as hard while showing less emotion than my male counterparts. In the last decade I have been very fortunate to have had some incredible employers who have valued me for my work and not my gender. Sometimes I feel guests or vendors I deal with expect to see a male in my position. I get a lot of ‘May I speak to your manager if he isn’t busy?’ or ‘Can you ask your sommelier to recommend us a wine that he thinks will go with our meal?’ I think people’s perception of what a bartender looks like needs to change, but I’m not really sure how to make that happen.”
Now pouring: Lambrusco Spritz, a wine-based cocktail that’s a spin on the classic Aperol Spritz, made with Lambrusco rather than Prosecco.