Meet The Barman With Jon Smolensky

Meet The Barman With Jon Smolensky
April 8, 2015 Trevor Kailles

jon smolensky

Twitter time – describe your job in under 140 characters:

Founder, Sovereign Wine and Spirits Ltd. Canada; Bartender, Hawksworth Restaurant, Vancouver B.C.; Corporate Liaison, Canadian Professional Bartenders Association

How did you get into bartending? What was the inspiration for your career route?

Ass backwards.  I had bartended a little bit in college to pay the bills, but out of university I took a job with a BC winery. Finding myself flourishing in the role I had, I started finding different ways to get more local wines and beers into the market. I started working on an ‘estate’ brewery project in BC and turned to the service industry again to pay the bills. Slowly but surely, the job I had behind the bar started to supersede the project I was working on. Eventually I started working at Brix Restaurant in yaletown – a bar that had a focus on wine, but was attached to George Ultra Lounge downstairs. On slow nights, the bartenders at George and I would trade ideas up and down the stairs (literally). Eventually my malbecs were turning into malbec syrups for cocktails. The rest is history.

Is it barrels, carbonation or cocktails on tap? What’s the latest trend you see in bartending?

None of that. The latest trend in bartending is a re-discovery of guest services. We are dangerously over-saturated in the hospitality industry. At the end of the day, a trip to the bar means guest experience above all else. It doesn’t matter what you make your guest – if they like you, it will innately taste better to them.

What’s the best part of what you do? And what’s the most challenging part?

The best part about what I do is the most challenging part. I have an exhilarating role in all facets of my vocation. Every day I wake up, there is a new challenge in my inbox. Every day I walk into the bar, there is a new face to greet that’s different than the last and I must learn it. Every event we do with the CPBA is with a different team and a different set of circumstances. I love it – but it’s never ending. The trick is to find balance, but I suppose one could say that about anything.

What is your favorite spirit to work with behind the bar?

Whatever we have overstock on J. But in all seriousness, all things being equal, it’s agave spirits. Their versatility is wondrous. Agave spirits are so diverse, they can work with anything. It’s like a puzzle – you just have to find the right combination. And have a heck of a lot of fun en route to finding it.

Do you have a definitive cocktail style?

Probably yes. I’m most comfortable with spirit-forward, classic-template cocktails. The slow-sippers, if you would. They make more sense to me, I suppose, because since they are a little more minimalist they are easier to create. That being said, the grass is always greener on the other side. I’m always enamored by people who can make long drinks with various juices, tinctures and syrups that are completely dialed and balanced. I think that’s really hard. By the way, here’s a shameless plug – go sit at Cooper Tardivel’s bar or Amber Bruce’s bar and watch them make those style of drinks with any ingredient a la minute. I don’t know how they do it; frankly I’m not sure they do either! That’s talent to me.

What’s the most memorable moment you’ve ever had working behind a bar?

Easy. Making Sazeracs into the Stanley Cup. I think we may be the first people in history to give the cup an absinthe rinse. That day still gives me butterflies. I am Canadian, after all.

What’s the next step for you when it comes to tending bar?

A focus on straight spirits and designing bar programs that take the guest through a journey of straight spirits. Cocktail trends can come and go and often times it can be difficult to adjust on the fly. But spirits are spirits and a good understanding of spirits gives me the tools to make any drink that serves any trend.