Gin Bars Issue 13 Virginia Miller

How bar managers are adapting to Covid-19 pandemic

Sabrine Dhaliwal, Chickadee Room

Virginia speaks to six bar managers are taking on the devastation caused by the
Covid-19 pandemic in creative ways, working hard to keep their businesses going
while looking beyond the pandemic

Francisco “Pancho” Castillon at Farmacia Rita Pérez, Guadalajara
Calle Colonias Entre, Avenue Ignacio L. Vallarta y, Pedro Moreno, 44600 Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico
Instagram: @farmacia.ritaperez

Francisco “Pancho” Castillon at Farmacia Rita Pérez, Guadalajara
Francisco “Pancho” Castillon

Relaxed Farmacia Rita Pérez is home to welcoming service and a killer aguachile menu. Francisco “Pancho” Castillon’s engaging personality sets the tone, while a rousing jukebox and vintage organ turn out tunes in a country where indoor dining (with masks and temperature checks) is still an option. Here, agave spirits reign, but gin delights come in the form of drinks like Quinina Fina: Jaliscan-made Clover Club Gin, lavender bitters, basil and tonic water.

VM: What have you been doing in the pandemic?

FC: We opened in August 2020 and the pandemic has been present for us from the first. We bet on empowering the work staff with knowledge, training and having fun tasting to better understand the beautiful spirits we offer. In this way, we can give a personalised touch to our customers and thus better share the experience of our spirits and cocktails.

Farmacia Rita Pérez Guadalajara
Farmacia Rita Pérez

VM: What is your vision looking ahead?

FC: [We are in] a stage of death and rebirth. Many places will not survive, others will continue despite the damage and others, like us, were born in chaos. I personally think that what a situation like this teaches us is: nothing is certain, and everything can happen at any time. Prepare for the unexpected, adapt to the new rules and be creative, do not complain about what you have no control over, try harder than you imagined, empathise with the reality of others, do not magnify adversity, and most importantly, never lose your sense of humour.

Abigail Gullo at Ben Paris, Seattle
130 Pike Street, Seattle, WA, USA 

Abigail Gullo from Ben Paris, Seattle
Abigail Gullo

For more than a decade, Abigail Gullo was a key mover in NYC and New Orleans’ cocktail scenes, helming the bar at acclaimed Nola destinations like Compère Lapin. In early 2019, she moved to the West Coast, opening and managing Ben Paris in Seattle’s historic State Hotel, one block from Pike Place Market. In pre-pandemic days, she and her team crafted Martinis and Spanish-style gin and tonics from carts tableside.

VM: What have you been doing in the pandemic?

AG: Like a spinning ballerina, I’ve been doing takeout, to-go cocktails, virtual classes and happy hours, temperature-taker, contact list keeper, cleaning/sanitising crew, busser, prep cook, waiter, host, room service, delivery person, private dining creator, and oh, yeah, sometimes I still get behind the bar and make really good cocktails. As a member of the craft cocktail community, we’ve always done our work with an unmeasurable sense of purpose. This now includes life and death care as we are thrust into being essential workers. I always felt we were essential to a robust community. But it’s also scary to see how poorly some of my fellow service industry has been treated in other parts of the country.

Ben Paris, Seattle
Ben Paris

VM: What is your vision looking ahead?

AG: A lot of places will close, but a lot of places will open, and when they do, I hope they do so in a new environment that values the health and wellbeing of all their employees and guests. If your people are happy, they’ll take good care of your guests. And hospitality is built on making people happy. That’s something we’ll all need more of in 2021 and beyond.

Carlos Yturria at The Treasury & White Cap, San Francisco 
San Francisco, CA, USA 

San Francisco bartender Carlos Yturria
Carlos Yturria

Carlos Yturria has been a pioneering bartender for more than two decades in San Francisco (and thus the world), and is a sherry expert, manager and owner of both The Treasury, in a historic downtown SF space, and of White Cap, across the city a couple blocks from the ocean. His gin mastery is apparent in creative cocktails like White Cap’s Juniper Spire: Oxley gin, Sapins (a French herbal liqueur), green apple purée, watercress shrub and lime. 

VM: What have you been doing in the pandemic? 

CY: As an owner at The Treasury and White Cap, my thoughts are on my staff and keeping the doors open. We have had to get creative and change the way we serve our guests. The first thing we had to do was modify our hours to keep staff and maximise sales. In SF, we currently have to sell food with our to-go cocktails, so at White Cap we have tried working with different local businesses to rotate food offerings. We’ve been offering single, bottled and canned cocktails, as well as beer and wine to go.

White Cap, San Francisco
White Cap, San Francisco

VM: What is your vision looking ahead?

CY: I think to-go will be a lifeline to all bars and restaurants. Keeping morale up within your team and creating new cocktail menus will be very important. [As he currently talks service with his team] I think we need to be prepared for reopening as everyone will be out of practice and there will be a lot of competition between all bars and restaurants. Making our guests feel valued and keeping them interested will be my main focus.

Sabrine Dhaliwal at Juke & The Chickadee Room, Vancouver
182 Keefer Street, Vancouver, BC, Canada

Vancouver bartender Sabrine Dhaliwal
Sabrine Dhaliwal

Sabrine Dhaliwal has long worked in the drinks industry in Vancouver, from her national brand ambassador roles for Hennessy Cognac and Belvedere Vodka, to running bars at Pourhouse and Uva Wine and Cocktail Bar. She’s now bar manager at The Chickadee Room and Juke Fried Chicken, a Chinatown favourite for fried chicken, chicken and waffles and, yes, cocktails, including gin favourites like her Raspberry Gimlet, the venue’s gin kits, and the intriguing Grayscale cocktail, which comprises gin, black sesame, black lime and egg white.

VM: What have you been doing in the pandemic?

SD: Dine-in is still available and – along with the loosing of liquor control – has allowed bars and restaurants to be creative with new revenue streams. We’re encouraging guests to bring the bar experience to their homes through our non-alcoholic cocktail mixes (to which customers can add spirit at home) and cocktail kits… with syrups and juices, along with a link to our YouTube instructional videos. 

The Chickadee Room, Vancouver
The Chickadee Room

VM: What is your vision looking ahead?

SD: My fingers are crossed that by the end of 2021, bars and restaurants will be able to operate at full capacity again. I am also optimistic that our government will continue to work with the hospitality industry to make impactful changes to liquor control and legislation that will help us with our road to recovery.

Kamil Fulton at IBHQ, Singapore 

Kamil Fulton from IBHQ Singapore
Kamil Fulton

At intimate Singapore bar IBHQ, Kamil Fulton and team craft playful cocktail tasting flights and created Indigenous Bartender, a platform for like-minded bartenders and food lovers exploring local ingredients and culinary/drink intersections. Their creative drinks include Stars & Bars: green mango gin, starfruit honey, Green Chartreuse, orange blossoms, citrus and egg white. 

VM: What have you been doing in the pandemic?

KF: I give huge credit to the Singapore government as they’ve created a support structure for business. We have relocated our bar to a more centralised location in collaboration with a restaurant, as the government has been strict on only operating a bar if you have a food programme. We launched cocktail masterclasses in partnership with Airbnb on a global scale, which became very popular. We also implemented bottled cocktails and food pairing dinners over Zoom.

IBHQ Singapore
IBHQ, Singapore

VM: What is your vision looking ahead?

KF: IBHQ is all about flavour combinations and since we love to work with boutique artisans, our three-cocktail tasting flight is on monthly rotation. Our Bartenders Table is a five-cocktail tasting menu with amuse bouche pairings on themes such as ‘Tea Tails’ or ‘Chinese Feng Shui Philosophy’. What will happen in 2021 and beyond will depend on each country’s restrictions. Globally, I believe many bars will develop strong food programmes or evolve into multiple concept venues (coffee shop by day, bar by evening). Many operators have implemented retail offerings. And, of course, the low-ABV and non-alcoholic beverage category will grow. 

Erin Rose of Grupo Takami, Bogotá 
Bogotá, Columbia 

Erin Rose from Bogota's Takami group
Erin Rose

Erin Rose uses Colombian ingredients as well as her years of bar experience in one of the world’s pioneering cocktail cities, San Francisco, as bar director over all bars/restaurants in Bogotá’s Takami group. In the pandemic, bottled Vespers, Negronis and Martinis keep the gin game strong alongside house drinks like Life Aquatic, showcasing local feijoa fruit with gin, grapefruit, lemon and rosemary.

VM: What have you been doing in the pandemic?

ER: We, like many, began a bottled cocktail delivery service to complement our food delivery that has since expanded into an online liquor, wine and beer store: Barra Takami. We hope to offer the best of both big imported brands and local beverage producers as well as our own products.

Barra Takami, Bogotá
Barra Takami

VM: What is your vision looking ahead?  

ER: We’re working to expand our ready-to-drink beverages (RTDs), and grow our selection of online tastings, cocktail classes and experiences. We see this as an opportunity to grow the culture of ‘buen beber’ or ‘good drinking’ in Bogotá by making and promoting drinks that use quality ingredients and processes, including an array of non-alcoholic options.

Read more features from issue 13 here.

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