Welcome to the third chapter of The Weathered Project: Quench, featuring Vancouver’s award-winning bartender, Shaun Layton.
Vancouver’s bar and cocktail culture has elevated over the last decade to become one of the (if not the) most prestigious in the country. The city’s hopping social scene boasts both impeccable service and high-quality, innovative craft cocktails and is the result of some serious hard work and talented, knowledgeable individuals such as our third participant in the Weathered Project, bartender and gentleman, Shaun Layton. Shaun’s journey as a bartender began over a decade ago working at The Keg. Since then he has become an award-winning bartender and one of Vancouver’s top cocktail creators. He has traveled and competed all over the world and influenced, consulted and managed many of Vancouver’s top establishments. Having spent the last few years as bar manager at Gastown’s L’Abattoir, where he helped launch and create what is now one of Vancouver’s most successful restaurants, Shaun’s current venture is managing the bar program at the city’s soon-to-open Juniper (185 Keefer Street). Featuring handcrafted cocktails, small batch & seasonal Cascadian-inspired fare, the eagerly awaited Juniper is heavily inspired by the West Coast, sourcing and carefully selecting as many local products as possible from their special blend of ginger beer to their custom tailored aprons by Vancouver’s Search & Rescue.
Having worked in the industry in Vancouver for many years, what has kept you inspired and pushed you forward in your career?
Traveling, reading and being aware of what’s going on in the world outside of the city. I was in Europe for six weeks in the summer and explored not only cocktail bars but regular bars and restaurants to see what everyone was doing. The best way to get inspired is to travel, drink and experience it. That is for me the best inspiration.
The best way to get inspired is to travel, drink and experience it. For me that is the best inspiration.
Which bartenders have been most inspirational to you in your career?
David Wolowidnyk is a true gentleman on the bar and a very smart guy. He’s a great mentor, much like Jay Jones who is another real gentleman. Josh Pape from The Diamond is a really good teacher for young bartenders and produces some of the best, fastest and most efficient in the city.
Murray Stenson from Seattle has been bartending for 40 years. He’s in his 60s and is the best host I’ve ever seen; consistently a gentleman despite working in some of the busiest bars in the city.
You have an increasing number of awards and accolades under your belt, what has been the biggest achievement of your career?
To name one achievement is difficult to say. I think it’s more important to look at what you’ve achieved overall, the pedigree that you have as a bartender and the legacy you leave behind at the last place you have worked.
What drinks are on trend right now?
Bars and cocktails are coming a full circle. For a while [bartenders] concentrated on experimenting with unusual ingredients, but now the focus is on simplicity. In Spain gin is huge, particularly in Barcelona where almost every bar has a full menu of gin and tonics and offer small batches which are served in a large wine glass. This is something we are going to do at Juniper. Even though Gin & Tonic is a simple drink, the complexities vary with different gins and different tonics. With our menu, every gin will be paired with select ingredients, such as basil and cardamon, to compliment it’s own special tonic on the side. If you know how to pair all of these elements right it can be really interesting.
Image from @shaunlayton
Is it still as important to be able to solve a customer’s problem at the bar as it was in the old days?
That is one of the best qualities bartenders can have! To be a good bartender you have to be able to connect with people. Many people in the industry lost focus for a while and became too involved on proving they knew how to bartend but didn’t know how to deal with a drunk person and were too busy making the drinks to actually talk to people. For me it’s one of the most important qualities, being a good bartender means knowing the basics of everything. When I hire people, it doesn’t necessarily matter whether you have a lot of experience, but if you have a great personality we can teach you the rest.
With the increasing number of bars and restaurants opening in Vancouver, how competitive is the industry in this city?
There is a very tight knit community of bartenders in Vancouver. No one is competitive. If you need something, you text your neighbour “hey I’m out of tequila can you guys help me out?” and everyone is willing to help. Anytime they need anything or vice versa, no one hesitates to ask. We all send our clients to each other’s bars, draw people maps of places to go instead of keeping them in one place. Not all cities are like that.
Which five ingredients should people to get their bar started at home?
London Dry Gin and good bottles of sweet vermouth, bourbon, tequila and Angostura Bitters.
To learn more about developing your own bar at home, read Shaun’s regular column with Scout Magazine: Building an Excellent Home Bar, 5 Bottles and 1 Quality Cocktail at a Time.
Shaun is wearing The Barton Slim in Rigid Indigo by Imogene + Willie. This jean is a classic slim straight leg that looks great on everyone. Made of 100% raw cotton, 13.5oz USA-made selvedge denim.
– Linny Malin
Photography by Jacquie Shaw