Josh F. Lindley
The bar industry is all about providing hospitality and making sure clients have a great experience. When bartenders are off, when they become client themselves – whether it’s in the city they live in or in one they’re just passing through – they’ll in turn be on the look for the spots where they’ll have their own great experience. To know where to go, who better to turn to then a fellow bartender? But how do you meet one? Bartender Atlas, a bartender directory / website aiming to help the pros get to know each other, provides an answer. It was launched last year by seasoned Toronto barkeep Josh Lindley and his wife Jessica Blaine Smith, a photographer.
Compared to some of his peers, Josh is a bit of a cocktail late bloomer: he was 25 when he took his first job in the bar world. “I was hired as a barback at the Drake Hotel, a new school boutique hotel with a really great restaurant and bar program. I had to wait for 18 months until they let me make a drink. By then, the cocktail revolution was in full swing”. Initially working in the live music venue of the hotel where speed was of the essence, he caught the cocktail bug in 2008 when the Employees Only guys rolled into town: “They came to the hotel and gave us a training about classic and creative cocktails, and how to create your own ingredients. Next thing I know, I was collecting old cocktail books”.
Because of local regulations that won’t allow you to serve drinks if you don’t serve food, the Toronto cocktail resurgence was restaurant-driven. Another peculiarity of the city is that alcohol can only be bought through state-run outlet, severely limiting the variety of available ingredients. Both factors had a huge influence: “Everyone here had to be very creative and got interested in making their own ingredients to create specific flavours that were missing”. And having a full kitchen right next to the bar certainly helped them along the way.
Since 2010, he has been at the heart of that, running the bar programs of a variety of small restaurants. Today, even clubs and beer bars boast decent classic cocktails, but for Josh, now at Chantecler, restaurants remain where it’s at: “I enjoy the smallness of the restaurant I’m working in and being able to take care of someone’s entire evening out. People feel that if you’re putting a lot of care in making your cocktails, you should also be able to offer that calibre of food”.
According to Josh, the sheer size of Canada and its very small population has meant that getting the word out to other cities has been difficult. And maybe that’s inspired Bartender Atlas. The website strives to foster a greater sense of community: “We try to educate bartenders about bartenders”. Beyond the website, Josh and Jessica also organize events to advance the agenda. For example, they’ve recently invited bartenders from Birmingham, Alabama to spend a few days with local drinksmiths. “We want people to find out all theses smaller cities where there’s an interesting cocktail scene that people haven’t heard of”, adds Josh. They also have a hand in organizing Toronto Bar Institute.
For 2018, the Bartender Atlas duo will try and set up some activities in territories close to Toronto, such as the US Midwest, Ontario or Montreal – they did something in Australia earlier this year, but, hey, you can’t always travel that far. They’ll also spend a month in Mexico – readers, if you happen to be from down there, they’re open to ideas for exciting projects. The rest of the time? Well, Josh will put great drinks in front of you if you ever visit him at Chantecler. And when he is off and not travelling, he’ll be busy writing for the website. If you’re curious, his Old Havana Bar Hop write-up is a great starting point. And if you’re a bartender, don’t forget to register!