From spirit selection through to the final garnishing flourish, bartending is a time-honoured ritual that, done right, produces multi-sensory delights. Four of Ottawa’s busiest bartenders share insights with Ottawa At Home.
Paul Saucier at Zoe’s, Chateau Laurier
A retired tech entrepreneur turned bartender, Paul developed a passion for well-crafted cocktails while travelling the world. The historic and recently refurbished Zoe’s Lounge, at the Fairmont Chateau Laurier, nourishes his thirst for mixology.
The vibe? At Zoe’s I get to fulfill my dream of working in an elegant cocktail bar that offers the glamour of the retro scene but with a contemporary flair.
What makes your cocktails special? The way they tantalize the senses, like our Statesman cocktail, served in a smokebox with cedar and spices that blend well with the drink. When you open the box, the beautiful aromas entice you immediately.
Favourite drinkers to serve? The journey-takers who are open to exploring and put their faith into the bartender’s hands.
What’s in your glass? As a purist who loves the classics it’s either an Old Fashioned, a whiskey sour or a Sidecar.
Favourite ingredients? House-made bitters and house-infused spirits. Our culinary team works with us to create some magical ingredients.
Stephen Flood at Riviera
Having tended bar in Ottawa for over twenty years, Stephen’s inventive approach to cocktails has helped to put the upscale Riviera restaurant, housed in a former Sparks Street bank building, on the map for drinks that are as impressive as the food.
The vibe? Walking into this space is like being transported to another time. I wanted our cocktail list to reflect that in this building’s bygone era, people would have been sipping Manhattans and whiskey sours from elegant coupes.
What’s in your glass? Often, a Negroni. This seemingly simple three-ingredient drink has infinite power to surprise, as different gins and vermouths all bring different botanicals and aromatics to the dance.
What has changed? Everything is fresh now and people care more now about what’s in their glass so we get to serve ever more beautiful things and even work directly with the people who make today’s mixology products.
Favourite drinker to serve? Someone ready to step outside their comfort zone and savour something unexpected created especially for them. For me, it’s always fun to improvise.
Elana Levitan at Town restaurant
A hospitality industry veteran who’s been bartending for five years, Elana enjoys capitalizing on her theatre training behind the bar at the chic, lively Town, because mixing drinks is like being on stage, performing.
What’s in your glass? I’m into aromatized wine and liqueur, so vermouth and amaro, both great fits with Town’s focus on Italian food. I prefer Mezcal for sipping and gin for making cocktails.
What makes your cocktails special? I make my own cordials, infusions, bitters and shrubs and enjoy using lots of seasonal ingredients, to fit with Town’s seasonal food. I harvest rhubarb, spruce tips, thyme and Concord grapes from my property and make these the focal points of cocktails.
Favourite drinks to make? Classics like Manhattans and martinis, crafted with care and attention. I also have a ton of fun making original cocktails because it gives me an opportunity to share something new and unique with people.
What’s changed? Cocktails have become increasingly trendy over the past decade or so and more people are enthusiastic about trying new things and enjoying craft spirits.
Lawrence Buckley at the Chateau Lafayette
Lawrence has been bartending at The Laff, Ottawa’s oldest tavern, for 30 years, arriving as the new bass player for the house band and never leaving. Established in 1849, the Chateau Lafayette has evolved from its roots but still attracts people from all walks of life including ordinary folk, politicians and celebrities.
The vibe? With liquor added to the menu about 25 years ago we now see a different clientele at night but during the day it’s still a tavern, mostly drawing tourists and locals in for a cold beer.
Fond memory? One summer two young guys came in, intoxicated. I used my standard line, “Sorry, I can’t serve you today, come back another day.” I caught them guzzling another patron’s unattended beer as they left, so I chased them down the street and managed to boot one of them in the rear end.
What he loves? I am a real people person and love to find a point of connection with everyone I serve. My job is as much about making people feel welcome and helping them have a laugh or two as it is about serving drinks.
What comes to mind when a customer orders . . .
Gin Martini : “Crisp, floral or aromatic?”– Stephen
Beer : “How about something local?”– Lawrence
Napa Cab : “You know what you like!”– Elana
Double Grey Goose on the rocks: “Rough day?”– Paul