The first time I met Jay Jones he was working behind the stick at Market. It was a quiet Sunday evening and I was struck by his dapper style and calm demeanor (I don’t think I’ve ever seen the man in anything other than a suit). But behind this humble and unassuming disposition is one of the most accomplished bartenders this city has to offer. Each cocktail he makes is beautifully complex. It was immediately clear upon our first encounter that his approach to Bartending involves a great deal of care, consideration and a deep respect for the craft.
The list of Jay’s accomplishments in his 18 year career is formidable. From Cactus Club Cafe in the mid-90s to Araxi in ‘99. Five years as Bar Manager at West Restaurant. Opening partner and Head Barman at Pourhouse. Bombay Sapphire/GQ Magazine Most Imaginative Bartender in Vancouver, enRoute Magazine’s Canadian Bartender of The Year. He was inducted into the BC Restaurant Hall of Fame in 2013 and was named 2014’s Bartender of The Year by Vancouver Magazine. Trust me when I say this isn’t even half the list of his accomplishments.
Each time I sit at Jay’s bar or watch him in competition, I am fortunate enough to learn a little more about the man behind the cocktails. In our most recent encounter (and as you will read below), Jay shared that Salvador Dali is one of his greatest artistic influences. In the words of the great surrealist, “A true artist is not one who is inspired, but one who inspires others.” Jay Jones is the definition of an artist in his craft. Not only is he exceptional behind the bar, he quietly inspires a new generation of Bartenders to aspire to greatness as well. It is a true honour to have him featured here! So without further ado, allow me to introduce the great Jay Jones.
1) How long have you been bartending?
Since 1996 at Cactus Club Cafe, Richmond. Wearing a Canadian Tuxedo, pouring slushy drinks & dancing/singing on bar tops.
2) Where are you currently working?
The Donnelly Group as Brand Ambassador & Executive Bartender – my current focus is the product and staff development of The Blackbird Public House & Oyster Bar. Still enthusiastically behind the stick 2-3 nights a week.
3) What was your first sip of alcohol?
Wray and Nephew overproof white rum- my Jamaican grandma used to keep it on her bedside table. I used to sneak sips when I was less than 8 years old.
4) If you could only have a 5 bottle bar, what would they be?
Campari, Maker’s 46 Bourbon, Tanqueray No.Ten Gin, Punt e Mes, Giffard Abricot de Roussillon
5) What is your death-row drink?
A Pint of Guinness & a bottle of Highland Park “Thor”
6) What is one rule you wish all patrons would follow that you’re not allowed to make?
Patrons don’t have rules, nor should they ever be expected to act a certain way. It’s about them, not us.
7) Other than your own, where is your favourite bar to go for a drink?
Tropics on Waikiki Beach, Honolulu – for Mai Tais & local beers
8) The album that would capture the feel of your dream bar?
Elvis Costello: My Aim Is True. Upbeat, romantic & playful while thoughtful and provocative
9) The one cocktail book that should be behind every the bar?
“Cocktail Techniques” by Kazuo Uyeda – brilliant technical guidance and insight as well as altruistic philosophy
10) The one non-cocktail book that should be behind every bar?
“The Hard Goodbye” by Frank Miller. The best graphic novel of all time -a sumptuous, visceral journey into the heart of one man’s violent virtues.
11) Three words that best describe your approach to cocktails
Balanced, complex, intense – the virtues of any good cocktail
12) Most unusual drink request?
Luke Goss once asked me to create a cocktail in the spirit of Guillermo del Toro. That was a weird and complex drink.
13) If you could make a cocktail for anybody, dead or alive, who would it be and what would you make them?
Salvador Dali – my greatest artistic influence. I would love to see what he thought of the cocktail I created to honour him: “Persistence” (Cognac, Baijiu, Bittered Sling Kensington bitters, pomegranate syrup, orgeat & absinthe)
14) If you weren’t a bartender, what would you be?
Starting Goaltender for the Vancouver Canucks & Team Canada
15) Free-pour or measured?
Measurement is the key to consistency, thus I preach it to my apprentices. However, an experienced Bartender can pour accurately by feel. I err on the side of measuring.
16) If your shifts behind the bar had a theme song, what would it be?
“The Asteroid Field” performed by the London Symphony Orchestra – composed by John Williams (Star Wars Episode V, The Empire Strikes Back original score) – a dynamic, classic range of emotions, from suspenseful trepidations to thrilling crescendos.
17) Who currently has the best bartender facial hair in town?
Jacob Sweetapple’s furry mug is equal parts gentleman & scoundrel.
18) Tom Cruise in the movie Cocktail- Great performance or Greatest performance?
Actually it’s a horrible technical Bartending performance, but that’s part of the character’s charm; more style than substance. It’s a fun & accurate portrayal of a young Bartender’s path (in the 80s anyways) -presenting tremendous insight to the world of Bartending. The relation between Tom Cruise and Bryan Brown’s characters is one of the best in modern movie history. In fact, I summarized my feelings about the film in this essay.
19) One drink on your current cocktail menu that everybody needs to try.
My favourite interactions at the Bar are about personalizing experiences and creating custom drinks, but my proudest offering on The Blackbird menu is “The Four Horsemen” (Maker’s 46 Bourbon, Averna amaro, Giffard apricot syrup & Angostura bitters).
20) What is your favourite three-ingredient cocktail and how do you make it?
The “Negroni” is probably the best cocktail ever created and ever will be:1 part, London dry gin, 1 part Campari, 1 part sweet vermouth – stir, strain, tumbler, ice cubes, orange peel zest and garnish. I prefer Punt e Mes as sweet vermouth, but this demands that the other ingredients are adjusted to balance. Easy to ruin this drink, which is part of the fascination. You have to really love it to make it well.
Thank you again Jay for this most excellent interview. And a massive shout out to the amazing Joann Pai of Slice of Pai for the stunning photos! Cheers!