VANCOUVER-BASED BARTENDER OF THE YEAR ENTERTAINS THE ART OF HOSPITALITY
A live R&B duo is warming up the Friday night crowd at the chic Lobby Lounge in Vancouver’s Fairmont Pacific Rim. But it’s snowing outside and I’m chilled to the bone, so Chris Enns — Bartender of the Year, as voted by our judges—is making me a twist on the Hanky Panky.
“The drink was invented by Ada Coleman, the head bartender at The Savoy Hotel in the early 1900s,” he explains, sliding a chilled Nick and Nora glass across a spotless white quartz bar. The initial aroma is lemon oil, from the expressed peel of a next-level garnish that has been stencil-cut into a tiny martini glass. The taste is rich and velvety, from bourbon (in place of gin), two types of vermouth and a dash of simple syrup. A faint thread of Fernet-Branca—Coleman’s secret ingredient—is sublime.
“She made it for an actor, Sir Charles Hawtrey, who came in one night and said, ‘Coley, make me something to warm me right up to my gizzards.’”
Chris Enns is one of those bartenders who could stir a story into every cocktail. It’s a passion that has earned him huge admiration among his peers. “His knowledge for all things liquid is staggering,” says Ayden Bar’s Ian Miller. And it has served him very well in competitions— especially last year when pretty much everything he touched turned to gold. Most notably, he won the Diageo World Class Canada (and placed eighth at the global finals in Berlin), and the Woodford Reserve Master of the Manhattan and Barate Kid, a speed- bartending tournament.
For Enns, the consummate host, cocktail lore also creates opportunities to “genuinely engage” with his guests. “A lot of these old recipes are very simple mixtures of ingredients, but the story is what gives it length and personality,” he says. “And the storytelling keeps them in our culture. That’s what I enjoy—the peripheral romance in what a cocktail o ers.”
That last statement might sound pretentious coming from someone who wasn’t so gosh-darn polite and sincere. But not from Enns, a salt-of-the-earth Prairie boy from Saskatoon. He was working there at the Sheraton Hotel and going to business school when in 2013 he flew down to New Orleans for Tales of the Cocktail and, in a life-changing experience, realized that bartending could be a viable career. A few months later, his girlfriend decided to move to Vancouver. “What does that mean for us?” he asked. Fortunately, her plans included him.
After working in Gastown for three years, at The Revel Room and The Diamond, Chris Enns joined the Fairmont as part of the opening team for Botanist, a smaller bar upstairs specializing in modernist mixology. The Lobby Lounge, while also serious about its drinks, is much busier.
“It’s the best of both worlds,” he says, before throwing his entire upper body into a show-stopping hard shake. “We get to give that formal level of service for which the Fairmont is known, but at an incredibly high volume. When everyone behind the bar starts dancing between each other, it’s a very cool rhythm to get into. I’m very comfortable here, and that’s why guests come to your bar. No one goes to a bar just for a drink. They go for the experience.”
— ALEXANDRA GILL