Montreal advocate Kate Boushel raises the bar for social change
by JAMES MARTIN
If you want to stay in a bartender’s good graces, don’t help yourself to extra olives.
Don’t cut the line. Don’t order after last call. And if it’s Kate Boushel behind the taps, don’t ask her what she plans to “do next”—because she’s already doing it.
“This is my chosen career path, and that’s surprising for many people,” says the outgoing Montreal bartender, known for her deep knowledge of craft beer and spirits. “During the ’70s, bartending started being a transient job. But now we’re seeing more and more people choosing to make it their focus, just like opening a hotel or running a restaurant is a career.”
The Winnipeg-born, Montreal-raised Boushel began tending bar in a South Shore suburb before moving to the gritty nightlife hub that is St. Lawrence Blvd. She loved it, but she also wanted to pursue the “passion for social causes” that she nurtured while earning political science and public relations degrees from Concordia and McGill universities.
Boushel said au revoir to bartending. She spent a few years doing advocacy work with the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec and other organizations, then PR with an international creative agency. After branching out into freelancing she noticed a pattern in her clientele: they all owned restaurants or bars.
“That’s when I realized how much I missed bartending,” she recalls. “All the things that I love are in this one industry: dealing with people on a daily basis; connecting people, getting conversations going; communicating information to help people understand more about what they’re drinking. Everything’s fun about it.”
Six years ago, Boushel returned to the bar, first at a brasserie, then a Chinatown tiki bar. In 2016, she joined the opening team at the Atwater Cocktail Club, an intimate speakeasy- style bar run by the Groupe Barroco.
Now Barroco’s beverage and education director, Boushel divides her time equally between akvavit and advocacy. She teaches the Barroco team how to incorporate sustainability into the way they work and the products they serve. She’s part of the Quebec organizing team for Speed Rack, a national female-focused bartending competition that raises money for breast cancer research. She’s committed to supporting women in the industry who have been subjected to sexual harassment and is a vocal booster for increasing the diversity of hiring committees. “Like in any industry, we tend to hire people that we see ourselves in,” she says.
“The more diverse your hiring squad, the more diverse your staff will be.” And, of course, she’s still at the club, cocktail shaker in hand. She can’t quit her customers. “It’s extraordinary to hear someone take that first sip, close their eyes and deeply enjoy what you’ve made for them,” she says. “Or finding that little conversational spark between customers, whether it lasts an entire evening or just a minute. Or being told I look elegant behind the bar, even when we’re three-deep in the weeds. It’s a stressful job, but it’s also the customer’s night out—so if they don’t feel like I’m stressed, that’s a win.
The Atwater Cocktail Club is currently ranked No. 5 on our Canada’s Best Bar List 2019.