A Chat with Ann Tuennerman and Lauren Mote
In honor of Tales of the Cocktail's 15th anniversary, Tales founder Ann Tuennerman is highlighting 15 bartenders whose lives and careers have been impacted by attending the event, and whose work has elevated the industry as a whole. This installment highlights Lauren Mote, the founder of Bittered Sling and creator of multiple award-winning bar programs around Canada.
Where were you born and raised?
Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
What attracted you to becoming a bartender in the first place?
I’ve been in the food and beverage industry since I was 16, and have been a bartender since I was legally able to. As a bartender, I love that I’m on stage, and our team is on stage. It’s true that you’re only as good as the last cocktail you’ve made, but the experience is the genuine reward in bartending. Being in the industry for as long as I have has allowed me to develop my comedic sensibilities, as well as my hospitality-focused and flavour-driven approach. It’s amazing to see how the young, up-and-coming bartenders are developing those same characteristics.
Was it planned or was it a temporary gig that evolved into a career?
All throughout high school and university, I couldn’t shake the hospitality bug — there’s something inside me that constantly wants to communicate with, please and engage with people. Starting mostly in the wine industry, I worked with some of the brightest sommeliers in Toronto. Honing my expertise in wine and top-notch service made it possible for me to delve head first into spirits and cocktails when the time was right - that was 19 years ago.
What and where was your first bartending job?
I was 18 years old, behind the bar at an experimental restaurant in the Yorkville district of Toronto. The venue was an offshoot of Club Monaco’s flagship clothing store at the corner of University Ave. & Bloor St., aptly called Club Monaco Patio & Cafe. From a distance you could see the glistening bottles on the back bar, smartly dressed staff and well-to-do guests - it really felt like being in L.A. What a place to start — I felt like I was forced into good taste from the very beginning.
Was there a moment when you decided that bartending would be your career?
The moment was at University of Toronto, I was studying International Relations and Peace & Conflict Studies. I was supposed to be reading my Intro to Russian Politics for a class (I still have nightmares), and instead I was studying about the "egg" in Harold Magee's "On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen". I was completely obsessed with ingredients, chemical make-ups and flavour compounds, and felt like I was wasting my life away (I really, REALLY didn't want to go to Law School). I thought, I'll be a Chef, but then I would be trapped in a kitchen wearing a goofy ill-fitting outfit, and I would be isolated from meeting and conversing with people. Wine wasn't right either, I studied, loved it and continue to write programming and practice, but it's not my focus. The only way I could see doing everything I wanted - include my academic background, cook, engage on flavours, wine, ingredients, focus on guest service, create mentorship programs, events, develop taste, community, give back to charity, wear cool (and crazy) outfits and travel was bartending - but not the bartending I was doing. I think in my heart, I didn't know the answer on HOW to do it, but perhaps subconsciously I could see it in my mind's eye - I was compelled to make changes, after all, I had nothing to lose. I left Toronto for Vancouver, started a new life, put the pedal to the metal and the rest is history!
Was your family supportive of your decision to pursue bartending?
My family comes from varied backgrounds, from a large 2nd generation Canadian-Jewish family in Toronto (Dad's side), to a full-loving yet traditional British immigrant family (Mum's side). My parents are both artists - writers, poets, models, actors, cooking, perfume and painting - "fine arts" to the max - so although we were encouraged (my two brothers and I) to pursue an academic life, the choice would be ours to make - both professionally and financially - to seek our own destiny. Each of us took a different path, and throughout my journey, all sides of our the family had questions, but my strong-willed, independent nature created a "failure" complex that I was never intending to succumb to -
it is incredible how much you learn from hitting rock-bottom, if you're willing to. Today, my parents, brothers, friends, family and everybody that is still included in my life, is proud, excited and enthusiastic for everything that is yet to come... and I'm still paying off my student loans......!
For someone who wants to pursue bartending as a career, what top 3 tips would you offer?
- Ask yourself "why" you want to bartend - is it for money? For the human aspect of guest services and hospitality? For the creativity of developing cocktails and mastering the art of classics? Is is because you're interested in traveling? Teaching? Mentorship?
- Write out realistic goals - as you would in any professional engagement - for where you'd like to be in 1 year, 3 years, 5 years, and 10 years. Remember, the act of writing out your goals develops the beginning of the brain's "manifest destiny", and can help you get there. You'll have to be willing to sacrifice a lot to get there, but the taste of happiness is sweet when you arrive, and you do smell the roses along the way, even if those roses are teeny-tiny ones.
- Bartending comes with a bit of a "hall pass" for the lifestyle associated. We all love to drink and party, but that's not sustainable for a career or a healthy future. Identify the answers in the first two points above, and from there determine what lifestyle is best, and how to achieve your goals with that lifestyle. Remember, it takes a lifetime to build a reputation, and seconds to destroy it.
How did you first learn about Tales of the Cocktail?
2009 - Trevor Kallies in Vancouver mentioned that he was heading down for a cocktail festival in New Orleans - the biggest in the world - and that it was worth me checking it out, if I intend to continue down this path professionally.
Where there any challenges you had to overcome to attend Tales the first time (financial, logistical, etc.)?
The first year I attended was in 2010 - I was invited along with 10 other US bartenders to film the "Grey Goose Iconoclast Series" for the Sundance Channel (including April Wachtel, Charles Joly, Jaoquin Simo, Evan Hawkins, Scott Baird, Willy Shine). The competition was held in Canada and the USA earlier that year, and I was the sole winner for Canada. I was the last winner announced, and when I arrived to Tales, I had no tickets, no "founder's day" pass, no connections and felt really out in the cold - my handlers didn't have anything planned for me beyond the film shoot - I was totally bummed that everything was sold out or full. My former publicist - Sherri Zielinski - called me, gave my Ann Tuennerman's personal mobile number, and asked me to call her and tell her what happened. Within moments of calling her (by the way, she picked up an unknown Canadian number on the first ring), I was added to a long list of seminars, parties and other activations - likely one of the coolest acts of genuine kindness I've ever experienced.
Kindly describe your first Tales experience and what it meant to you.
It was a culture shock, a weather shock, just a shock! I had no idea what to expect, and it exceeds my expectations! From the historic French Quarter, to meeting the "who's who" of our industry, and traveling with a massive contingent from Canada (and every year since) gave us the opportunity to learn about New Orleans and Tales together. I was just stunned with the amount of money and resources brands were spending on swag, events, everything - it was just craziness. Two tons of sand where dumped on the street in the middle of the French Quarter for a "midnight" lawn bowling session with St. Germain, just as a gentle example. All the while, we are drinking historical cocktails, eating incredible Cajun and Creole food, and being serenaded by bouncy brass bands and getting to know the rest of the world.
What was it like to be immersed in the community of bartenders and cocktail luminaries from all over the world? Did it confirm bartending as your calling?
It didn't confirm, it added another layer of gratitude to what I already wanted - not only could I learn and discover on my own, I now knew there were thousands of people that had a different perspective on things. Still, to this day, I keep in touch with most of the people I randomly bumped into or excitedly sought out to meet at Tales.
Kindly describe your top 3 favorite moments from Tales.
- Creating the Official Tales of the Cocktail Bitters Line (by our company, Bittered Sling), and walking into the Hotel Monteleone the year it launched (2015) only to close the elevator door, and the entire thing was a poster of our bitters. OMG!
- Being an integral part of the Tales on Tour programs in Vancouver, Argentina, Mexico City and Edinburgh, and using that as the stepping-stone to the unique program we built for the Tales Bitters Line. The "on Tour" programs gave us a chance to develop meaningful face-to-face and personal relationships with many people working with the organization, and those bartenders willing to travel on their dime to attend the festivals from other markets. Really magical.
- Creating 4 really unique (and completely crazy) events that generated opportunities for Canadian bartenders to be part of the action at Tales, including the "Canadian Shield", "Disco Inferno", "Forager's Pharmacy" and "Pan-Am Potables". The outfits and music alone (especially at 10:00am) where worth the price of admission!
Kindly describe any awards or recognition you received at Tales.
First Canadian Women - Dame Hall of Fame; and Shortlist - Best Bar Mentor (I'm still waiting for my awards for "most insane outfit" and "best 2:00am singing voice")
How has Tales energized your career overall?
I think the relationships that we have been nurturing over the years, that may have started at Tales, have helped tremendously to provide opportunities for Canadian Bartenders.
Kindly describe your top behind the bar experience where you impacted or inspired a guest?
Encouraging guests to taste and enjoy the cocktails, marvel at the surroundings, the company they keep, the music, the lighting, the energy - be in the moment - it's not about drinking, it's about being comfortable and happy. This type of thing happens when there's a nervous or sometimes aggressive guest, and I don't shy away, I just try to bring them into our world - make them feel as though they're part of it, new perspective, excitement and deliciousness. Some guests really feel like outsiders, and they don't know how to be in the "in crowd" or feel involved - I enjoy fixing that.
Kindly describe any key professional relationships that were forged at Tales through networking with fellow bartenders, spirits luminaries and brand managers.
There are too many to count, and too many to list, but what I will say, which is an incredible thing, Tales helped to forge the relationships between Canadian Bartenders coast to coast; without this central "meeting place" in New Orleans once a year - the catalyst - our relationships with each other would have been much harder to maintain when Canada was in the earliest stages of modern bar culture.
How would you sum up Tales to an aspiring bartender who is new to the profession?
Network - it might be a party for some, but don't piss away the opportunity to create important and long-lasting connections by drinking your face off, and being unprofessional - use this as an opportunity to imbibe at the same pace as the people you truly admire. However, I'd be lying if I said many a-best-friend came out of a heart-to-heart outside the Absinthe House at 3:30am.
What is your go-to cocktail when you go out?
I am a sucker for the easy 3 ingredient pick ups - Margarita, Daiquiri, Manhattan, Old Fashioned, Gin Martini (wet with Orange Bitters), Negroni and more - I love classics. But let's be realistically here, pass me a Tequila or Mezcal, and I'll be okie-dokie.
What is your favorite cocktail to make for friends and family?
Whatever they want!