Kaitlyn Stewart on opening a bar during Covid-19

5th February, 2021 by Owen Bellwood

Former Diageo World Class winner Kaitlyn Stewart has had a challenging time opening her new bar in Vancouver during the pandemic. But despite the struggles it has been worth the extra effort.

Kaitlyn Stewart

Kaitlyn Stewart hopes to open more venues in the future

*This feature was originally published in the October 2020 issue of The Spirits Business

In recent years, the winners of Diageo World Class have grown beyond the classic debonair style of a five‐star hotel bartender. Instead, champions have represented the eclectic personalities across the bartending community.

When Kaitlyn Stewart triumphed at “the Olympics for bartenders” in 2017, the “jeans‐ and‐t‐shirt‐kind‐of‐girl with tattoos all over” brought a “different edge” to the world’s biggest cocktail competition. “Winning was absolutely incredible, and something I will never forget,” says Stewart. “It completely changed my bartending career trajectory.”

Stewart started working in restaurants and bars as soon as she turned 19, the legal drinking age in most of Canada, in 2005. Before entering World Class, Stewart was considering a brand job but after storming to success in the competition she found she was “not quite done behind the bar”.

As such, she has just opened the doors to new venue Capo and the Spritz in Vancouver. “We’re open in the Opus, which is a boutique hotel here,” she says. “The Spritz is kind of our lounge side, which is more bar focused, and Capo is our Italian pizzeria, with a really chilled out atmosphere and vibe.”

Stewart says the two spaces work seamlessly together, with diners in Capo able to order cocktails straight from the bar at the Spritz. Cocktails on offer at the new venue focus on aperitivo‐style serves, with many drinks made using amaros, vermouth and “lots of fun stuff”.

She says: “I like to play around with my cocktail list, so there is a float on there – who doesn’t like a boozy ice cream float? And there are some fun Garibaldi and Sbagliato variations. We’ll serve lots of delicious aperitivo‐style cocktails and fantastic pizza. Who doesn’t love pizza and cocktails?”

Opening Capo and the Spritz while adapting to the post‐lockdown rules that bars must follow has piled pressure on top of the usual stresses that accompany the launch of any new venue.

“It’s been a crazy year, and I feel like you have to be optimistic and you can’t just sit and twiddle your thumbs and wait for a solution,” says Stewart. “We still have to continue to move forward and be hopeful, so that is what we’re trying to do now. If restrictions get put in place, we’re going to follow them; if things get lifted then fantastic.

“It’s adding a little extra layer of stress here and there, trying to figure out where the plexiglass will go on the bar, what our protocols are for garnishes and stuff like that. Creating a menu, training staff, doing all the purchasing, pricing cocktails and all that is already a lot of work to begin with, but then when you add the other elements on top of that, I’ve got a few extra grey hairs.”

Kaitlyn Stewart

Feeling the squeeze: Stewart

SAFE ENVIRONMENT

Opening Capo and the Spritz in 2020 was always on the cards for Stewart, and she says the project has focused on creating the safest and most hospitable environment for drinkers in Vancouver. She is keen to offer guests the “best hospitality possible within the parameters of face shields, face masks and everything in between”.

Stewart says: “We had the space and had been putting the money into it so we could create an atmosphere and an environment where people feel safe. This is going to be an establishment that when you go out for a nice dinner or a cocktail you can come and feel safe and want to come back again.”

Alongside her work to develop menus, train staff and finalise details for the opening of Capo and the Spritz, Stewart also found herself launching the Likeable Cocktails Instagram account and Youtube channel amid the coronavirus pandemic. The platform aims to teach drinkers how to create craft cocktails at home.

The Brio Float

The Brio Float

“When I started bartending I had been going to school in Toronto for film,” she says. “It’s been kind of nice to go back to the roots of when I was doing that and was either in front of the camera or behind the camera. It is fun to bring it all together, all the little passions that I’ve had in my life.”

The video series has included posts on how to make a reimagined Cosmopolitan and a Sangria‐infused twist on the Whisky Sour. It was inspired by the messages Stewart was receiving from her regular customers, saying “I could really go for one of your cocktails now”. Since launching, Stewart has used the platform to not only educate consumers about different recipes, but also showcase basic techniques like making simple syrup or using egg white in cocktails.

“It was about trying to show that we could make some cocktails together and then when this pandemic starts to lift and restrictions begin to lift, people could come sit at my bar and I’ll make them the real fun stuff,” she says. “They could then tell me all about their experiences with the cocktails that they were trying to make at home.”

With award wins under her belt, Stewart has joined the ranks of Canadian bartenders flying the flag for the talent behind the stick across the country. “We have some killer bartenders up here in the north,” she says. And, the rest of the world appears to be taking note, as Stewart was nominated for International Bartender of the Year at Tales of the Cocktail’s 2020 Spirited Awards, with fellow Canadian Kelsey Ramage winning the accolade.

Stewart says: “Kelsey and I worked together back in the day at a restaurant here in Vancouver. We have a great relationship and a great friendship, so of course she’s like the first person I text to say ‘dude, this is so cool’. Kelsey has done an amazing job with Trash Tiki, and she’s done an incredible job at making a name for herself and continuing to push boundaries.”

While the dust has settles following opening night at Capo and the Spritz, Stewart has ambitions for the future that extend beyond “eating a lot of pizza for the next 12 months”.

She says: “I’m 34 and yes that’s still young but you start to get the bartender arm. I would love to open up some more venues and maybe have my own little cocktail space, if the world allows that. But it’s difficult to even think about tomorrow, let alone about two or three years down the line. I’d like to keep going, keep motivating, keep learning and keep soaking up everything that I can and hopefully get back to travelling and teaching other people some stuff that I’ve learned along the way.”

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