Cocktails with David Wolowidnyk

I used to think of cocktails as "girly drinks," fruity, sugar-loaded concoctions that required the addition of up to half a glass of water just to make the sweetness palatable. But over the years I've come to appreciate the art of a true cocktail - a drink often containing only a few ingredients, yet alive with layers of flavour that can be appreciated by people of either gender. 

So I was thrilled when David Wolowidnyk, the bar manager at West Restaurant, invited me down for drinks and a short interview during my visit to Vancouver. David has mixed drinks for over two decades at bars across Vancouver and The Grand Cayman Islands and won many awards, including Bombay Sapphire's title of World's Most Original Bartender in 2012. 

When David makes a cocktail it's both a science and an art. During my visit, he spoke of genetic pairings for flavours in his cocktails, chatted with a fellow bartender about methods for making the clearest ice and patiently explained how and why he put together each drink he served me. Just watching David work is a treat. His hands move with grace and certainty as he measures, pours and shakes. And despite his years of experience and many accolades, his service remains casual and free of pretension. 
Enjoying an Old Fashioned with David across the bar

What drew you to the Vancouver bar scene and how did you get into it?
It wasn't the bar scene that drew me to Vancouver, this place has been my home for most of my life. I just happened to find a profession that I really like, and Vancouver was a great place to help foster and develop my passions. 

Tell me a bit about your time in The Grand Cayman Islands.
Grand Cayman was a very memorable 5 years, and helped me appreciate a slower pace of life (island time). Rum was always around and I was fortunate to taste many.

What is the best thing about your job? The worst?
The best thing about my "job" is that it doesn't often seem like work, because it is something that I truly enjoy. The worst part about it is that it consumes far more time than anyone can imagine, and can sometimes cut into valuable family time.

You have an impressive list of awards. How has that acclaim changed things for you?
The list of accomplishments hasn't changed me, it has only made me busier and keeps the candle burning from both ends.

What/who are some of your strongest mixology influences?
Kazuo Uyeda, Stanislav Vadrna, Dave Arnold, Harold Mcgee. 

What should a customer look for in a great bar?
A great overall experience, without arrogance or pretension.

While David is big on customizing his recommendations to the customer's preferences, if you're interested, here are the drinks he mixed for me: Cinco Fresca, a watermelon cocktail with a kick of spice he's created for a book launch; Kakkoii, one of his signature gin cocktails, complex in taste but simple in ingredients; an Old Fashioned, this one lets the bourbon do the talking with spice and fruit flavours taking a backseat; and the West 75, a bright, citrusy sparkling wine cocktail. David chose to make these drinks for me after I told him, "I like pretty much everything, but I love gin and Old Fashioneds."

If you're in Vancouver and have a chance to stop in for one of David's cocktails, you will not be disappointed. After an afternoon of great conversation and amazing drinks, I stumbled away with a smile on my face.

PS. If you'd like to watch a quick video of David mixing me a Kakkoii, head over to my Instagram @fullbellywornsoles.