Bottled Up! with Souhail Rostainajad

Souhail Rostainajad. Chris Giannakos photo

Souhail Rostainajad is a new kid on the Gastown block, and he has properly landed in one of Vancouver’s most established bars, Pourhouse, where he is working under industry leader, bar manager Adam Domet and alongside a solid bar team of high fliers—a surefire way to plant some root and stock in the Vancouver bar industry. It’s a fitting place to land in particular because it is the conceptual starting point of the infamous Restaurant Rumble, and Souhail trains in martial arts… he’s got a competitive streak and an eye for assiduousness, so if we don’t see him training for Aprons for Gloves this year, we are hoping to see him sharpen his skills at this year’s Barate Kid!

Laura: OK. Hello Souhail! Tell me about what is going on in your world these days?

Souhail: Leaving the country for a week to have all the tequila and tacos in Jalisco. Hahaha! Nothing else is on my mind right now!

L: Fair! So you started in the industry in Guelph, Ontario before moving to Langley, and now Vancouver. What are the differences in bar culture that you’ve noticed between Ontario and BC?

S: I don’t know if I can actually talk about the difference in cocktail culture between the two cities since I starting working in a pub that focused mostly on beers in Guelph. But while in Vancouver, I can definitely tell you the culture here is very welcoming. We have a very talented but humble group of individuals who are succeeding at such elite levels on the local and global stages.

L: You started out your BC adventure at Milestones in Langley. How did this experience add to your growth and get you to where you’re at now, tending bar at Pourhouse, one of Vancouver’s most established cocktail bars?

S: Milestones gave me the chance to get behind the wood, this is where I found my home. Once I realized this bartending thing was more than a job but a passion, I began reading every cocktail book I could get my hands on, I would watch hours of videos on Facebook and YouTube, and I built relationships with talented bartenders outside of work which allowed me to create a community of like-minded individuals with whom I could learn and discuss. Eventually, I reached the point where I was comfortable enough to make my transition from a small-town bartender to a big city bartender.

I am still in awe with the fact that I tend bar with such talented individuals at Pourhouse.

L: Yes, some of the greats are there for sure! What was it like for you to break into the scene here though? Any sage advice to others who are looking to work their way in?

S: It was terrifying, hahah It took me over two years to gather the courage to make the move. But it is definitely one of the best decisions of my life.

I don’t know if I have been here long enough to give sage advice, but what really worked for me was research. I went and sat at numerous bars across the city and talked to the bartenders and bar managers and asked them how they liked working at their establishment, and how they got to where they are. I learned about the industry while also forming new connections. When I did find a place that was right for me, I went into each shift with an open mind, asking questions, and trying to absorb every bit of information I could. Don’t have an ego. Learn something new everyday.

L: That sounds pretty sage to me. Do you (or did you ever) have a mentor?

S: Craig Robertson was my bar manager when I made the move to Vancouver, and he had a huge influence on my success in the city.  I learned a lot while working with him. He allowed me a lot of creative freedom, and opened many doors introducing me to other bartenders and inviting me to various events and seminars in the city.

One thing I really appreciate about Vancouver, as mentioned before, is the fact that bartenders here are very welcoming. I have had bartenders from different walks of life offer advice, and assistance in my progressing to be better bartender and person.

L: The best mentors are the ones who empower, for sure! Speaking of empowering…you used to train in Muay Thai kickboxing, and you’ve taken up classic boxing here in Vancouver. How does this mesh with your job in the hospitality industry, and can we expect to see you at the infamous AFG Restaurant Rumble next year?

S: Martial arts have always been an outlet for me. It has pushed me to work hard, trainer harder, and work towards goals. Now, working within the hospitality, a martial art keeps me honest. It encourages proper sleep schedule, a healthy diet, and increases my desire to work out and be healthy.

I have a lot of respect for AFG, if I muster up the courage, I will consider it!

Souhail Rostainajad. Chris Giannakos photo

L: Which bars have become your go-to since moving to Vancouver?

S: If not the Pourhouse, I would say Diamond, Botanist, and Royal Dinette. I enjoy having great cocktails made by talented company with whom I can have discussions and share ideas.

L: You’ve got some pretty solid bar competition experience, and a few wins under your belt. What is it you like about competing, and do you have a particularly favourite competition event?

S: I am a very competitive person, and these events really allow each bartender to showcase their skills and talents. Even with how competitive we are, there is a great deal of love and camaraderie between all the bartenders. We are always encouraging and learning from one and other.

The Jameson Homecoming- Farm to glass competition was one of the best experiences of my life. After winning the regional competition, I got a chance to go to Ireland and compete against people from all over the world. 120 different bartenders travelled to Dublin to represent their countries. We basically ate so much good food, drank Jamesons and Irish beer and travelled all around Dublin and Cork. I came home with friends from every corner of the world.

L: What’s your guilty pleasure drink?

S: An ice cold can of Canadian.

L: You mentioned you have a particular inclination towards making sure the drink you’re drinking is matched perfectly to your circumstances. Can you tell me more about that? What is it that makes a drink right for the moment?

S: This is kind of weird, but I see flavours in colours. So for me, blue coloured flavours should go together with blue or green or cooler colours, and red colours should go with warmer red, amber or warmer colours. When making cocktails I try to create drinks with a certain colour in mind and adding complimentary colours to it. It’s basically like pairing wine with food, and I feel each aspect of my day can be paired with a certain drink. It’s a feeling. Based on how I am feeling, I will pair different colours and drinks accordingly.

L: Any bartending competitions or fun events coming up that we can expect to see you at?

S: I am hoping to be part of Science of Cocktails again this year. But competition wise, I think I am going to take it easy for the next little bit. With that being said, Barate Kid is right around the corner. So we will see…

L: I’m going to choose to interpret that as SEE YOU AT BARATE KID! Thanks for participating, Souhail!


Souhail Rostainajad. Chris Giannakos photo

SHOTGUN ANSWERS

Dog or cat? Dogs

Negroni or Boulevardier? Both

Most overhyped bar trend? Negroni riffs

Most despised bar term? Mixology, or when a guest asks to “make it good for me”

Most underutilized spirit? Scotch, I love scotch cocktails, but scotch is so expensive now that it can be hard to use in a cocktail where the price point makes sense.

First drink you ever had? Appleton Rum and rootbeer

Pinot or Cabernet? Cabs

Go-to hangover cure? Tequila and a lager

High school prom song? Hero – Enrique Iglesias

THC or CBD? Neither, I’m not that cool. Haha

Thanks for your time Souhail!

—by Laura Starr

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