Chad Rivard is a quiet staple in the Vancouver bar scene, having advanced through the ranks of some stellar establishments, including the Acorn, the Shameful Tiki Room, and Odd Society Spirits Distillery. ‘Quiet’ no longer fits the bill though, as he recently rolled out a series of pop up bars called The Headroom (with Rhett Williams and Chris Kelley) which transform local bar venues into temporary 80s neon-dream scenes, complete with blue drinks, throw back decor, and amazingly sensational attire. On top of it all, he’s in the process of designing the bar program for the soon-to-open Straight & Marrow. Keep your ear to the ground, and don’t miss the next Headroom event, scheduled for the end of this month, with a theme to end all themes!
*Since this interview was had, and in light of the COVID-19 health advisories, the Headroom has postponed their next event until further notice. We have kept the interview as is, and look forward to updating you with notice of their next event!
Laura: Hi Chad! Tell me about what is going on in your world these days?
Chad: Hey! Some very exciting things… I’m currently finishing up my time as bar manager and ambassador at Odd Society Spirits Distillery. We’re planning our fifth 80s cocktail pop up for The Headroom (I’ll tell you all about it). I’m also designing a new bar and program for the soon to be opened Straight & Marrow restaurant. My good friend (and talented chef) Chris Lam has taken over the space at Powell and Victoria where the Bistro Wagon Rouge used to be. You can find me tending bar there this spring.
L: You’ve been in the Vancouver bar industry for a long time. What was your progression like, and how did each establishment contribute to your experience as a bartender/manager?
C: First of all, moving here from Edmonton, meeting people in hospitality, and being supported and recommended was fantastic. I’ve been fortunate to work at some really groundbreaking places in my opinion. Each spot offered something to learn for me. I helped re-invent the bar at The Acorn as they weren’t doing a full-on classic cocktail program before myself and Dylan Williams arrived. I can’t rave enough about their amazing food, and how Shira and her team arm the staff with knowledge about the things they serve and the places they source from. Eventually, I moved on to The Shameful Tiki Room. Tiki is so many things. To sum it up it really was pop-culture for a long time. I fell in love with it and learned an entire new style of classic bartending. Eventually, being promoted to general manager, I definitely learned what I was made of in that role. Wearing so many hats, overseeing an insanely busy operation and being part of such a success was really rewarding. My most recent gig at Odd Society Spirits armed me with even more knowledge. I learned the ins and outs of spirit-making, marketing, the competitive side of this industry, and seen the difference between “big corporate” and “family run.” Best of all, for my creative side, I constantly created new drinks. Odd Society only makes so many products, so experimenting with making new syrups, shrubs, infusions, and tinctures was a blast. Now I feel armed, ready, and excited to open a new bar with people I believe in.
L: How would you describe the Vancouver bar scene? What makes it different from other cities that you’ve travelled to, or worked in?
C: Cocktail bartending is a legit trade in Vancouver, and there’s a huge pool of talent. People go out and get to sip some fantastic things all around town. A unique trait to Vancouver vs. Montreal is that Vancouver sleeps well at night. Things quiet down here in the late evening. Good for you Vancouver, you’re healthy.
L: Some argue that it’s boring… but healthy is a good perspective! What was it about making cocktails that drew you into the industry?
C: It’s fun! That’s really why I do what I do. It’s a creative outlet, it’s socially engaging. I love feeling people’s personalities out and making them smile.
L: Do you (or did you ever) have a mentor?
C: Definitely. A big shout out to Chuck Elves, who currently works at Yarrow in Edmonton. I helped him open Three Boars years ago, and we learned all about classic cocktails together—amazing times there. Here in Vancouver, Shaun Layton (of Como Taperia) really helped me along, and still does as I look to him for advice on our new restaurant project. Shea Hogan is my Tiki and efficiency mentor. Also, I look up to and learned a lot from Shira Blustein from the Acorn, Rod Moore from The Shameful Tiki Room, and Miriam Karp and Gordon Glanz from Odd Society Spirits, all who were first-time owners in hospitality when I worked with them.
L: You’ve recently been running a series of rad popup bar installations known as the Headroom (with two equally rad dudes, Rhett Williams and Chris Kelley). What sparked this initiative?
C: I’ll give Rhett some credit here. Over drinks one time, probably four years ago, he brought up the idea of opening an 80s bar. I’d never heard anyone pitch that idea before and it stuck with me. Fast forward to last summer, and I really wanted to do a project that I had some ownership over, and I could do that with a bar pop-up. I remembered Rhett’s idea, and thought, “perfect!” So I reached out and asked if he’d like to rock out to 80s music, roll up the sleeves on our blazers, and make fun drinks. Through him I met Chris Kelley, who is wildly passionate about the idea (they’d been dreaming it up for a few years) and we just decided to do it.
We’ve worked our butts off, and didn’t let any obstacles stop us, and it has been a real revelation to see the success we’ve had with The Headroom project. We each bring important elements to the table, and I can’t thank those guys enough for their dedication.
L: And many thanks to you as well! This city is benefiting from creative endeavours like this, so props to you. There seems to be success with other popup events as well…why do you think this is?
C: Pop-ups are born out of passion and involve less risk or capital than a full restaurant or bar. Also, they’re fun to attend. It’s usually a limited chance to check out what ambitious minds have shaken up. I’d foresee this trend kicking up a notch going forward… if only I could do a “cocktail truck”.
L: Oh the things we could do here without all the red tape! OK, dialing it in a bit, what’s your go-to drink?
C: If you know me, you know it’s a Negroni, or a Zombie if I can get it made properly.
L: What’s your guilty pleasure drink?
C: I feel no guilt telling you I love Long Island Iced Teas. I feel some guilt though, admitting I like Hey Y’all’s in the summer.
L: And what drink makes you cringe (to drink or to make)?
C: Anything requested with “easy” or “no ice” that is not served in a coupe.
L: The late nights are not always easy to juggle. What keeps you sane and balanced outside of work?
C: You wouldn’t know it from sitting at my bar, but I’m one of those secret-introverts. When I’m off, I need to recharge the social batteries. Chillin’ in, taking my time cooking dinner, a good book, and some personal time with my guitar is my ideal night.
L: Any fun events or competitions that we can expect to see you at in the near future?
C: The Headroom is back Thursday March 29th in the basement of Cuchillo. This one is glam rock themed and we’ll be dressing the part. If you’ve ever wanted to see me in makeup and spandex, here’s your chance. Of course, I’m also stoked for the opening of Straight & Marrow, so keep your ear to the ground.
L: Yes! I can’t wait for both. Thanks so much for your time, Chad!
Dog or cat? Cat.
Negroni or Boulevardier? Negroni (see above).
Most overhyped bar trend? “Bar professionals” with limited experience working behind a bar.
Most despised bar term? “Dry” in relation to a martini. The term itself is fine, but I find people often don’t understand why they ordered it that way.
Most underutilized spirit? Sherry.
First drink you ever had? Mike’s Hard Lemonade. I had two and was trashed.
Pinot or Cabernet? Pinot.
Go-to hangover cure? Caesar. Spicy.
High school prom song? I Will Remember You: Sarah McLachlan. Yikes.
THC or CBD? THC. But rarely.
Cheers and many thanks, Chad!
—by Laura Starr