September 7, 2016

Meet the Maker: Q&A with Holly Caverly, head bartender at lbs

Get to know lbs head bartender, Holly Caverly, as she shares her stories behind the bar. —Karen Kwan

holly caverly

How long have you been bartending? Tell me a little about your bartending career.

I've been bartending for a little over eight years, but it only really became a career four years ago when I started bartending at Momofuku Nikai. After that I moved on to Bar Isabel, which had been my dream job since the day it opened; it was spectacular. Very happily now, I am here at lbs.

What drew you to join the team at lbs?

I had the pleasure of working with lbs owner Jonathan Gonsenhauser at Momofuku and I can honestly say I wouldn't be the bartender I am today without that experience. He has fine-tuned the art of pushing people to be their best, even if they don't realize it's happening.

Any milestones or awards or top highlights in your bartending career?

In 2014 I had the honour of participating in the cocktail apprenticeship program in NOLA at Tales of a Cocktail.

tales of the cocktail

What has inspired your career, be it a person, place, or thing?

I've tested the waters in a few careers, including fashion consulting, baking and FX makeup for film and television, but through it all the only constant thing was bartending. I always loved it and missed it when I was doing something else. One day I just realized this is what I want to be doing, and embraced it.

Best bartending advice you've ever received?

“You are your own brand’ is the best piece of advice I've ever received. As in any career, your reputation will precede you. It is important to remember to represent yourself well even when you may have had one too many drinks.

Strangest request from a customer?

I regularly get requests to make a cocktail a guest has had before somewhere, but they don't know the name or any of the ingredients or where they had it. It's equally flattering and silly.

If you were a cocktail ingredient, you'd be—?

I'd say gin, flowery and herbal, strong and bold, but not for everybody. With all its botanicals, gin can be very bossy in a cocktail, I can relate to that.


At the end of the night, what drink do you make or pour yourself?

Most often a Negroni. It's a bitter sweet classic and the perfect way to wind down after work.

Person you'd most like to see grabbing a seat at your bar?

Good friends! Most of my friends are in the industry so it's always nice to get feedback from someone you trust, and who wouldn't want to work with all their best friends around?

Your bartending pump-up song?

KC and The Sunshine Band’s “Boogie Shoes.” That song gets me in the groove, it's so cheerful and energetic.

Coolest ingredient you're playing with currently?

Agar agar, which can be used to clarify juices to give them a crystal clear appearance.

agar jelly

What's your secret bartending weapon?

Knowledge. It is so important as a bartender to read, research and know everything you can about the products and tools you are working with. The more knowledge you have the more comfortable you are talking to guests, working with guests. 

What’s your signature cocktail move?

When developing cocktails for a menu, I always focus on seasonal ingredients that pair well with the food. A really great reference that I have at every bar is the flavour bible.

Anything that surprises people about you as a bartender?

Mainly the variety of other careers I have checked out on my way to getting here.

Any tip for enjoying a meal at lbs?

Get the poutine and share it with your neighbour. The lobster gravy is to die for, I would eat it with a spoon if I could get away with it.

lbs poutine

Coolest thing about your job.

We have freedom to experiment with whatever we like. Jonathan supports us in exploring new trends in the cocktail scene which I love. Right now we are playing with bottled cocktails and draft cocktails.

Tell us the story behind one of your cocktails.

The Ontario Northland Railway cocktail is named for the Canadian Railway company established in 1902. For over 100 years, it operated a North South Passenger route from Toronto to Cochrane. My father worked for the railroad and growing up I spent a fair bit of time around trains. They are so romantic and magical in my mind, I wanted to create a cocktail inspired by the trains. The cocktail is an expression of the way you feel looking out the window past the red crushed velvet curtains as the world flies by.

To learn how to make Caverly's signature cocktail, click here.

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