Bartender of the Year 2008

David Wolowidnyk is a nerd. Not in the pejorative pocket-protector sense, but in his rare dedication to his craft. It is unflinching and absolute. The curly haired bar manager of West, now in his fourth year at the award-winning South Granville restaurant, takes the art of mixology so seriously that when he isn’t triaging the drink orders that incessantly chit-chit-chit from the bar printer, he can be found straining, training, misting, measuring, tasting, and experimenting like a counterside da Vinci. It’s not just that his knowledge of booze is encyclopedic. His palate borders on the extra-sensory; his sixth sense for what his guests are looking for, extraordinary.

I once asked him for something interesting with a little gin and citrus: he started by pressing fresh grapefruit, lemon, and blood orange before adding 2 ounces of Plymouth gin, 1/4 ounces of Campari, 1/2 ounces of syrup made from an agave plant, and 1/2 ounces of an obscure Bolognese liqueur. To this mix he added an egg white and 1/2 ounces of jasmine green-tea syrup. After a solid shake, he strained the dark pink result neat into a tall Collins glass and then spritzed some Grand Marnier from an atomizer on the top froth, lighting it with a miniature blowtorch while the alcoholic mist was in midair. “Do you have a name for this?” I asked. “No,” the alchemist replied, “but we should make one up.” It was fabulous.

Personality counts, too. When we judge bartenders, we also look at his or her demeanour on the “wood,”: how they interact with their guests. Watch Wolowidnyk sail through a Saturday-night rush and you’ll see an all-smiles octopus making the most complicated but sublime drinks while entertaining the 10 seats that mark his personal domain. He’s having fun, and it shows. In a restaurant known for the wonders that come from the kitchen, his bar naturally takes a back seat. Wolowidnyk could be a star anywhere, but loyalty is a test he seemingly never had to take. No stranger to offers from the occasional restaurateur on the make, he entertains none of them. West is his home, and they, like us, should be very glad of it.

2881 Granville St., 604-738-8938