2020 Bartender of the Year: Katie Ingram

Katie Ingram is belting out standards.

2020 Bartender of the Year: Katie Ingram

Elisa, 1109 Hamilton St.

Here’s the elevator pitch for a surefire hit Broadway musical. Our star, plucky young ingenue Katie, leaves her dead-end small town on a whim, with nothing but a hope and a prayer to go on. She falls into a job at a storied watering hole where the fellas do the bartending and the gals wait on tables. But our hero has dreams—she hangs around the drink makers, soaking up their knowledge and, full of confidence, enters the big drink competition… and falls flat on her face. She’s picked up by a sage veteran, a woman who knows the challenges of being female in a male-dominated industry and who does mixology Mr. Miyagi on young Katie. Katie trains and learns like a woman possessed, and next year, when she enters the same drink competition, she wins the whole thing. The frame shifts to several years into the future and we see Katie, now a star bartender managing her own place, taking a young ingenue under her wing…

The kicker? Not only is it a true story, but Katie, a theatre studies grad from York University, also plays herself! Well, it’s more inspired by true events. There is a real Katie—Katie Ingram—and she is a musical theatre grad. The “small town” was Toronto (the dead-end part is up for debate), and she was tagging along with a pal who was following a boy. She did land at the Lamplighter as a server, but the Donnelly gang—Trevor Kallies, Je Billick, Jay Jones, Miles Sellyn—were actually pretty supportive. And she did enter the Dish ’n Dazzle competition with no bartending experience, did not do well the first go-round, and was hired by former BOTY Lauren Mote at Uva, who did mentor her to winning that same competition the next year—with less than a year of real bartending experience under her belt.

The problem with the Hollywood treatment is that it lacks a bit of finesse and a lot of the grind of the real story. The sleeping in Walmart parking lots on the way to Vancouver. The crushing weight of impostor syndrome both at Uva and, later, in the top job at the famed bar at L’Abattoir—notwithstanding she was killing at the competitions (Jameson Barrelman, Knob Creek Whiskey Cup) and had an easygoing professionalism that endeared her to customers like few others. But throughout it all, Ingram steadied herself with a voracious appetite for learning: first classic drinks, then wine, then pairings with food: if there was info to be gleaned on a topic that touched bartending, she was reading it.

All of which prepared her for the moment when the biggest of the big breaks came: the Toptable Group was opening a cost-is-almost-no-object steakhouse, and they needed a head bartender to not just tread the boards but also design the bar, design the program and staff with a team that would be up to the exacting standards of a restaurant the Aquilini family were naming after their grandmother. As anyone who’s been able to score a seat at Elisa’s perpetually packed bar knows, the ingenue-no-more once again absolutely killed. So come to the stage and take a bow, Katie Ingram. You’re our Bartender of the Year.

Katie’s Choice

Your favourite drink:

I love margaritas, and they inspired the incandescent (find the recipe here).

The bottle from B.C. you bring your American friends:

Dubonnet—in Canada we have the European formula, whereas the U.S. has their own, less bitter take. Ours is better.

Your beer bar hack:

The Miller High Life that comes in bottles is the American formula—in cans, it’s the inferior Canadian version. We have bottles at Elisa.

The one bottle you always have in your house:

Don Julio Blanco Tequila.

The bottle you would line up for:

First of all, I have never nor would I ever wait in line at the Spirits Release. However, I always look forward to the Canadian whisky coming from Gooderham and Worts. The Canadian whisky category is growing, and Dr. Don always manages to keep the team ahead of the curve.