It has taken Monday publisher Ruby Della Siega and I some time to arrange a sitdown at Little Jumbo Restaurant and Bar, but here we are finally, with bar manager Kyle Guilfoyle.
We’ve walked down the hallway of a heritage building on lower Fort Street where Little Jumbo sits, surrounded by brick and brass. Not only are we well aware of this trendy night spot’s reputation as one of the go-to places in Victoria for cocktails, we feel like we’re in the presence of local royalty, at least in the bartending business.
Not only is Kyle part of a six-member bar team that collaborates on the the beverage menu at Little Jumbo, he’s known as the co-founder of the Nimble Bar Company, which helps bartenders and food and beverage managers locally and from far afield take their game to the next level.
Today, however, we’re talking about Little Jumbo.
From an eight-option specialty cocktail menu Kyle characterizes as focusing on “timeless principles” and the “DNA of classic cocktails,” I choose the Daisy Sombria. It’s a complex Mezcal-based concoction that blends the fruity bitterness of Campari liqueur with fresh lime and agave – and to get your senses working in high gear, a glass rimmed with salt and toasted rosemary.
“It’s like what would happen if Mezcal and Campari met, fell in love, then fell into a burning rosemary bush,” our host jokes.
Ruby chooses the Fury Swipes, notable upon first inspection by the sweet red stripes running down the side of the glass. She finds this combination of Tiger Tail Gin, Lonely Lion Vermouth and Kuma Bitters a perfect way to warm up your insides on a cool evening.
A chalkboard on the side of the restaurant suggests to patrons that if they can’t decide on a particular bar specialty cocktail, why not try one of the classics: Negroni, Tom Collins, Sidecar, Whiskey Sour or an Old Fashioned.
In general, Kyle says, “we try to get rid of complexity wherever we can – we keep it simple here.”
A good example of that is the presence of a prep specialist who handles the little jobs bartenders often do between orders, cutting garnishes, stocking the supplies, etc. “That allows the bartenders to focus on our customers,” he says, which is a big part of what has made Little Jumbo the memorable place it is for the past six-plus years.
But let’s hear more from Kyle:
Your claim to fame/best up-the-sleeve trick or technique? I doubt that I’m famous, but I can tell you I’m most proud of co-founding the Nimble Bar School. We help bartenders from around the world learn how to level up their skills to a high-performance level, and help them and their establishments become more profitable. For a trick or technique, I use a suite of techniques that we’ve dubbed ‘functional flair.’ We teach these as individual movements that bartenders can incorporate into their own methodology to add panache and style, without losing speed.
What’s hot right now? I tend to be kind of oblivious to trends, and that’s because I’m more interested in what’s timeless. After doing this for a decade, I think what’s hot is being able to make a classic cocktail that approaches perfection. Simple riffs on classics are fun, too.
What traits make a good bartender? A thirst (no pun intended) to continuously learn and grow, good energy, personable demeanor, level-headedness (which I admittedly struggle with from time to time), and they check their ego at the door.
What’s your signature drink? The Whole Spectrum – Islay Scotch, Cynar, Campari, dash of lemon juice, pinch of salt, and stone fruit bitters.
What are you drinking these days? Mezcal negroni.
Best memory from behind the bar? Blindfolded cocktail competitions with my partner, Nate, during service on a weekend night. Everyone gets really into it…and it’s hilarious.
Little Jumbo Restaurant and Bar, 506 Fort St.
Previous Behind Bars instalments:
Learning about the versatility and nuanced flavours of sake — E:Né Raw Food and Sake Bar
Cocktails from fresh and approachable to spirit forward — Clive’s Classic Lounge
Waterfront bar will Lure you in — Lure Restaurant and Bar/Delta Ocean Pointe Resort by Marriott
Variety the name of the game at The Churchill — The Churchill Pub