"Even if you're the best bartender in the world, if you're a shitty human, no one wants to sit at your bar," says Evelyn Chick, frankly, over the phone from Toronto. The decorated bartender and boss behind Pretty Ugly (a "chill Parkdale gem" that was recently named number four on Canada's 100 Best Bars list) is gearing up to head to Halifax for Drink Atlantic (presented by The Coast, if you didn't know) where she'll share her expertise at industry seminars on cooperative, safe workplaces and booze-less cocktails.
From the drinks she makes to the atmosphere she fosters, Chick's end goal is making sure every person in her bar feels supported, comfortable and heard. ("We have a ton of female clientele come in to Pretty Ugly alone because they feel safe in that space," she says.) A groundbreaker, boundary-pusher and inspired leader, her creativity behind the bar goes well beyond flavour profiles and garnish. Take Pretty Ugly's placebo cocktail menu—a much better name for a mocktail—for instance.
"It all stems from wanting to make the space really inclusive. A lot of bars are missing that, so we created a menu that's not only for people for who are nerdy about cocktails but anyone who comes in," says Chick, who plays with texture and complexity to create non-alcoholic drinks with depth. "Why should someone who isn't imbibing sacrifice the experience? It's also stigmatizing when you order a mocktail."
She says keeping inclusivity top of mind makes her bar strive to be better—it's not just a watering hole where people get drunk. Providing that supportive culture isn't a stretch for Chick, who's inadvertently become a mentor for women in the industry, working with Speed Rack (a female-only cocktail competition) and alongside bartender Christina Veira (a fellow Drink Atlantic presenter) to help push women further in a fairly dude-dominated industry.
"Uplifting the female bartending community is something I didn't know I was doing, but now I have the responsibility to really be listening and really find out what the the issues the community faces are. I'm socially responsible to make sure everyone's voices get heard," she says. "I think it's just opening the line of communication and getting people talking is a great start."
This weekend, she and Veira will dig into the importance of having real conversations about the realities of the bar biz via Cultural Mise-en-Place, a seminar on building a progressive hospitality community.
"Christina and I—we just really need people to be woke," says Chick with a laugh. "Everyone can hone in on their craft—yes it's your job, yes it's your career—but you are still just people. You need to be good, functioning people in society."