Fundamentalists – Cameron Brown, Bar Manager at Ballyhoo Public House
Behind Donnelly Group’s world-class cocktail program is a band of individually fascinating bartenders who train internationally and pour locally. Cameron Brown, known for his easy banter and quick hands, is one of their frontmen. Find him at Ballyhoo Public House in Vancouver, or wherever good drinks and conversation are made.
“The age of the asshole bartender is over.” – Cam Brown
Just as Cameron Brown was reaching his peak as a flair bartender back in 2011, having won several competitions and found himself ranked among the most talented professional bottle flippers in the world, the thirsty public decided it no longer wanted the talent show with its drink. It just wanted a damned good cocktail, and maybe a little friendly banter to go along with it, but you could hold the ninja tricks, thanks.
Luckily for the young drink slinger, whose resume now boasts not only some of the most illustrious cocktail haunts and popular pubs in Canada but also some of the best bars in the world, his skills as a bartender would go far beyond the ability to catch a bottle behind his head.
“I’m terrible [at flair] now – I haven’t done it in years,” says Cameron, who now holds the post of bar manager at the new Vancouver property, Ballyhoo Public House. “I try to keep mindful of my general movement behind the bar and try to move and work in a fluent manner, but I’m definitely not throwing things around these days.”
Cameron joined the Donnelly Group fam at Cinema Public House on Granville street back in 2012. It was here that he would catch the eye of Donnelly Group bar and beverage director, Trevor “TK” Kallies.
“I remember TK going through the cocktail menu and all these classic cocktails I’d never heard of, and me thinking, oh my God, I’m trash,” recalls Cameron. “I’d been bartending for a good three or four years at the time and thought I had it all figured out, but he’s telling me how I should be watching the news and the up to date on all the sporting events before I come to my shift, and how I should read the newspaper.”
But that gap in knowledge would close quickly over the next five years, as Cameron earned stripe after stripe tending and managing bars at DG properties like Cinema Public House, Granville Room and Blackbird, as well as Vancouver institutions such as Pourhouse in Gastown and Botanist in the Fairmont Pacific Rim.
When family matters drew him back to his hometown of Kelowna, he took up the jigger and shaker at a smaller, more experimental operation serving tapas and “nerdy cocktails.”
“That’s when I started really flexing little cocktails,” he says. “I was totally into that nerdy, sciency stuff like making my own infusions and ingredients and all that.”
And after a year getting geeky in the BC interior, Cameron took his busy hands to Southeast Asia where he explored the rich cultures while picking up several ‘stage’ shifts at international cocktail destinations, including 28 Hong Kong Street in Singapore, at the time ranked among the top ten bars in the world, and similar venues in Saigon, Vietnam, and Bangkok, Thailand.
It was really interesting to see how different things are on the other side of the world, from palates to products to techniques,” says Cameron. “It was also amazing to see how welcoming and excited the bar communities were to have someone from Canada in their cities and bars.”
Following his travels, Cameron would eventually land back in Vancouver, taking up the challenge of helping get Botanist in the Fairmont Pacific Rim up and running before stealing back to Donnelly Group and taking the reins at Clough Club and, eventually, at Ballyhoo Public House.
Meanwhile, the professional development continues, says Cameron, who today works alongside TK and the bar and beverage management team to steer the company’s cocktail program, which extends across over a dozen bars and restaurants in Vancouver and Toronto.
“We do our best to keep up like our finger on the pulse of what’s going on in the cocktail community, and not just in BC, Canada, but globally,” he says. “And think that really comes through in our cocktail program. We keep it pretty interesting and pretty approachable as well. I would put our program up against most bars across the world because that’s where we look for inspiration, and that’s the standard we hold ourselves to.”
2019 marks the sixth year in a row that Cameron has made the pilgrimage with other DG bartenders down to Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans, one of the largest gatherings of bartending talent in the world, and the fourth year he’s been a part of the event’s ongoing international mentorship Cocktail Apprentice Program (CAP).
Cameron also sits alongside TK on the board for the Canadian Professional Bartenders Association as well as on the board for Science of the Cocktail, a local charity event that turns Vancouver’s Science World into the largest cocktail laboratory every February.
So, what does this mean for guests of Donnelly Group pubs, like Ballyhoo Public House where Cameron currently hangs his bottle opener? It means that guest will enjoy world-class cocktails—cocktails like Mr. Brightside, a blend of ginger and turmeric juices pressed in-house with a base of Ungava Gin, a unique, yellow-hued spirit distilled with the cold-weather botanicals of Northern Canada—made by the best hands in the business, using fresh and local ingredients to deliver an elevated yet unpretentious experience that’s at once familiar and delightful.
If the bottles happen to take make a few flips and twirls while that drink comes together, well that’s OK too.