Gavin MacMillan is making College Street Bar ground zero for the unfashionable, but awesome, art of flair bartending in Toronto. (And yes, the drinks are great, too.)
Cocktail: Invisible Touch
$9 at College Street Bar (574 College St.)
In the bartending world, “flair” refers to the fancy bottle-tossing and glass-juggling made famous by Tom Cruise’s boastful barkeep in 1988’s Cocktail. And to many members of the burgeoning craft bartending community, who wish to bring an understated, dignified aesthetic back to the drink-service world, it’s a dirty word. For many, a flipped bottle is the first sign of a flip attitude.
Gavin MacMillan, the new owner and bartender at College Street Bar, sees things differently.
“Flair needs to be redefined,” says the 37-year-old. “It could be as simple as the flaming of an orange peel…. I want to bridge the gap by banging out good drinks with good entertainment, and make the pretentious unpretentious.”
One recent result is his Invisible Touch cocktail (yes, it’s named after the 1986 Genesis album), with both gin and vodka. Gin has been MacMillan’s favourite spirit since he tended bar in London, England, in 2000, and the vodka is a nod to the fact that, despite the pretensions of the bourbon-loving craft community, crowd-pleasing vodka pays the bills. In fact, the Invisible Touch is a lot like a Greyhound (vodka and grapefruit juice), but more complex. A mingling of cinnamon, cardamom from the bitters, and juniper, it’s topped with a Crusta-style garnish of lemon and sugar, which transforms the drink with a fresh aroma and a touch of sweetness.
The mash-up fits at College Street Bar, which MacMillan recently purchased. He intends to morph it from its current clubby incarnation into more of a gin bar. But not exactly like his London workplace, since that was, wait for it, a T.G.I. Fridays—which is also where he learned to stop worrying and love flair.
He can juggle, but he’d rather perform more novel tricks, like his technique for the Blue Blazer cocktail, which involves streaming flaming liquor poured between two shaker tins.
Still, Cocktail is not his preferred portrayal of bartending.
“We in the flair community dislike references to Tom Cruise,” says MacMillan. “I actually watch back-to-back Cheers episodes every morning I can.”
Gavin MacMillan’s Invisible Touch:
Wyborowa vodka + Beefeater gin + Cointreau + Fresh grapefruit juice + Muddled blueberries + Repeal bitters + Lemon peel + Sugar