Int. a suburb of Vancouver, Canada 1975.
– born to Canadian Dad and Jamaican Mom – poster-child of a mixed generation to come. The end of that decade is mostly blurred memories of innocent days filled with Archie comics and Hot Wheels. Older sisters began musical introductions in the grooviest way: Kool & The Gang, Gladys Knight and Barry White resonated through kidsʼ rooms, establishing since unchallenged standards of cool. Meanwhile, Mom & Dad fought back in the car, with Abba, Chet Atkins, and Anne Murray. Caught in a crossfire between soulful disco and classic contemporary, equal parts rhythm and farce. Big Bird and Mr. Rogers were standard TV chaperones of the era, but it was The Electric Company and ABC Schoolhouse Rock! which defined my toddler years. Though I had no idea of the multimedia smorgasbord to come.
So arrived the glorious 80s; forging foundations of fiction during an inimitable era for animation, comics, film, music, and video games. Early years of the decade featured my inaugural trip to the movie theatre (E.T.), followed by my first live concert (The Jackson 5 Victory Tour) – but most significantly – indoctrination to Star Wars; though not on the big screen until Return of the Jedi. Meanwhile, daily doses of small screen cartoons resounded with all the ethos I would ever need. Name that character!
“Knowing is half the battle.”
“We choose what holds us back and what moves us forward.”
“Thereʼs a thin line between being a hero and memory.”
“We are all leaves passing in the wind; here and gone. But while weʼre here, we live to the fullest!”
By the mid-80s, indolence was roused by the lure of Arcade glow. Clandestine after-school bouts of Spy Hunter, Pole Position and N.A.R.C. became the norm. While back at home, my original NES developed private devotion; rewarding with sweet victory over Bowser and Red Falcon. Weekly allowance disappeared into local comic shops for the newest issues of Daredevil: The Man Without Fear and The Uncanny X-Men. Meanwhile, a sumptuous buffet of campy action films filled my head with inclinations towards aviation (Top Gun), law enforcement (Robocop) and martial arts (Bloodsport). The awesomeness of the 80s can never be overstated in its significance, but the decade to come would be just as influential and amazing.
As high school mercifully drew to a close, college considerations loomed. Daydreaming of Roy Focker’s and Indiana Jones’s exploits had not inspired academic achievement, but I was pretty proficient at drawing the edgy heroes of my fictional world. Lucky for me, school and family indulged this talent. Art school in Seattle gave the first taste of false independence, surrounded by kindred souls from all over the world; unified by rendering skills and science fiction inspirations. Late-night movies, board games and illicit drinking led to early mornings of Jolt Cola, last minute project completions and bonds of friendship that persevere still. While illustration techniques and graphic design proficiencies expanded, I was more absorbed with the fairer gender, fresh episodes of Star Trek Voyager and beating best times at Road Rash. After three years of that, itʼs no surprise I dropped out of college and an unsustainable lifestyle. Game over, man.
So what does an introverted 20-year-old who gave up on a promising career direction in visual arts do? Apparently, he goes back home and gets a serving job. Social skills born in college quickly found purpose in a community of other people that werenʼt exactly sure what they wanted to do with their life either. Restaurants are fun, but after a little while, you reach a tipping point where escape or embrace must be chosen. I was fired from my first restaurant job. As with many young servers, Iʼd prioritized fraternizing over work. Reality bites, but my response to dismissal would unknowingly set a career in motion: I went home and watched ʻCocktailʼ. While Iʼd seen the film before, this viewing took on a significance that absolutely motivated me to Bartend. Perhaps because Brian Flanaganʼs path seemed more reasonable for me than Pete Mitchellʼs. So I dive right back into restaurants and work my way behind the Wood. Before long, I’d transformed into a fully-functional introvert, while cocktail design offered a creative outlet I never knew I needed. A surprise, to be sure, but a welcome one.
By the end of the 90s, work was fast becoming a career. Thereʼs no fate but what we make, so I set course for fine dining; the most demanding realm of hospitality. It was an inspiring time to be at the forefront of ambitious restaurants, while the advent of serious cash-in-hand led to some spectacular indulgences in recreational interests. Movie-going was constant, but collecting films became an obsession; one that thrives still.
1999 still stands as a magical year for movies: that special vintage saw the release of Fight Club, The Iron Giant, Galaxy Quest, South Park, Mystery Men, The Matrix and, of course, The Phantom Menace – the last time I would ever wait overnight in line with costumed confederates for coveted tickets. The concurrent explosion of Episode I action figures and vehicles was the catalyst to a renewed affinity for collectibles. As the cherished toys of my childhood had surreptitiously vanished, it was time to get earnest about being a grown-up collector; young memories being reinforced with fresh adult moments. Truly disposable income is a dangerous thing when instinct is to spend it all on toys and beer. Strange and wonderful to realize that I have substantially more Lego now that when I was ten.
Meanwhile, at the Legion of Booze…the first decade of this millennium brought about a resurgence of the Sommelier, but the 2010s began with a quiet cocktail renaissance and the rise of the Craft Bartender. The Winter Olympics put Vancouver on a world stage to thirsty tourists and global media, causing an ambitious Bar scene to explode. Soon I was composing and naming recipes inspired by a galaxy of characters, creatures and their worlds; lifestyle and career aligned. I traveled the world to compete in Bartending competitions and even won a few along the way.
Iʼve been in the right place at the right time to make drinks for Wolverine, Xenia Onatopp, Ethan Hunt, Qui-Gon Gin, Buckaroo Banzai, The Dude, Rick Deckard, Rey, General Zod, Secondo, Vizzini, and so many other icons of cinema, past and present. Though Iʼm not prone to being starstruck, there was that one time Harrison Ford asked to talk to me about the Vancouver craft beer scene, and I forgot words altogether. Regardless, I can confirm that fine beverages and sincere service are truly the ways to any human heart.
There is no synonym for ʻpop cultureʼ – a simple, literal term to capture so very many beautiful, life-defining things; a world of aesthetic, audible and interactive inspiration. The effects of our day-to-day environment are inescapable, though some of us choose to embrace, embody and contribute to those particular indulgences we love. We are a product of it as much as we perpetuate its value to us, and each other. We each have an intimate relationship with it, but when our journeys intersect, emotional connections breed resonance and affirmation. If something is amazing personally, to be able to share it with kindred spirits is divine. Our community grows because we love it and nurture it independently, as well as collectively. Iʼm grateful for the chance to self-indulge and share some of my pop cultural life history: the sounds, images, characters, mementos and memories that make me what I am: Product of pop culture, failed artist and obliging Bartender – three consecutive identities composing over forty years on earth – each creating a foundation for the next, and ultimately coexisting.
There is a constant which has maintained its significance over the years: regardless of life circumstance, the loving embrace of pop culture, in all its glorious iterations, has always brought me joy. This is a kind, lovely and spectacularly entertaining life; if you work hard, live with integrity and truly appreciate the little things. Perhaps your own perspective on life is not dissimilar. Fortune has crossed my path with some special souls who Iʼve tried to be good to – as well as to myself – and man have I had some fun.
Twenty-five years after I abandoned art college and stumbled into Bartending, I get to look back on a lucky life and career full of simple daily joys and some fantastic adventures. Pop culture and hospitality are inseparable; they are a lifestyle. When I get home after a long day and night at work, thereʼs nothing more sublimely satisfying than kicking back with the loves of my life (2-legged as well as 4-legged), a beer and a movie. The Force has most certainly been with me, and Iʼm honoured to share some my own inspirations with Second Union, and with you.
Jay Jones @barjonesing