This is Amber Bruce, from Vancouver, a managing partner at The Keefer Bar.
Amber is 34 years old and grew up in Surrey, about half an hour south of Vancouver. She has a degree in Architecture and has now been working in hospitality for 16 years.
She started off as a dishwasher in a Cactus Club, did that while she was in school, and worked her way up through all the different positions in the front of the house. Back when she graduated from UBC, she felt a little bit burnt out from school and decided to bartend for a while and to see how far she could go with it. As it turns out, she’s still on that journey today.
What got her into cocktail bartending was one of her regular clients while she was working in a casual fine dining chain. He had a job opening at the place he managed and suggested that she applied for the position. Amber was looking for something a little bit more challenging so she applied and got a bartending position at the Irish Heather, where she started to learn a lot about whiskies and great points of service end. It was while she worked there that she started to take bartending classes with a guy named H who was doing Bartending School Sundays. Eventually, Amber became H’s right-hand lady at Cuchillo, where she would end up working for four years and leaving as the bar manager. Then one thing led to another and Amber was offered to join the team at The Keefer Bar. She was back bartending again for a couple of years, then took on the bar manager role, and became managing partner somewhere along the way.
More than a very talented bartender who also manages one of Canada’s best bars, Amber is a staple amongst Vancouver’s bar community. She volunteers for the Canadian Bartending Association, helped out with the Bartending Benevolent Fund when they started and tries to stay involved with the local community. The Keefer Bar is located in Chinatown, where local businesses try to support each other’s businesses around the block. This part of town is also part of the Downtown Eastside, which is a hard-hit area for people of lower income. Through the pandemic, The Keefer Bar has started an initiative in the Keefer Yard called mini-golf for charity, where guests pay 10$ to play a game (and oh boy Vancouver people love golfing!) and all the money goes to a charity that rotates every two weeks.
Like most of us during this pandemic, Amber had to reinvent herself and her space to continually adapt, which led to the creation of the Keefer Yard, a huge outside patio next to the iconic bar that can host guests in a safely manner, as well as cocktail kits, take-outs, online cocktail classes, and more. Our whole industry has been adapting all the time and she wants to see that energy keep going, and the hospitality industry as a whole realizing its force and keep pushing the boundaries to create better spaces to dine in.
A little bit more about Amber...
A book that particularly inspired her: The Joy of Mixology, by Gaz Reagan.
Her advice to younger bartenders: Learn the classics, learn the bones and the skeleton of how cocktails go together, taste everything you can and keep the ego at bay. Nobody cares about your shitty attitude, so just be cool. Be a cool person, be welcoming and chill out.
The biggest lesson that working in hospitality taught you: Something she learnt from an experienced colleague on her first St-Patrick’s Day at the Irish Heather: you can only go as fast as the pints go. You can’t force this and you can’t rush these pints. You’re one person, one brain, two hands and you’re gonna go as fast as you can and it’s gonna be ok. Keeping that with her in all kinds of craziness has been a really good mantra.