This is Jeff Van Horne, from Halifax.
Jeff is 35 years old, lived most of his life in Dartmouth and is the proud father of three young kids. When he was younger, he was heavily involved in canoeing and kayaking. He was even on the national team for a couple of years. Jeff went to university first in engineering, then in kinesiology and eventually started bartending as a way to step outside of the small bubble of kayaking and canoeing. He is now the co-owner of a bar catering and consulting business called Clever Barkeep and of Dear Friend, a recently opened bar in Dartmouth.
Jeff started bartending in Halifax in 2007 and was part of the very first bartenders to bring the cocktail scene to life in this city. Being naturally shy, as soon as he got behind the bar he needed for his confidence to know what the bottles were, how to make the cocktails and understand what was going on in order to interact with his guests. Eventually, he took a trip to New York, stumbled upon some cocktail bars and was really impressed. When he came back, he went down the rabbit whole reading about classics and trying to perfect them. He would do most of his experiments at home, journaling his trial and errors, and would try to bring what he discovered to his customers.
He worked at a few different places in Halifax before he realized that he wanted to open his own business, but he had just finished the opening of Lot Six Bar, was extremely tired and was not even sure that he still wanted to continue working in bars. He took a little bit of time to work in kitchens and explore different facets of the industry. At that time, many people were asking him to bartend for weddings and private events and he came to realize that there was a hole in the market for this type of services. He sat long with his now business partner Matt Boyle and they decided to give a chance at filling that hole by creating Clever Barkeep, the first company of its type in Nova Scotia. They communicated with similar businesses in other regions to seek for advice and launched their first company. Needless to say, it was a success. The business grew so much that eventually they needed a space to use as the headquarters of the company. That space, that was originally supposed to be used to prep and host events, evolved to become a fully operational bar called Dear Friend that opened last July in the midst of covid-19.
Jeff has always been very involved in the Halifax cocktail community. Since he never had a mentor himself, he has mentored many bartenders in the city and continues to make himself available to help and train younger bartenders that want to learn about the trade. Since the very debuts of his career, he has worked towards bringing attention to Halifax’s cocktail scene and continues to do so. He was referred as an inspiration by many cocktail professionals we have met in Halifax and has managed to build, along with his partner Matt Boyle, an amazing bar team that is extremely strong and talented, but mostly, that chose to work for him and Matt because they are such respectful and respected bar owners. Dear Friend is definitely a gem of a bar and we highly recommend you cross the bridge over to Dartmouth to discover their amazing team and all the deliciousness they have to offer.
A little bit more about Jeff...
The three words that describe him best: dedicated – thoughtful – quiet
The first drink that made him fall in love with cocktails: Last Word. Maraschino was the ingredient that he saw in all these recipes and he needed to get a bottle of it but he just couldn’t because there was none in Nova Scotia. When he went to NYC, he brought a bottle back and made a Martinez, Aviation, Casino, etc. It was all those classics that used maraschino as a modifier that amazed him first and made him fall in love with that liqueur.
What he loves most about bartending: Serving people in his community, serving his neighbours. It really warms his heart and makes him happy at the end of the day.
The quality he loves most about an employee: Hard work, work ethics and personality. The fearlessness to try new things, do something new for the profession and taking care of people is a big part of what they do, so those three things really matters. The rest he can teach.
Advice for younger bartenders: Find a place where you want to work and do everything you can to work there. If it’s something you want, try to work hard to get in the door and keep that work ethics and everything is possible. And you have to be humble, because at the end of the day you are serving guests and it’s not about you. If they don’t like your drink, it’s not their problem, it’s yours. And it’s your job to find something that they like. Being a bartender is about serving people and not about all the other stuff around.