Updated: Aug 12
(Founders; Matt Boyle, Jeff Van Horne, Anisa Francoeur. Photo by: Ryan Williams UNBD Media)
The story of Barkeep Cocktails begins in a basement. Two of our founders, Matt and Jeff, who are longtime bartenders and leading mixologists in the Canadian Cocktail scene, got their start with a cocktail catering business, Clever Barkeep, that allowed them to build clientele and experiment with unique, hand crafted flavours and ingredients.
Flash forward to 2020 when growth was the main thing on our minds, we purchased our current space on Portland St. in our home of Dartmouth to expand Clever Barkeep with the aim of sharing cocktail knowledge, and quite frankly, for storage space. But thanks to some push from family and friends, we took the leap and opened our first cocktail bar- Dear Friend, in the hopes of bringing our community together over high quality, delicious cocktails. Enter Anisa, our third founder and our creative mastermind. She walked through our doors looking to learn a new craft and quickly mastered the art of bartending, all the while falling in love with a profession which satisfies her three lusts in life: creativity, people, and quality.
(Dear Friend Bar. 67 Portland Street, Dartmouth)
The bar opened July 2020, mid-pandemic, which forced our doors closed multiple times with spikes in COVID-19 cases. Pivoting was the name of the game for our first year of operation to ensure we could keep staff employed and the space alive and well. This constant game of tag between opening and closing allowed us to discover a game changing opportunity for the area – cocktails-to-go. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, canning and selling to-go-cocktails allowed us to stay connected to our local community and manage the lack of foot traffic to the bar. When it came to creating recipes and concepts for our canned drinks, we kept three ideas as our north star: 1. quality, using hand selected local ingredients, 2. innovation by raising the standards for canned cocktails, and 3. approachable, as a cocktail shouldn't be pretentious.. But the work went far beyond creating unique flavours and canning them. Due to the legislation around liquor laws in Canada, cocktails-to-go were not permitted for sale by bars and restaurants, despite high public interest.
We’re proud to say that Dear Friend led the charge for changing this legislation across Canada through petitions, engagement with our local politicians, and collaborations with other passionate bars and restaurants around the city. Needless to say, the hype had news crews flooding in to cover the story around how local bars and restaurants were struggling without the chance to offer their cocktails to everyone stuck at home. Our hard efforts were well rewarded as we were able to sell to-go cocktails in a can throughout the pandemic, until all COVID-19 restrictions had been lifted in 2022.
Although the fight for cocktails to go was a gruelling one, from it manifested the idea of Barkeep Cocktails. A sister company of Clever Barkeep that offers one-of-a-kind, hand-crafted cocktails which will be manufactured and distributed across Canada. Coming this Fall, you will be able to enjoy cocktails made from high quality, local ingredients with unique flavour notes, within the simplicity of a can, providing an amplified experience- not just a great cocktail. Drinking craft cocktails just got a whole lot easier.
(Barkeep Cocktails can mockup of The Espresso Martini)