Formerly of famed Toronto restaurants Playa Cabana and Celestin, bartender and mixologist Alexander Stanojevic knows a thing or two about pairing exquisite cuisine with exceptional cocktails. In early 2014, alongside his father, Chef Goran Stanojevic, he has begun hosting his own pop-up brunches around the city of Toronto.
To learn more about future brunches, add Alexander on Facebook.
I love the feeling of being in control of the entire operation. The whole process of creating the menus, experimenting with food and drinks is very fun (and delicious) experience. But the best part of all of it is the end result seeing all your guests having a great time and enjoying the event.
What goes into setting up a pop-up brunch?
Anything you can think of that goes into a normal day at a restaurant — and then some. So there are the basics such as: finding a suitable venue that has the right equipment, research and development for food and drinks, buying all the ingredients, preparing the food, preparing any liquor infusions (which can take weeks), choosing the right music to be played, bringing on a great team to help deliver the event the way you want it to, etc.
But what’s different about pop-up brunches and any normal dining experience, are the endless possibilities. Anything goes when you’re in charge! One idea I’ve had in my mind for the next event is working with actors and actresses and having a play be staged in the middle of service, that’s totally candid and controversial, that no one would expect to happen. Anything that can push the boundaries and create an experience that guests will remember.
How has the reception been at the brunches you’ve done so far?
Reception so far has been great – I haven’t received (to my knowledge) any complaints, or had to apologize because of an incident at an event. With the summer coming, I’m hoping to keep that track record alive and top my previous bests each time. Here’s my most recent review.
What do you enjoy most about being a bartender?
Always learning something new. Everyday I’m learning, how to do something differently, or how to differently approach guests. It’s always a different experience, and you can learn something new everyday, and I’m always surprised with the knowledge some people possess, knowledge that otherwise I would never know of.
Being creative and always being able to push my previous limits is very motivating. If you never try, you’ll never know what you can do. Right now, I’m working on cocktails preserved in an ice mould, something that is brand new to me — which will carve a path for a new kind of guest drinking experience. There will be lots to come this summer — If you’re ever in Toronto, be sure to come check in with me!
How did you get your start?
I got started by working as a food runner at Playa Cabana. Eventually moving up the ranks and talking to the head bartender, Graham, and manager at the time, Evan, expressing my interest. They taught me a lot and really showed me what it was like to be behind a bar and encouraged me to do what I thought was right and interesting, and not let anyone tell me differently.
My father being a chef, allowed me to be around food all the time and I got a really hands on experience with how creative you can be with food just being around him, and I thought to apply it to what I know – alcohol. This accompanied with a TV marathon of Bar Rescue, gave me the last push to follow this interest (lol).
What skills or traits should every good bartender possess?
I think that every bartender should keep an open mind. Having a closed-mind and always thinking you’re right can be the single factor leading to a bartender’s downfall. In the hospitality industry, you need to be open to new ideas, new ways of thinking, and being able to adapt to your surroundings. If you can’t do this you’ll have a very short career, and uninteresting one at that.
What is your favorite cocktail to make?
Drinks that call for a lot of different ingredients and that have strong flavour profiles are fun to make. Anything that might call for a flamed orange, or an absinthe rinse, or a brown buttered bourbon makes the crafting of a cocktail much more enjoyable. But as of right now, probably Old Fashioned’s, Sazeracs, different Mojitos, and Paloma’s. But really, it’s always changing, and best part of the drink-making experience is combining flavours of what your guest likes.
What do you drink when you’re not working?
It’s always changing. Whenever I go out for dinner or drinks, I like to see what the restaurant/bar is known for drink-wise, or what looks interesting in my opinion. Sometimes I like to challenge myself and order something I wouldn’t often order, just to see how the bartender crafted the cocktail. But during the winter that just past, I found myself drinking Manhattans, Old Fashioned’s, Negronis, and Margaritas (or a good tequila, neat.)
With the hot summer we’re expecting, there will be mojitos. Lots of mojitos.
What has been your favorite episode of Bar Rescue?
Been a long time since I’ve watched the show; I can’t really remember. But the one where the host almost fights the old guy for calling his Chef a fatty was funny.
What’s the best dish your father ever made?
Definitely when he makes dishes from his homeland (Serbia) are the best. Cevapi, Pljeskavica, Sarma (Cabbage rolls – They’re the best).
If you had to offer one piece of advice to someone just starting out as a bartender, what would it be?
Don’t give up. The first month or two (or three) can be tough, but all it takes is some practice.