James Grant won the World Class Global Bartender of the Year in 2021 — putting Edmonton alongside past winners from London, Paris, Chicago, Tokyo and Sydney— but he hardly drinks.
“I’ll drink academically,” he says. “I taste cocktails, I taste spirits — I think that entire world is really beautiful. But ultimately, and this is something that I tell young bartenders: We make drinks, but our job is to serve people.”
Having worked as a funeral director, in corporate communications, PR and customer service, Grant came relatively late to the bartending world. After applying with a fake résumé to a bar in London, England, just to pay the bills, he quickly recognized that his previous jobs were very much “service” jobs, but they lacked the immediacy of tending bars.
As soon as he recognized that he belonged behind a bar, he “went all in” on the often thankless job, reaching heights not even considered by some servers. But he considers them all his peers. “I have a lot of respect for anyone that gets into the food service industry. I don’t think it takes any less emotional fortitude to get behind the till at McDonald’s at four in the morning, with everyone spilling out of the bars. At the end of the night, that’s a hard job.”