During these unprecedented times, the hospitality industry needs leaders like never before. Josh Davis is an industry veteran with over 15 years of experience and he is also the founder of Brown And Balanced which started as an event at Portland Cocktail Week and Camp Runamok and has since built into a stand-alone entity.
The first season aired last fall, with a focus on different Black hospitality professionals. Brown and Balanced, presented by Campari America, was such a success and is back again for Season 2, continuing on Friday, April 16th with Chicago’s Nigal Vann.
At the core of Brown and Balanced is the mission to share talents and stories of Black and Brown food and beverage professionals and the projects they’re developing through digital content. As Davis describes it, “think In Living Color and Mad TV meets Charlamagne Tha God meets Black and Brown Bartenders. BOOM.”
When quarantine and lockdowns swept the nation, Brown and Balanced hosted a series of Happy Hours over on Instagram featuring bartenders, servers, and cocktail enthusiasts from all over the U.S. to share their stories and backgrounds. After taking time to rest and restore, Brown and Balanced is coming back to continue conversations.
The second Featured Bartender of the season will be Nigal Vann, of Chicago’s The Berkshire Room. Read on for more about Nigal’s journey and what to expect from his Brown and Balanced appearance.
Keep reading to get to know Nigal and in support of Brown & Balanced, we ask that you please keep up with all of Campari America’s industry-focused events and education by following @CampariCommunity or signing up for the Campari mailing list HERE.
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Name, City/State, most recent place of employment.
Nigal Vann, Chicago, IL, The Berkshire Room
What are your pronouns?
If you weren’t a Bartender what would you be doing?
I would love to write screenplays in the sci-fi and horror genre and act both in live action films and voice acting. But, I came close to being an educator before the bar scene. I have a passion to entertain those around me and have them walk away with something to remember. Even though I sling drinks, I find other outlets to fulfill my other interests
How did you get started in the industry?
I started because I was attracted to the cash on hand at the end of the day. I was working retail and I wasn’t a fan of waiting two weeks for a check- especially when pay day was after the 1st of the month. I had a coworker who worked part time as a server and they were making their two week check from retail on a good weekend! He got me a job serving and I was in love with the fast cash. It became even more so when I turned 21 and was able to be behind the bar! In all honesty, I wanted to write and act for a living and I thought bartending was a great skill to have since I could take it anywhere in the world (in case I got discovered). Still here many years later! No regrets. My experience has been invaluable.
Being a Black/Brown Bartender what are some of the issues you face?
I remember when I started taking my bar career seriously, I wanted to break into the neighborhoods that were known for their great food and cocktail culture. I truly believed that when I finally made it there, I earned my spot. But when it came to coworkers, not many faces looked like mine and the ones that did weren’t the guest facing employees. With that, I felt like I stood out to my guests and not always in the best light. I remember being challenged on my cocktail knowledge. They were asking me if I knew how to make Manhattans and Old Fashioneds and other drinks that anyone should know when they work at a bar. They weren’t any lost or forgotten treasures. They so bluntly would just not want me to make their drinks and would wait longer for another bartender to make it, or just get a beer. It took a while to earn their trust. But, the experience made me promise myself to exceed their standards, and to do that, I made sure that I really knew my stuff. That was probably one of the driving forces that made focus on education more than most of my peers.
Being a Black/Brown Bartender what are some of the things you take pride in as being a part of this subculture inside of the hospitality industry?
Being the game for 15 years, it’s great to compare what things looked like when I first started to now. I’ll never forget going to tastings or beverage events and not seeing anyone of color around me. It’s great to see more of us not only in the room, but teaching the classes and making their own products for us to taste.
What do you feel the leaders can do better to provide equal opportunities and representation for Black, Indigenous and People of Color in the industry?
Not only does there need to be opportunities for us to grow, but those opportunities need to be in places that will be SEEN by us. Visit our bars and neighborhoods. Not all your brand events need to be in the gentrified neighborhood. Not everyone is on LinkedIn, or knows to check your site. Diversify your platforms. You’d be surprised by where you might find your best future employee. Lastly, continue to support us even when it stops being trendy. Don’t just support us during a “month of awareness”.
If you could describe yourself as a cocktail what would it be and why?
A Mai Tai, for sure. In a nutshell, I’m approachable and can be a crowd pleaser. But, let’s go deeper… I’m a split based Mai Tai with different aged rums and some aromatic bitters. I’m more complex than I usually let others believe. I’m influenced by my younger self, which allows my humor to drive my approach on things, but the aged spirit flashes a bit of the old soul in me. My desire to travel and see the world is represented in the citrus. I can be a bit nutty sometimes, so there’s the orgeat. I could be considered to be too sweet to some, but like a Mai Tai, I’ll knock you on your ass if you mess with me too much.
With the social climate in the world today, our industry seems to be a microcosm of society. How do you see Black/Brown Bartenders using their platforms to enact change in what we see across the bartending community?
We are known to not only survive, but thrive! Social media is the best platform to be seen and heard now that we are in a virtual world. For some of us, we took this time to make a plan and then made it happen. I had to be creative and find a solution to my financial problems, so I gathered my resources and offered my knowledge and skills to those who could use them. I consider it to be self care for me to focus on what’s next and do things now that my future self will thank me for.
2020 was a crazy year, with the shutdown affecting all of our businesses. What are some ways you have been able to shift and try to stay afloat?
I had to sit down and focus on the next steps that I wanted to take in my career. 2020 gave me a lot of time to reflect and expedite my three year and five year goals and make them happen now. Spending my time brushing up on my education, I read and reread books on cocktails and spirit education. I took online classes. I wasn’t just taking classes because of the subject but also I was there to analyze the presenters – what did I like about their style? What would I change if I were in their shoes? After months and months of research, I dived in and started teaching cocktail classes on Zoom. My clients started reaching out for more and next thing I knew I was doing it on a regular basis. It wasn’t until recently that I made it legit and started my platform, Vannity Cocktails. Now I teach consumers, new bartenders, and started cocktail consultations as well. Please check it out.
If you could have drinks with 5 people dead, alive, or fictional who would you choose and what would you be drinking?
I would love for Tom Bullock and John Dabney and I to make drinks for each other. I want to try their iconic classics and listen to their stories and hear their input on the drink culture today. Hopefully they’ll be impressed. Another choice would be one of my ancestors – any one of them. I just want to show them what I’m doing with their bloodline in hopes that I am really living beyond their wildest dreams. Maybe I’ll see where I get some of my unique quirks from. Maybe, after a few drinks, I could convince Quentin Tarantino to work on a movie script and let me have the lead! But, my last person would be the best version of myself and pray that they aren’t a person of fiction.
What is the best advice a bar mentor of yours (official or unofficial mentor) has given you?
Be patient. Still better said than done most of the time for me.
If you could go back to the beginning of your career what is some advice you would give yourself?
Put some of that money in the bank! Life gets more expensive the older you get.
Fruits of Our Labor – featuring Grand Marnier
- 1 oz Grand Marnier
- 1 oz Cinnamon Infused Bulldog Gin*
- .75 oz Cynar
- .75 oz Demerara Syrup(2:1)
- 1 bar spoon pear-infused Balsamic Vinegar
- 2 dashes Angostura Chocolate Bitters
- 2 dashes Spiced Apple Bitters
Stir ingredients with ice for 20 seconds and strain into a Nick & Nora glass.
*Cinnamon Infused Bulldog Gin: warm about 8g of cinnamon sticks in a saucepan until fragrant and combine with a 375mL of Bulldog Gin into a cambro. Infuse at room temperature for at least 2 hours and fine strain before use.
21+, please. Drink responsibly.
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