It is almost unheard of for people to take tests outside of school, let alone to keep a job, but at Untitled Champagne Lounge, it’s a monthly event.
Before new employees begin working at Untitled, they must complete two to three weeks of training, followed by an intensive 300 question exam. Rather than firing those who don’t pass, the owner, Nathan Newman, takes the time to help the new employee become more knowledgeable in the areas they struggle with.
“My servers … and my bartenders are expected to know every ingredient, every cocktail, the process of the cocktails, and how we make some of the elements beforehand,” says Newman.
Newman found that the general public was commonly more knowledgeable about wine than champagne. He wanted to teach people, not only customers, but employees as well, about the world of bubbles.
Untitled’s high expectations and quality service
The exam process sets the bar for what is expected from bartenders and servers and everyone is expected to meet that standard. With 600 different spirits and 75 of those being champagnes, it is essential for employees to understand the work that goes into each aspect of the cocktail.
“It was really hard, but I definitely benefited from it. It set the standard moving in. We do a test every month that can be up to, well, I’ve seen it at 200 questions; so it really keeps people on their toes,” says bartender Nathan Bueckert.
Bueckert had been bartending at Moxy’s for about six months before he was asked to apply at Untitled. They looked past his slender experience and decided to give him a chance.
“When I first started, it was a huge learning curve for me. It would be five people deep all around the bar. That's just how I learned, being thrown into the wolves,” he says.
The most popular cocktail, according to Bueckert, is the Lavender French 75, made with gin, coconut rum, lavender balsamic syrup, and lime shaken with bubbles. His favourite drink to make, however, is the Caffé Corretto, which took him eight months to perfect.
“It started off as a Revolver, which is an espresso Old Fashioned, and then it slowly started to turn into something else the more I gave it to people and put my own twists to it,” says Bueckert.
The balance and quality of the cocktails is a vital part of making an enjoyable experience. Bueckert ensures that he and the other bartenders create the quality of drinks that is expected from Untitled, and if not, start again.
“We’re also really really intense on the bartenders on the balance of the cocktails. We’re never going to have something that's too sweet or too sour or too bitter, it's always this perfect little triangle of balance,” he says.
Local champagne lounge
Though the bar is not super well-known yet, Bueckert believes this actually adds an attraction to the establishment.
“It's not super young. It kind of has more of a unique crowd that appreciates the way that things go. We’ve had some people come in that maybe don’t understand what we’re doing, which is completely fine.”
Newman knew he wanted to create really unique, “modernist style” cocktails, but due to the time burden of creating cocktails, he knew he needed a quick, easy, and approachable in-between. This ended up being champagne.
“I just love doing things that are considered to be a little crazy and being the first of anything is exciting to me. So I think this is the first champagne bar ever in Alberta and what better time to do it than in the worst recession ever, right?”
Those who frequent Untitled tend to be females 30-years-old and up, according to Newman. Women tend to go in groups, excited about the variety of champagnes offered, but men are less enthusiastic about going.
“In general I think men are scared to believe that they might like champagne or they think there's a reason to believe they shouldn’t like champagne, and for whatever reason, because champagne’s in the name, people don't realize that we have everything.”
‘50s Vegas Glamour
Newman's first bar, The Derrick Gin Mill & Kitchen, has a Calgary themed atmosphere with oil and gas memorabilia scattered throughout. However, for Untitled, he wanted to transport the customer out of the city.
Themed as ‘50s Vegas, Newman intentionally removed the windows to help create an illusion of an entirely new atmosphere.
“A little bit of that Gatsby kind of glamour, chandeliers, a celebratory time,” he says.
“There’s 100-year old brick on the wall, this is hardwood flooring from close to 80 years ago, a lot of actual antiques, and obviously, everything has been hand-picked and designed specifically for the place.”
With such a high-end atmosphere, it's easy to lose yourself in the ambiance. Newman wanted to create a sophisticated lounge environment that goes beyond your typical nightclub.
“You still want to have fun, you still want to listen to cool music, you still want to be able to dance if you can, but you want to be able to do it in a comfortable setting. And so that’s more or less what we tried to go after here.”
- By Erin Sweere and Nikita Lehnert-Thiel