Beefeater Bartender Profile: Taoufike Zrafi of Montreal’s Pandore

Modern bartending is about so much more than just the drinks.

The service, ambience, and conversation are all essential aspects of the experience that complement what’s in the glass.

We caught up with eight bartenders from young professional hot spots across the country who deliver the entire package and asked them to let us in on their craft. We were especially curious about their thoughts on what makes London, England – home of the beloved Beefeater gin – such a special cocktail city.

Today we chat with Taoufike Zrafi of Montreal’s top-notch restaurant and cocktail spot Pandore.

Describe your job in under 140 characters. Go.
Bartending is a craft that allows me to enjoy every aspect of it every single minute; a field that’s creative, chatty, funny, and fast.

How did you start in this business? What was the inspiration for your career route?
Such a cliché – I couldn’t pay for school anymore. I remembered my days working in Mediterranean resorts and thought I should become a bartender for the tips. I started off as a waiter in a high volume restaurant chain and was attracted to the sight of bartenders who knew what – and how – to pour. From that moment I tried out their recipes and kept hanging out and socializing with them until I got a bartending position. 

What’s the latest trend you see in bartending? What’s something the newest generation of bartenders is bringing to the job?
The latest trend I’m seeing is the easy access to all of the past trends. People are using them in their bar programs here as staples nowadays. It’s different up north; we work hard to get to the level of NYC or London bartenders. We have to change laws and convince owners of our establishments that bartending is a craft so we get to play like the rest of the world.

As a new generation bartender myself, I think the main focus now is making sure the customers actually like what they’re paying for. Gone are the days when all cocktails are only appreciated by fellow bartenders. A shot of Fernet, anyone? 

What’s the best part of what you do on a day-to-day basis? And what’s the most challenging part?
Best part is the pre-shift and the after-shift – when I’m sipping my espresso; answering emails; seeing if I managed to get a response from a new producer; not knowing what kind of shift we’ll have, or who I’ll meet at the bar. And after all the fun, when it’s last call, I instantly start thinking about what I did wrong that night and what people might’ve enjoyed the most during those moments we shared.

The most challenging part for me is the constant competition I have with myself – never stopping, always evolving and wanting more.

Why is London, England such an important player when it comes to the latest and greatest cocktail trends?
London is a European hub for people of multiple talents to aspire to live in. Bartenders are a big part of that long list of dreamers; they enjoy the laws that encourage creativity, the abundance of almost every type of spirit, and the community is just very supportive of what their colleagues might come up with. The heritage of the hospitality industry in London is something to consider when you’re part of that. I guess you have a responsibility of leaving your personal mark on it and making sure that you are giving as much as you are taking.

What is it about gin that makes it so unique and versatile?
There’s a reason that no two gins are the same. Even though gin is defined by some categories, the soul of every product lies in that amazing process of choosing the perfect blend of plants to infuse. It always relates you to history, to culture, and forces you to be more creative. No wonder that most of the pre-prohibition cocktails are gin or genever-based. Gin is so versatile that it actually does half the work when a bartender uses it in a new recipe.

What’s your favourite gin cocktail – both to make for someone else and to drink yourself?
It’s no doubt a Hanky Panky. It’s a weird name, invented by one of the most famous women in our craft. It’s simple, yet bolder than any other gin cocktail. Mix up some Beefeater gin, quality sweet vermouth, and a small measure of Fernet Branca – what’s not to love?

If you could have a gin cocktail in any bar in London, England, where would that be and why? And, of course, what would you order?
It would be at Night Jar. When I started out in the industry, I was inspired by their imagination both in what they used and how they garnish. It really helped me find my style among all of the different ones that you can attach yourself to. I would obviously order something that involves a lot of pouring because I would never get tired of watching Marian and Luca make drinks.

What is it about London that inspired your cocktail?
It truly was how I imagined the life of any industry professional to be like in the city; all the routines that we do before work so we can be fully ready for our next shift.

What does success look like to you? Other than a strong martini, of course.
If I continue to feel that I’m not working, but rather living and enjoying every aspect of what I’m constantly grateful for, that’s success.

What’s the best (gin) order someone could ever give you?
“Hi. I like gin, I like bitterness. You look like you know what you’re doing, so I trust your call.”

What’s the most memorable moment you’ve ever had standing behind a bar?
The first time my girlfriend came to see me work behind the bar – at my first bartending position that served specialty cocktails – she ordered my first-ever creation (a gin cucumber cocktail) and a bourbon neat. After that night, she kept coming to the bar to encourage me to create, and looked at me working, her eyes filled with incredible love while waiting for me to finish my shift. That was the time when I said to myself, “I’m going to marry her.” And I did.

If you could have a gin cocktail with anyone in the world (James Bond doesn’t count) who would it be and why?
It would be Anthony Bourdain, because there’s nothing that goes better with a gin and tonic than a crazy travel story.

And finally, what – to you – is notable?
The freedom to do what you love and share it with whomever you wish.

Click here for your chance to win a trip for two to London England that includes a VIP tour of the Beefeater distillery.



Photographs provided by Vito Amati /

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