In a previous life I was a “tour manager” for punk rock bands. At the level the bands I worked with functioned, we had a lot of fun and also went broke. That is when I started working in bars. Without punk rock, I wouldn’t be who I am or where I am today.
Kelsey Ramage of Trash Tiki is also a punk rocker that loves creating and serving drinks. Not long ago she and Iain Griffiths began doing pop-up events that draw attention to how wasteful bars and restaurants can be. They are in the middle of a big tour traveling to cities all over the world. We wanted to know where the idea came from and Kelsey’s favourite band named Subhumans.
Bartender Atlas: In what year did you start bartending?
Kelsey Ramage: I guess I started Hosting in a restaurant at 18, took about 2 years before I had my first shift behind the bar. Legality would have been an issue prior to that, so I guess that would have been 2005.
BA: What style of Bartending were you doing?
KR: High volume nightclub stuff. I think a lot of bartenders do this to start and I still think it’s an important stepping stone in the whole process. Keeps those 6 minute checks out of the question.
BA: You worked in both Vancouver and Toronto, what prompted the move to London?
KR: I think I needed a change of scenery. I was managing a spot called The Oakwood in Vancouver and I could see that my career was turning towards management and wine. While I love both of those things, I really wanted some inspiration and to learn from some of the best in the world in cocktails. London seemed to be at the forefront at the time, plus getting a 2 year visa took only about 6 weeks.
BA: What inspired the creation of Trash Tiki?
KR: I think working at Dandelyan, which already has some sustainable practices, and still seeing how much they go through for waste on a daily basis. Iain and I already knew we worked well together having worked on two of Dandelyan’s menus, plus his work with the Lyan group always has this on the forefront of many projects. We happened to be having a whisky (or 3) one night and started talking about a project we could take on the road where we could play the music we wanted and start breathing some life back into the word ‘sustainability’.
BA: Your way of showing people how much waste bars produce is very confrontational, is that rooted in your history in punk rock?
KR: I think it started from getting the word (sustainability) shoved in our faces quite a lot, it had started to lose meaning. It gets used as a marketing term too much. Also in our industry we wanted to do something fun, it’s amazing how many closet or old punk fans come out and really just enjoy it. Also, we figured if we created an extreme example, bartenders would actually find it less threatening. We make drinks that taste ok and don’t fuck the planet. If bartenders can take a recipe away, and make it better because they have more time to interact with the ingredients, all the better for the whole industry, right?
BA: Have you found that Trash Tiki has been well received? Do people “get it”?
KR: We always have a few tiki-shirted nay-sayers, which seem to be getting fewer and fewer as we go along. I think the biggest hurdles are always the people who walk into their local bar expecting to have what they usually do, and we’ve completely taken over the space. We always are able to explain the concept, and by the end after having a few of our drinks they really leave excited or inspired by what we’re doing. It’s really cool to see. Although the word ‘Trash’ in Asia does have some seriously negative connotations that we had to explain our way through.
BA: Trash Tiki has tour dates for all over the world for the next little while, how long has it taken you to put the tour together? Any specific hurdles that have been tough to jump?
KR: We started putting together the tour about November of last year and spent a lot of time on it. We did develop our spreadsheets and simple one-pages really quickly. That has definitely helped a lot. Before we go into anywhere, we already know a skeleton of what drinks we’re going to serve (with an idea of specs), and have shared a sales matrix with the venue so we all know where we are going to sit financially on the other side.
We did spend a LOT of time on a tour schedule spreadsheet and then found an app that compiled the information for us in about 3 minutes. Fucking technology. The Trippit app has been incredibly useful.
It’s always a little bit of an issue coordinating waste pickup when several venues are so kindly donating their trash. Inevitably though it all seems to come together, even if we seem to be flying by the seat of our pants, it’s always organised chaos.
BA: Lightning round: Don The Beachcomber or Trader Vic?
BA: Rum or Gin?
KR: BOTH #gintiki
BA: Subhumans BC or Subhumans UK?
KR: UK and lol
BA: Dry-shake then wet-shake or wet-shake then dry-shake/do you even use eggs at this point?
KR: Immersion blender/crushed ice. Save time and your shoulder, call it lazy but it’s just better.
BA: Kathleen Hanna or Courtney Love?
KR: Hanna obvs. Although Courtney Love liked one of my insta posts and I screen shot it and sent it to my mom.
You can find some of the recipes that Kelsey and Iain use at their Trash Tiki events on their website Trash Tiki.
Catch Trash Tiki on Tour:
August 2-4 – Miami – The Anderson
August 12-14 – New York – Mission Chinese
August 20-21 – Toronto – LoPan
August 23 – Detroit – The Skip
August 25-27 – Chicago – Lost Lake
August 29 – Seattle – Navy Strength
September 2-3 – Vancouver – The Diamond
September 6-7 – Los Angeles – Honeycut
September 24-26 – Mexico City
October 2-8 – London
Thanks Kelsey, for taking the time* to talk with us.
*No really, it took us like 3 weeks to work out a time to talk on the phone and then just ended up doing this interview via email. Menu launches and Tokyo discos be damned! Tour schedules are tough.