“Boston is home,” says Sebastian Cañas. After four years at cocktail haven Drink, this native son of East Boston now brings his streamlined drink-making aesthetic to Yvonne’s, a modern supper club-inspired restaurant in the Downtown Crossing district.
For Cañas, the hospitality business is all in the family. “My dad was in the kitchen for about ten years in Harvard University before we left for Colombia,” where he spent his teen years, he recalls. “While in Colombia, my brother started working as a bartender in nightclubs. He would take me to barback for him. I enjoyed the atmosphere. I just kept learning and never found a reason to leave.”
After returning to the U.S. at the age of 18, Cañas worked at a number of bars, eventually landing at Drink, the bar where John Gertsen famously had no cocktail menus or bottles on the back bar, creating one of the first environments where bartenders interacted with guests to tailor drinks to their individual preferences. Nearly ten years in, the bar has managed to remain a destination in the cocktail world, its “often idiosyncratic attention to detail,” as put recently by Robert Simonson, a calling card for the bartenders who do time there.
In a little over four years, “I did the whole program there: bar back, apprentice, bartending, then entered a managing role,” Cañas says. He eventually became principal bartender, which meant extended responsibilities that included staff education and oversight of activities within the bar. After leaving Drink, Cañas took on the role of opening bartender for two venues that launched earlier this year, The Automatic in Cambridge and Ruka in Boston, before moving over to his current role at Yvonne’s.
“It was a hectic year,” he says.
Sebastian Cañas Makes the Old Frenchie cocktail
Today, Cañas describes his approach to making drinks as simple and straightforward. “I honestly like the less-is-more [approach],” he explains. “I don’t think you need to add 15 ingredients. Just do what the guest is looking for, and make it nice.”
So, what does Cañas do when he’s not at Yvonne’s? Here, he takes our Lookbook Questionnaire to share the best meal he’s ever had, the one thing he wishes would disappear from drink menus and tips on how to drink like the French, plus the recipe for his aperitif cocktail, the Old Frenchie.
Current occupation: Bartender at Yvonne’s; cocktail developer for East Boston Oysters (EBO).
What do you want to do when you grow up? Have a small farm with as many domestic animals as possible and grow my own vegetables.
What does “drinking French fluently” mean to you? Drinking French fluently is being in the company of people you enjoy and having endless conversations while enjoying snacks and a delicious beverage.
Tell us about your drink and why it’s a good aperitif. Old Frenchie is a play on an Old Cuban cocktail. It’s a refreshing cocktail with some citrus behind it that will get your palate clean and ready for dinner. The St-Germain is such a big component, making it floral and elegant.
How do you define the aperitif? I think of an aperitif as a drink that will make me want food, and get me ready for a meal without getting me too tipsy.
What do you most like about French culture? The food, wines, the architecture, the art and history. The elegance and sexiness of that country is overwhelming.
What’s the best thing you ever drank? En rama sherry out of a very questionable bottle at a small shop in Spain while listening to live flamenco sang by the locals.
Worst thing you ever drank? I’m going to have to blame myself for the worst thing I have ever drank. I was working on a sangrita, and I used too much truffle oil.
Weirdest cocktail experiment you’ve ever attempted: Very recently, we had an EBO [pop-up] on a yacht, and I decided to make oyster chocolate syrup. I don’t know how that worked, but it did.
What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not eating, drinking or drink-making? Playing with my pup.
If you had to listen to one album on loop for the rest of your life, what would it be? Coloring Book by Chance the Rapper.
What do you know now that you wish you’d known five years ago? There is no such thing as mixology school.
Weirdest drink request you’ve ever gotten: While working the bar at Drink, I had some guests—who after that night became regulars—ask me for a “Little Mermaid” drink. They made the people surrounding them sing [the] The Little Mermaid song with them.
Your favorite bar, and why: The Townshend in Quincy. I feel like I’m at home when I get there, and it doesn’t hurt that the place is beautiful.
Best meal you’ve ever had: A few years back, a group of about eight friends got together to celebrate two friends’ birthdays at Menton, Barbara Lynch’s restaurant. We were very kindly offered the chef’s table because we were having too “much fun” in the dining room.
What’s your go-to drink in a cocktail bar? Mojito.
Wine bar? Grüner.
Dive bar? Corona and whatever whiskey they give me.
The one thing you wish would disappear from drink lists forever: The word “fresh” in front of ingredients.
The last text message you sent: “Hey papa I’m doing laundry and I just realized I don’t have my apron. Did I leave it on the bar? If I did would you keep it safe for me?”