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Most Imaginative Bartender Canvas Project: Christian Suzuki

December 24, 2020

Story: Punch Staff

photo: Nick Hensley

Christian Suzuki, national finalist in the 2020 Most Imaginative Bartender Competition, on his "Atakai Project", a platform to amplify underserved voices.

With tattoos, gauged earlobes, and a bold sartorial style usually complemented by a beaming smile, Christian Suzuki (or “Suzu” as he’s known to friends) makes a statement behind the bar. But he sees the cocktails he creates as his most essential mode of expression, with almost every drink he crafts telling a story.

Though born in the Bay Area, he spent some of his earliest years in Tokyo, where his grandparents ran culinary mini-empire that included a series of restaurants specializing in Northern Japanese cuisine, as well as a cocktail bar. “My grandparents are from a very old-school generation of Japan,” says Suzuki. “If they wanted to express anything, it wasn’t through their voices, it was through their work and their food. That was a huge inspiration for me.”

During summer trips to Japan as a teenager, Suzuki received a first-rate education in food service, hospitality and running a business under his grandparents’ tutelage. Though he’d originally had no intentions of going into hospitality—instead, he dreamed of making it in the film industry—with the recession in effect, at 21, Suzuki took a job as a server at one of San Francisco’s pioneering craft cocktail bars. “It really lit a fire under me. I realized, I actually love this; I absolutely love talking to people.”

His drinks are also often tied to sensory impressions from his favorite activities, such as hiking and camping. He once taught wilderness survival on Catalina Island (off of Southern California), in an area overrun with fennel. “Whenever I smell fennel, my mind takes me straight back to Catalina,” says Suzuki, who created an homage to the memory: a cocktail made of vodka, aquavit, fennel and strawberry.

The drink became a storytelling device and a way to engage with customers. “When people asked why I used fennel, it was like—let me tell you something, I have a story. It’s different from what you might assume my life used to be like.”

Christian Suzuki on Amplifying Underserved Voices

About the Canvas Project

BOMBAY SAPPHIRE® Gin, in partnership with Tales of the Cocktail Foundation, is proud to present ‘The Canvas Project’, a content series featuring the creative passions of the 12 finalists in the 2020 Most Imaginative Bartender (MIB) Competition. From photography and videography, to home gardening tips and mindfulness tutorials, the webinars are designed to spark inspiration and discovery, and foster connection by sharing bartenders’ personal passions in times of hardship.

Last year’s iteration of MIB introduced the Canvas Challenge, a $25,000 grant awarded to a finalist to turn their creative vision into reality. This ambitious test further heightened the imagination component of the competition to a new level and served as a reinforcement of Bombay Sapphire’s belief in the innate creativity of bartenders, which often translates outside the glass as much as it does inside of it.

The episodes of ‘The Canvas Project’ are designed around the Canvas Challenge submissions of the 12 finalists, who hail from Portland to Atlanta, Toronto to Miami, giving viewers a peek inside the inner workings of the program.

Read More About Christian

This Is What Creativity Means to Christian Suzuki

The San Francisco bartender on the art of storytelling, the best advice he’s ever received and the recipe for his Imaginary Folklore cocktail.


Imaginary Folklore

Christian Suzuki's dirty Martini variation draws inspiration from the flavors and memories of his grandparents’ restaurants in Tokyo.


Meet the Most Imaginative Bartender National Finalists

The 12 bartenders from the U.S. and Canada advancing to the MIB national finals.