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Most Imaginative Bartender Canvas Project: James Socci

December 10, 2020

Story: Punch Staff

art: Nick Hensley

James Socci, national finalist in the 2020 Most Imaginative Bartender Competition, on the power of myth and how to start a storytelling circle.

Mythologist Joseph Campbell once remarked that in the modern world, the cocktail party is a ritual that serves an almost-religious function. “This is the Confucian idea, that relationships are the way you experience the Tao,” Campbell said in an interview. “Realize that’s what you’re doing when you’re giving a cocktail party.”

It’s with this in mind that bartender Jamie Socci, after pursuing anthropology, religion and philosophy in her undergraduate and graduate studies, has always approached the world of cocktails. Currently behind the bar in Portland, Oregon, she aims to give guests a sense of intimacy and a space where they can feel comfortable being themselves. She sees the act of meeting a friend for a drink as one of the most “recognizable and integrated rituals that we currently have.”

She strives to achieve the same outside the bar, hosting monthly storytelling circles that tap into oral narrative traditions stretching back to Homer and beyond. “The bulk of it is really providing a platform for other people to share what’s on their hearts and minds.”

Facilitating group expression is something Socci has been doing since childhood, when she would emulate Oprah by bringing together fellow first- and second-graders to discuss the latest topics of conversation on the host’s daytime talk show. It’s little surprise that, while bartending as a student, she discovered she thrived on the ability to immediately connect with people through making drinks. “When I bartend, I get that kind of instant satisfaction of someone wants a drink, I make it for them, and they’re delighted and grateful right there in the moment.”

James Socci on Storytelling

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 James

This Is What Creativity Means to James Socci

The Portland bartender on why storytelling is key to the human experience, imitating Oprah and the recipe for her Helen of Troy-inspired A Thousand Ships cocktail.


A Thousand Ships

Inspired by the Greek myth of Helen of Troy, Jamie Socci's cocktail primarily uses ingredients that would have been available in the ancient world.


Meet the Most Imaginative Bartender National Finalists

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