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Most Imaginative Bartender Canvas Project: Marta Ess

February 18, 2021

Story: Punch Staff

art: Nick Hensley

Marta Ess, national finalist in the 2020 Most Imaginative Bartender Competition, on how a career in dance prepared her to be a better bartender.

When Marta Ess was three years old, her mother put on a recording of Louis Armstrong’s “It’s A Wonderful World,” transforming young Marta into a whirling dervish, cavorting around the living room. The very next day, she was enrolled in ballet class—the first step in what became a 25-year dance career that would evolve into bartending.

Though Ess has now hung up her professional dancing shoes, she continues to find parallels between the art form and the bartending vocation. “They’re both physically demanding, they both require practice and repetition, the schedules are erratic and hectic, but mostly they’re both performative,” says Ess. “You’re performing night after night and constantly giving so much of yourself to others.”

At 18, living in Montreal and pursuing her dance career, Ess took a job in a surf-and-turf restaurant; around the same time, Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential opened her eyes to the color and adventure that could be found in the service industry. But it wasn’t until her late 20s that she began considering retiring from dance and focusing all her energy on bartending, after a chance meeting with a bartender led to a job with a well-known hospitality group. There, she developed a serious dedication to craft cocktails and taking genuinely good care of guests. “I found myself surrounded by people who live and breathe hospitality,” she says.

Over the winding course of her career, Ess has developed a style that is intuitive, unfussy and direct.  She’s also generally of the “first thought, best thought” school: “I’m a big believer in not tinkering too much,” she says. “You need to mix that drink and walk away… Have confidence and go with your gut.”

Marta Ess on Dance

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 Marta
Marta Ess Most Imaginative Bartender

This Is What Creativity Means to Marta Ess

The Toronto-based bartender on how a 25-year career in dance informs her approach to drinks, the one piece of advice she gives young bartenders and the recipe for her cocktail, The Inward Turn.

The Inward Turn Marta Ess Most Imaginative Bartender

The Inward Turn

A variation on the classic gin Martini that incorporates tomato water, juniper- and basil-infused bianco vermouth and saline fino sherry.


Meet the Most Imaginative Bartender National Finalists

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