“What do you do when you’re not a grad student?”: An Interview with Christine Sismondo

As part of our efforts to connect graduate students outside of the classroom/department, we’re interviewing our fellow grad students about what they do when they’re not reading, writing, or researching.

This week we interview Christine Sismondo, a PhD Year III researching sexuality, regulation and Toronto’s post-war bars.

1. What do you do when you’re not a grad student? Describe your hobby/job/talent keeping in mind that others may know little to nothing about it.

Christine SismondoWhen not hard at work on my thesis, I play with hard liquor. Yeah, sure, a lot of people do that, I hear you saying. But probably not to the degree that I do. I collect over proof spirits and hard-to-find aperitifs, so that I can recreate old cocktails from old recipe books and, occasionally, even invent new ones. I’m often called to judge competitions and even sometimes guest bartend. Of course, it’s not all for love of alcohol. I get paid to do a lot of this, since I write columns and regular features for a few publications, something that grew out of my books, Mondo Cocktail (McArthur) and America Walks into a Bar (Oxford University Press).

2. How long have you been doing this, and how did you get involved?

I’ve been doing this for almost 10 years. I was a bartender when I was doing my BA and MA and, after many years of slinging fairly average drinks, I started to wonder why cocktails were generally so bad in Toronto. This dove-tailed with frequent travel to American League baseball towns (long story), where the drinks were better and the bars seemed to have more history. That got me into exploring the bar’s role as a community centre in America and cocktail culture.

3. What’s your favourite aspect of this activity?

Okay, the travel doesn’t suck. I get to go to cocktail conferences and symposiums and distilleries in places like Scotland, Greece, the Netherlands and Kentucky. But probably the most exciting thing for me has been home-grown. Since I started writing about cocktails and bars, Toronto has gone from being a slightly sorry town for bar culture to a really dynamic and fascinating place. I got to chronicle and, to some degree, even play a miniscule role in this sea-change.

4. How do you manage the balance between your graduate career and your activity?

The balance is tough and, as I write this very sentence, ever so slightly off-side. It’s been like a see-saw, and for the first 18 months, it was heavily weighted in favour of York work. The past six or so, it’s teetered slightly in the direction of my popular writing which I’m hoping I can wrestle back down to just something I do on weekends in the near future since heavy archival work begins. Anyone who wants to help me sort through LCBO records from 1947-1981 will be rewarded with free cocktails.

Christine posing with her martini glass


Thank you, Christine, for finding the time to answer our questions! If you or someone you know would be interested in being interviewed for this series, please contact us!

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