Last year, I was tipped off to a pretty cool event that combined two things I greatly enjoyed, that you wouldn’t normally think of combining; boxing and tequila. I know, it sounds like I’m making this up; those two things generally don’t go together aside from the occasional cocktail choice at a black tie boxing affair. But I swear, I’m not. The event is Bar Spar, a fight night for the food and beverage industry, presented by the fine folks at Tequila Cazadores.
The Bar Spar program is a health and wellness initiative by the Bartender Boxing Organization. The nature of the food and beverage industry lends itself to a less than healthy lifestyle. Between its fast pace, entertainment vibe and vampiric hours, the industry suffers from easy facilitation of unhealthy habits and behaviors, from poor sleeping, eating and exercise habits to even more serious concerns like disordered drinking and substance abuse. Raj Nagra, the founder of Bartender Boxing, saw that there was a need to create something to inspire industry workers to put their health and wellness first, so that’s exactly what they did. In 2016 an unconventional idea manifested itself into an intensive 3 month training program and event series in 2 different cities. Today Bartender Boxing spans 10 cities, including Toronto and Vancouver. The program teaches bartenders the basics of boxing, as well as fitness, diet and general health and wellness. The intensive program culminates in a series of regional fight nights where bartenders face off in front of their peers, friends and families as folks sip Tequila Cazadores cocktails and dine on divine Mexican food.
My own love of boxing has taken me into the ring twice; I’ve had the pleasure of participating in 2 fights of my own, both for charity. The fight training and the fights themselves were 2 of hte the most grueling and most rewarding experiences of my life, emphasis on the grueling. And my hours are pretty flexible, and I mostly sit at a computer for work. I have the utmost respect for the Bar Spar participants, who not only train several times a week, but who also work on their feet for up to 12 hours a day. Training is hard enough when you can get to bed at a reasonable hour and eat the right foods when and how you should be eating them. A bartender’s schedule is not conducive to any of those things, but that’s kind of the point. Bar Spar is meant to push bartenders to prioritize their training, and therefore their health, in order to help build the healthy habits these folks need to be their best.
And did they ever kick ass.
Top mixologists from cities all accross North America took up the Bar Spar challenge, including Toronto’s own Marta Sobiesiak from Chantecler. I got the chance to interview Marta after her fight about what the Bar Spar experience meant to her.
What does an event like Bar Spar mean to you, and why was it important to you to participate?
Bar Spar has been intensely physically and mentally challenging, but it’s filled me with a great sense of pride that I’ve managed to make it through. The entire team — from the trainers, to my teammates, to the Tequlia Cazadores team — have been exceedingly supportive. I feel stronger than ever, and the added boost of confidence is amazing.
At the age of 34, as someone who’s been in the hospitality industry for a significant time, it was important to prove to myself that I could complete this program, despite the fact that so many other demands and responsibilities and long hours exist in my career.
What surprised you the most about your boxing training experience? What did you enjoy the most?
The program has shaved inches off my body in a way that I never thought could be achieved in my mid-30s. I feel stronger than I ever have in my life, and that added boost of confidence is amazing. It’s also made me exceedingly more mindful of how much sleep I’m getting, or rather, how much sleep I need to get.
This experience has shown me that boxing really is the ultimate form of exercise for my body. I seriously cannot imagine going back to a regular gym routine after this and I have every intention of maintaining my training on a day to day basis from here on out. I honestly never thought that hitting a heavy bag could be so fun and rewarding. For bringing this new passion into my life, I am so grateful to Bar Spar and Tequila Cazadores.
What was it like for you to step into the ring for the first time, what was that first fight experience like for you?
In a word — surreal.
I know the opportunity we were afforded in getting to participate in a match of that scale and magnitude is one that not even fighters who’ve been training for years are awarded.
To see my friend and colleague and I connecting in the ring — to feel the passion and drive coming home with every punch thrown — is a moment in time that will give me chills for years to come.
Plus, hamming it up for my entrance was super fun.
What do you want other folks in your industry to know or learn from your Bar Spar experience?
Bar Spar isn’t for the faint of heart.
You need to be very honest with yourself and your team and your coaches.
This program is a commitment on every level, and it isn’t always going to be easy.
But I promise you — if you can figure out a way to work through it, and get to the end, it will be one of the most rewarding things you’ll ever do.
Being a bartender yourself, and considering the challenging work life balance that comes with your line of work, has this experience inspired you to make any health and lifestyle changes?
My lifestyle as a bartender is a hectic one. The hours are long. And besides having to handle ordering, restock, and organization, our bar is so small that there can only be one bartender on to handle the entirety of service. Shifts end up being around 11 hours long and returning home around 4am on busy nights isn’t uncommon.
Nevertheless, even before Bar Spar, I always made it a priority to fit in a work out. It keeps me grounded and balanced. Bar Spar took that to the next level by focusing on how I eat, drink, sleep, work and most importantly training extremely hard.
I went to the first Toronto Bar Spar last year and was in awe of the shape my friends had gotten into. I vowed from that moment to do it myself. And I did!
Would you ever do this again?
While I’m on the fence about how I feel about physically fighting in the ring right now, I know that’s probably just because I’m still so inexperienced.
So yes — I plan on continuing my boxing training on a near daily basis because again, I can’t really imagine my life without it.
It’s the healthiest addiction I could ask for.
What was the inspiration behind your Tequila Cazadores cocktail?
I’ve had a Tequlia Cazadores Blanco cocktail called Cassavetes on feature at my bar – Chantecler – for weeks, in honour of this incredible opportunity that Tequlia Cazadores has provided me. It’s a tasty combination of fresh and earthy flavours, with a bittersweet edge
I’ve also made Tequlia Cazadores our rail tequila out of gratitude, but mainly because it’s a great tequila at a fair price. It punches above its weight, and if you’re looking to drink less — but better — this is for you.
Two dashes aromatic bitters
One teaspoon fresh mango
.5oz rosemary simple syrup
.75oz fresh lemon juice
1.5oz Cazadores blanco tequila
Build all ingredients in shaker. Add ice. Shake vigorously. Fine strain into rocks glass over fresh ice. Garnish with rosemary sprig.
Thanks to Tequila Cazadores for a great night of boxing and beverages. I have to say, it’s pretty rad to see a spirit brand back this health focused initiative. Balance is key when it comes to any lifestyle, and I know that when I think of tequila, I reach for Cazadores knowing that they support the backbone of their industry in such a positive way. I encourage you to do the same, and as always, please drink responsibly.
*This piece is a paid partnership between ADDICTED Media Inc and Tequila Cazadores