Nestled into the edge of Uptown Waterloo, sits a whisky and espresso bar called Death Valley’s Little Brother (DVLB), owned by husband and wife team, Joel and Katherine Gingrich. From the intriguing jackalope image on the front window, to the industrial, reclaimed tables, to the size of glasses used, every element in DVLB’s design is intentional, without being contrived or pretentious, and really rather cool.
“The idea for DVLB was inspired by people who take chances on new ideas; places where we’ve seen authenticity and originality in play,” says Joel. “To step out onto the ledge with a new idea takes trust that your idea is authentic.” At DVLB they wanted to do two things really well: espresso and whisky, while offering a warm, low-key place to enjoy conversations and good music, often played on a record player or on their slightly out-of-tune piano.
Both Joel and Katherine come from design backgrounds. Once you step in the door, that fact is pretty evident. The stylized typography on the menu board, the industrial furnishings alongside antiques and even the wattage in the light bulbs creates an environment where the industrial space melds perfectly with the warm, welcoming design. “The building itself, built in the late 1890s, was very important to the design of the space,” says Joel. “We waited for more than a year to get into here.”
The art on display changes frequently and Joel is opened minded about what goes up. “The only filter I use is if it will work well in the vibe of the space: paintings of homicidal maniacs would definitely ruin the vibe we’ve created,” he says.
Part of DVLB’s aesthetic is its minimalist menu: whisky in its many forms, a couple of beers, two wines—one red, one white—and of course some really nice coffee. They intentionally didn’t add a kitchen, deciding to instead partner with several local bakers who have expertise in niche areas to add delicious elements to the menu. (Hint: try the scones. Trust me.)
Anchoring a cafe on whisky is a bit risky as Joel thinks it is a drink that largely flies under the radar in Canada. “We are trying to open people up to the idea that whisky, especially single malt whisky, is just as diverse as wine or beer,” he says. “And we’ve been amazed by how receptive people are to it.”
DVLB has been open about a year and they are always attentive to how well they are performing. “Katherine is great at getting to know our customers, which goes back to our desire to be authentic,” he says. “People pick up on whether you do something because you love it or not: and we love it.”
P.S. Joel’s favourite topic of conversation: envisioning a future where the LCBO doesn’t get to be the final arbiter on what products we can buy.
P.P.S. Last month I was in DVLB and saw Malcolm Gladwell, author and public intellectual, walk in for a cup of coffee. Cool NYC-hipsters know DVLB is the place to get a great cup of coffee in Waterloo Region.