Former Whitecaps FC captain Jay DeMerit turning vintage suitcase stereos into a bar for Cocktail Art event

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Portmanteau bar backdrop

Cocktail Art, Vancouver’s largest and most stylish cocktail party returns to the city this year, bringing along with it six top bartenders whose sole mission is to craft an array of enticing and unique cocktails. Staged in a seriously glamorous setting, this one-of-kind event, hosted by Dinner by Design will be held on September 20 and feature six exclusive custom-made and purpose-built bars, imagined by participating designers.

Joining the creative team this year is Jay DeMerit, former Whitecaps Captain and founder of Portmanteau Stereo Company. We chatted with DeMerit about his plans for the big night.

Jay, you and your partners at Portmanteau Stereo Company must be thrilled to be building one of six exclusive bars for the Cocktail Art event this year.

Yes, we are SO excited and grateful for the opportunity to be a part of such a stylish and cool event. As a new company, we’re always looking for ways to develop our brand and our identity, and this is a fantastic way to not only show our product, but to challenge ourselves to create new and interesting ideas. My business partner Heffe [Jeff McConnell] and I are hard at work putting the finishing touches on the concept for the bar as we speak.

Jay_DeMerit

Photo courtesy of Portmanteau Stereo Company

Are you able to share with us some of your plans and creations for the big night?

The bar itself will be two parts, really encompassing the range of designs we offer as a company. The back of the bar (behind the bartender) will essentially be a speaker wall, made out of classic vintage suitcases integrated with our Portmanteau vintage suitcase speakers. There will be glass shelves in the middle of the wall to showcase the bottles and array of cocktails. The front bar will consist of one of our Portmanteau Home designs. It will be a modern looking bar made of thick planed BC wood, a raised glass top for its serving surface, and will showcase a series of speakers built right into the plank of wood. It will sit on custom made stainless steel legs keeping with modern design of clean lines and surfaces.

What can attendees to the event expect when they drop by your bar?

Imagine walking up to order your drink. You’re waiting patiently in line, and as you get to the front, you notice some soft beats coming out the surface of the bar itself. We always try to combine form and function, so they can certainly expect to see the combination of sound, the rich tones of wood grain and steel, and of course the vintage style of our suitcase stereos. Also since it will be sound/music based, I would hope there will be some good dance parties going on as well!

Portmanteau bar backdrop

Photo courtesy of Portmanteau Stereo Company

What was the inspiration behind your design? Does Cocktail Art give you free reign when it comes to the bar’s design or is there a guideline to follow?

The Dinner by Design guidelines are pretty straightforward—with standard bar heights and work surfaces—but other than that, we’re allowed lots of freedom to express ourselves, which is what design is really all about. When it comes to design, I’m inspired by a lot of things, but mainly this is about making something new and different out of re-purposed goods. The plank of wood we’re using for the front bar was taken out of an old warehouse next door to our shop, and each vintage suitcase we use certainly has a story to tell. I really enjoy making old or used things come back to life. Not only are we bringing these things back to life, we are even ADDING life to them by putting in a textured speaker, a polished new grain that hasn’t been seen in years, or a color that will give it a new identity.

Were there any challenges when you were designing this particular bar?

The hardest part was trying to pick which parts of our company to feature. We are only nine months old as a company, so we’re very much still in the concept phase for a lot of our designs. We started with the Portmanteau suitcase stereos but now we are moving into a lot of custom wood pieces with speakers in them such as stump wall art, rooty wood slab coffee tables, or clean, modern bars for people’s homes. We are also introducing small log stereos called Rockit Logs, but we’ll save some of these concepts for the future.

Dinner-Design-speaker-bar

Photo courtesy of Portmanteau Stereo Company

May I ask what prompted your move from professional football to product design?

A lot of people may not know this about me, but before I was a professional athlete, I got a degree in product design from the University of Illinois-Chicago. I have always had creative outlets in my life from painting, collecting art, or joining in on other artist or designers’ projects, but I’ve never had the time to create a real project on my own. Retirement from sport has given me a little bit more time and energy to dive back into the creative world. It’s been amazing, but it’s a new learning mindset and has been very challenging for me to shift to a new gear. Then again, who would I be if I didn’t love a challenge?!

Cocktail Art

When: Sunday, September 20, from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m.
Where: Studio 40, 700 Hamilton Street, Vancouver
Price: Tickets are priced at $50 per person and can be purchased online here.

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Jess Fleming Jess is a Staff Writer at Vancity Buzz. Originally from Sydney, she obsesses over where to eat and drink and writes about adventures near and far.
@Jesstours

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