Photography by Andrés Markwart | Steel & Oak
Together we are better; together we are stronger. Sometimes the question that we are faced with is, how can we make together happen? In many ways, New Westminster seems to have this together thing figured out.
I have spent most of my life trying to find my community—a place where I fit on a small scale—while at the same time engaging in activism, self-growth, and learning in an attempt to be part of creating community on a larger scale. I have become jaded as I witness injustice, discrimination, and a lack of hope that permeates our societal fabric. When paired with the remnants of my, leftist, Naomi Klein-reading youth and a more recent awareness of intersectional feminism, I feel both a general weariness and a strong drive and desire to do better by everyone. For me, that has meant activism and a general distrust of companies that expect devotion and a ‘we’ party line. To me, community-building and for-profit business have always existed in separate spaces. I knew about lifestyle branding and resolved never to be sucked in.
Then I was hired by Jorden Foss and James Garbutt to work at the Steel and Oak tasting room. My is job simple: talk to people about beer while serving it.
The S&O tasting room is warm and cozy. On rainy days, its’ steamy windows emit a soft inviting, glow. On summer nights, you can hear laughter from the overpass. There is no wrong time to come. S&O doesn’t pretend to represent community. It isn’t an idea packaged and sold to people in an artful, tasty bottle. The S&O tasting room is community.
It would be easy to attribute this to existing community ties in New West, but I think that’s too simplistic. The S&O community emerged from this, but is sustained by everyone who walks through those doors. Stephen Smysnuik noted in The Growler magazine: “The tasting room has the homespun community feel that a business can’t really manufacture. It’s born out of something honest.”
“Something honest” looks different for all of us, but it is undeniably there. This organic honesty can be found in the stories shared across the bar between staff, regulars, and soon-to-be regulars. Honesty and togetherness is found when people bring vinyl records from home because they want to share, in this place, with these people. There are few things more personal and intimate than music. For real—how many of us have bonded over A Tribe Called Quest?
Something honest is found in the support of local organizations and charities by Jorden, James, and the rest of the staff when no one is looking. It is found in the treats that people bring to share when they come to the tasting room—many rainy Saturdays are fueled by love and treats we receive from people that walk through those steamy doors.
Community building isn’t confined to the tasting room. “Something honest” grows from a deep connection the staff have with each other. It’s not just our phones buzzing non-stop with jokes, random thoughts, and pictures in the #SOfamily staff text group. Nor is it our matching hats that we wear with pride. Like most communities, togetherness can be found in the mundane acts of everyday life. Together is the simple messages that pass between us: “how are you?” “thinking of you,” and “have a great day.”
These small acts combine to build connections and bring people together. It just happens the space where we get to be together has really great beer. Having been on the receiving end of more than a few well-timed hugs, high fives, laughs and thoughtful gifts from people on both sides of the bar over the last two and a half years I can tell you that ‘working’ at S&O is less like work and more like getting to catch up with friends a few times a week (sorry Jorden and James, I swear I work on occasion).