There are over 550,000 bartenders working in the United States, and while we’re grateful for each and every one of them (and all of their hard work), a few of these pros stand out from the pack. Whether you eagerly follow the craft cocktail scene or you just love sharing a few laughs with friends over a well-built drink, you know the value of a truly excellent bartender: these are the folks behind the bar who can take the edge off the end of the day with a vigorous shake, a few flicks of the wrist, and a glorious cocktail made just for you. To celebrate the barkeeps, the master mixologists, the leaders and progressives in the new wave of craft cocktails who boldly take us to higher, more exciting levels of artful inebriation than ever before, we’ve come up with a list of the 25 best bartenders in the United States.
These are the innovators behind albino negronis, exclusively sherry wine lists, and even a bacon-washed rye Old-Fashioned (you heard right — now wipe that drool off the side of your mouth). They’ve happily sacrificed countless hours of their lives taste-testing spirits, seeking the best wines, researching the history of libations, altering recipes over and over until they’re absolutely perfect and with the utmost care, and cultivating menus that may forever change your mind about rum, Scotch, Amaro, or pineapple-infused Campari. They may turn you on to something new. Or maybe they’ll simply make the best Long Island Ice Tea you’ve ever had, using only the best ingredients. And they won’t scoff at you for it.
So, how did we narrow down the best bartenders in the whole country to a list of just twenty-five names? First, we looked at who was making waves in their respective cities, who took home awards or received nominations (everything from spirit-sponsored contests to the more prestigious ones such as the Tales of the Cocktail and James Beard Awards), and who stood out among so many great contenders. We mulled over wine menus, scoured cocktail lists, and talked to insiders about who was doing the extraordinary. This is that culmination.
While we scoured the whole of the United States, we sought to find the greatest contemporary bartenders in every major American city, and we found that while these bartenders are all stand-outs, they also have very personal approaches to their craft: Jason Steven of Bar Congress in Austin, for instance, has a charmingly unusual way of approaching the design for a new cocktail — in terms of cinema. Paul McGee of Three Dots and a Dash in Chicago, on the other hand? Inspired by the classic tiki bars of ‘60s era Chitown.
For more details about these bartenders and the rest of this year’s nominees, take a look at our slideshow.
These are our picks for the best bartenders in America for 2014, but we’re sure you’ve met a great many too. Have thoughts about who should have made the list this year? Think we missed a few mixologists who should have made the cut? We want to know. Include their name, bar, and city in the comments below, or tweet at us using the hashtag #bestbartender2014. We’ll collect your nominees and publish a subsequent list of America’s Favorite Bartenders.