America's 25 Best Bartenders (Slideshow)
Behind the helm of McCrady’s — the reputable fine-dining restaurant in coastal Charleston — stands Ryan Casey, who creates cocktails reflecting award-winning chef Sean Brock’s seasonal menu.
While most bars would be content to maintain a cocktail menu that’s winning awards, bar director Eric Johnson revamped the entire cocktail menu at Sycamore Den. We can’t help but admire such a bold move.
For a fino sherry wine aficionado, it wasn’t a stretch for bartender and sommelier Chantal Tseng to open a Madrid-inspired sherry and ham bar in Shaw. Alongside her husband, Derek Brown, Tseng sought out to introduce the often misunderstood Spanish varietal and curated a menu with 54 different sherries, as well as offering Green Hat gin and tonic and Vya vermouth, both poured from tap. Tseng is also a founding member of the DC Craft Bartenders Guild.
With less than a year under its belt, Captain Foxheart's Bad News Bar & Spirit Lodge — the mouthful that it is — can’t complain about business, in part due to Cheryl Gibbs.
As bar manager of Vernick Food & Drink, Vincent Stipo’s cocktail menu is elegant, focusing on solid, beautiful classics. For this, Stipo earned Eater’s Bartender of the Year for the City of Brotherly Love.
As beverage director for both Cascina Spinasse and Artusi, Adam Fortuna doesn’t hide his bias to Italian wines, citing Fruili as his favorite white varietal and admitting there’s always a special place in his heart for Barbaresco. Besides the endless pasta he gets to eat, Fortuna says what he loves most about his job are the staff karaoke nights. “It's basically a requisite to work for Jason Stratton,” Fortuna says. “I don't know a better stress relief than beer, tequila, and singing ’90s R&B.”
After being selected to help create the cocktail menu at The Dutch in Miami Beach, it wasn’t long before Robert Ferrara traded in his Coral Gables job for a prime spot on South Beach’s bustling Collins Avenue. Local weekly Miami New Times acknowledged Ferrara’s talent and awarded him Miami’s Best Bartender last year.
Growing up in a family of bartenders (his long bar lineage spans as far back as the 1930’s), there was really only one destiny for Sean Kenyon. Luckily for Denver, that led him to open Williams & Graham, recently nominated for a James Beard award for Outstanding Beverage Program. He is also a founding member of the Colorado chapter of the United States Bartenders Guild.
What’s the best perk of being a bartender at The Oakland? For Shane McGrath (or as he’s better known, “Shane Bang”), it’s tasting new and vintage spirits daily. Shane feels that the selection of vintage spirits sets the bar apart from so many others in Detroit. He earned two awards last year, including Detroit's Most Imaginative Bartender from Bombay Sapphire.
Marvin Shaouni Photography
With his chunky black glasses and shaggy haircut, Julian Goglia epitomizes exactly what you’d expect a pharmacist-turned-bartender to look like. While he’s self-described as “kind of a nerd,” Goglia applies much of the same formulas he used in his former career as a pharmacist (“craft bars and compounding pharmacies are really similar,” says Goglia), creating over-the-counter prescriptions for whatever your in need of, and without judgment, from behind the bar at The Pinewood.
When former New Yorker Ben Clemons (along with wife Alexis Soler) opened No. 308 in Nashville, the aim was to create a straightforward bar where serious drinks could be served in a not-so-serious atmosphere, and it works, drawing a mixed crowd who sidles up to the bar nightly. Last year, Clemons won the Bombay Sapphire World's Most Imaginative Bartender competition for Nashville.
When brainstorming a new cocktail recipe for Bar Congress, Jason Steven likes to pretend he’s making a movie, asking, “Who are the stars? Who are the supporting actors and how do they interact with the stars? Do they just get in the way? What does the background look like, soundtrack sound like? Is it a comedy, tragedy, Western, romance?” Steven admits, “[It’s a little hokey I imagine, but helps me paint a picture of the cocktail as a whole.”
Jay B. Sauceda
As beverage director for The Corner Door in Los Angeles’ Culver City (open nearly two years now), Beau du Bois has created a reputable cocktail list that evolves with the seasons, utilizing homemade bitters and infused spirits. Besides making Zagat’s 30 Under 30 list, we’re a little in love with the eclectic names du Bois gives his creations. Though the most unusually named (and perhaps most popular) cocktail is Grandma’s Pack Of Cigarettes— prepared with rye, Punt e Mes, crème de cacao, and housemade coffee chili bitters — du Bois is currently loving the Mezcal Negroni riff he’s dubbed Taco Truck. “[It] is complimented by pineapple and cinnamon-infused Campari,” du Bois says. “Smokey, bitter and strong; everything a seasoned bartender tends to enjoy.”
Beau du Bois
Prior to working as a bartender, Eryn Reece confesses she couldn’t name four different gins. Now, she’s evolved into a powerhouse, and last spring, Reece raced against the clock to win the title of Miss Speed Rack USA, an all-women challenge to race against fellow bartenders creating alcoholic concoctions that raises money for breast cancer charities, founded by Clover Club bartender, Ivy Mix. Reece is infatuated with Mezcal, because, she claims, “it seduces you with its aggressive smoldering boldness.” You can sample her creations at the evocatively named Death + Company.
It seems unfathomable that Leo Robitschek had a bumpy start in bartending, but he admits when he jumped behind the stick in college, he was a “really bad bartender.” His days of creating anything but extraordinary cocktails are a thing of the past, as Robitschek has long moved on to become a leader in his field. His impressive résumé includes serving as head bartender and revamping the cocktail program at Eleven Madison Park, which earned the title of World’s Best Restaurant Bar at the 2011 Tales of the Cocktail. In 2012, Robitschek took on the additional role as beverage director at The NoMad Hotel, as well as maintaining his position at Eleven Madison Park.
The NoMad Hotel
This month, self-taught bartender Matthew Biancaniello opened this new LA bar in Koreatown, which — intriguingly — has a Long Island Ice Tea on its menu. But we’d never question Biancaniello’s expertise, which has garnered several awards over the last few years, most recently one for Best Cocktails from LA Weekly and the other for Best Mocktails from Los Angeles Magazine.
Although lately she’s often globetrotting with Speed Rack (her project benefitting breast cancer charities), Ivy Mix maintains her position as one of the best bartenders in her field. Her home bar, Clover Club, is Brooklyn’s revered craft cocktail establishment spearheaded by Julie Reiner, and where Mix returns to when she’s not making the world a better place. In the last few years, Mix has been recognized with several accolades from being named one of Zagat’s 30 under 30 for New York City to being nominated as Best American Bartender for the 2012 Spirited Awards at Tales of the Cocktail to being awarded one of Imbibe Magazine’s Drink Ambassadors of the Year in 2013.
Taking on a massive project such as revitalizing a Las Vegas resort’s bar program, Craig Schoettler had his work cut out for him. But, as the former beverage director for Chicago’s Drumbar and The Aviary, Schoettler took on the task in stride and started refining, redesigning and retraining, which subsequently earned him Eater’s Bartender of the Year in 2013.
Aria Las Vegas
After being called into consulting, Scott Baird and Josh Harris merged into the duo called The Bon Vivants, which shares both bartenders’ knowledge and helps create cocktail lists for bars around town. The two have quickly gained a respect as leaders in their craft. And not surprisingly, they aren’t doing too shabby at their own watering hole, Trick Dog, which opened last year in San Francisco’s Mission District and is packed nightly. The cocktail list has a lifespan of six months, and the menu itself is often a reflection of the two bartenders’ prone to design. Currently, the theme is Zodiac, with drinks reflecting each sign’s characteristic. The duo even had coasters made up that allowed guests who meet to write down “Name, Number, Sign.” Harris laughs and says, “That sort of whimsical, ‘What’s your sign?’ is really funny to us.”
The Bon Vivants
Chris Hannah serves as the chief mixologist behind French 75, a cigar bar located inside the historical restaurant Arnaud’s in the heart of the French Quarter. Hannah’s efforts with its cocktail program have earned a nod as semifinalist for Outstanding Bar Program for this year’s prestigious James Beard award, as well as making several best bar lists, including those in GQ and Esquire magazines.
For Paul McGee, it seemed only natural to open a modern tiki bar in Chicago; after all, he explains, there were nearly a dozen tiki bars spanning downtown Chitown in the ’60s. “I thought it would be a lot of fun, given how cold it is in Chicago,” McGee says. “It provides an escape, lets people to pretend they’re somewhere warmer.” Clearly, this winter people need that, because Three Dots and a Dash is doing quite well since opening last summer, and McGee is reaping many awards (Chicago Tribune’s Beverage Professional of the Year, the Jean Banchet award for best mixologist, Best Tiki Bars in the U.S.) for it. We’ll take a Mai Tai, please.
Armed with a handful of awards in her pocket, one might imagine Brittini Rae Peterson to carry a sense of self-importance. Not true. This down-to-earth bartender doesn’t buy into the city’s pretention of craft bartending or “mixology scene.” Instead, Peterson fully believes in the guests getting approachable, easy-to-drink concoctions at Goldie's. How refreshing for the City of Angels.
Brittini Rae Peterson
Beverage Director of The Aviary Charles Joly doesn’t believe in this best bartender stuff, really (although, it didn’t stop him from letting us list him). Instead, Joly — whose efforts have earned him two awards last year, the James Beard Award for Outstanding Bar Program and Best American Bartender from Tales of the Cocktail — subscribes to a simpler theory: “The best bartender is the one I'm sitting in front of, exchanging banter with and raising a glass with.”
It was a good year for The Dead Rabbit and its owner and head bartender, Jack McGarry: At this year’s Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans, both took home three Spirited Awards for International Bartender of the Year, World’s Best New Cocktail Bar, and World’s Best Cocktail Menu. But even years earlier, McGarry was winning awards for his former role at the Merchant Hotel bar in Belfast, having started working at age 14. McGarry spent endless hours cultivating his award-winning beverage menu at The Dead Rabbit, doing meticulous research and creating 72 historically accurate cocktails from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries.