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The BevNetwork’s 10 Bartenders to Watch

Posted on  | August 26, 2014   Bookmark and Share
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Text by Jack Robertiello | Photos by Andrew Kist

They always represent a mixed bag, but this year’s crop of Beverage Media’s 10 bartenders might take the many-layered cake. There’s the former student and translator of Japanese and Chinese; one who looks to Vladimir Nabokov for drink inspiration; a self-confessed Pinterest addict; and even a proprietor of his own bar.  

One or more of these pouring, stirring, shaking drink mechanics who represent aspirational bartending may one day become a star in this storied field. For the past ten years, the Beverage Network Publications have acknowledged the future of bartending by selecting 10 to Watch.

These diligent, service-minded barkeeps, as pleased to serve you a light beer as a ten-ingredient Zombie, are drawn annually from the list of apprentices who do yeoman’s work in New Orleans during the annual Tales of the Cocktail bacchanal. They combine advanced bartending skills and a deep knowledge of ingredients and drink history with a drive to hone service and the need to create something new in the glass.

As “Tales” was about to kick off, our subjects gathered for a brief cool moment before the madness ensued. The setting was a fitting slice of vibrant modern New Orleans: Cane & Table, one of three distinct outposts owned by Neal Bodenheimer and Kirk Estopinal (Cure and Bellocq the others). With Managing Partner Nick Detrich the main guy behind bar, Cane & Table serves up “ProtoTiki” cocktails alongside “Rustic Colonial” cuisine.

Here, in alphabetical order, are 2014’s 10 Bartenders to Watch.

Emily Bohn, Chicago, IL

What’s particularly interesting about the drink scene in the city where you work?
What makes Chicago’s drink scene so interesting is the cultural diversity it pulls from. And even though Chicago is a huge city, it is still in the Midwest. I think people here are just plain nice. We offer all of the things a fast-paced city has without any of the attitude. I love how established bartenders here embrace newcomers and encourage them to grow.

Who do you most admire in the restaurant/bar business?
My coworkers. They inspire me daily to work harder, and to stay true to my own style of bartending. I recently met Ivy Mix and Lynette Marrero of Speed Rack—I am hugely inspired by these talented women. Closer to home, I am a huge fan of Paul McGee and what he has done with Three Dots and a Dash. When he makes me a drink I feel like I am transported to a tropical island I never want to return from.

Recent drink innovation or trend that excites you the most?
The resurgence of the classic Shrub, and the endless possibilities it creates for cocktails.  Substituting vinegar for citrus as the acid in a cocktail is absolutely sublime. I do a traditional four-day cold press on my shrubs, use a variety of seasonal produce as well as sweetening agents and vinegar that best complements the other ingredients.

If you weren’t tending bar, what would you be doing?
I would relish the opportunity to guide snorkel tours in the Caribbean. Or run a tour boat or bike shop somewhere in the tropics. Anything that would keep me active and surrounded by nature.

Favorite cocktail?
Ramos Gin Fizz, especially when someone else makes it for me.

Joseph Donohue, Jersey City, NJ

Who or what outside the drinks business influences your work and how?
Art and music are always influencing me. Visiting different places always has something to offer. Just seeing people live differently—the architecture, atmosphere, conversation helps put things in cool new perspectives.

Who do you most admire in the restaurant/bar business?
I admire people that create places that champion hospitality and integrity, like Union Square Hospitality and Made Nice. I admire people that created their own place in this industry, like Philip Duff and Gaz Regan. The people that paved the way, like Dale Degroff. The people who push for education and work hard to make these programs possible, like the BAR 5 Day/Barsmarts team.  I feel really lucky to work in an industry with so many talented and caring people.

Recent drink trend that excites you?
My favorite trend is seeing more great bars that are not just cocktail bars. In NYC places like Extra Fancy and Sweetwater Social provide a place that is fun and unpretentious, where you can watch the game and still have a nice drink or grab a cheap beer, some oysters and have a good-natured drunk sing-along. It’s nice not to have to choose between a cocktail bar or a sports bar or a dive bar every time you go out. Some places are finding a great balance and I’m really excited about that.

If you weren’t tending bar, what would you be doing?
I used to think about working in a museum, or a recording studio. I always wanted to DJ, but I can’t imagine doing anything else at this point. It’s the only job I’ve done since I turned 18.

Favorite cocktail?
Daiquiri or Negroni.

Joy Flanagan, Worcester, MA

What’s particularly interesting about the drink scene in your city?
Worcester is an interesting place because even though it’s just an hour outside of Boston, the drink culture hasn’t grown in a similar fashion. Places are finally moving away from drinks built around flavored vodkas and starting to put classic cocktails on their menus. We see people being more open to lesser-known spirits and interesting flavor profiles.

When you work on crafting a new drink, what’s uppermost in your mind?
I like to focus on ingredients that are in season locally. Supporting local farms is of utmost importance, and creating drinks featuring their products is a great way to do so.  From there I look at ways to use the ingredient in drinks—freshly muddled, puréed with spices, made into a syrup or shrub, etc. Then I look to complement that flavor with spirits that might make it pop, or use it as a vehicle to get people to order a cocktail featuring a more obscure spirit.

What outside the drinks business influences your work and how?
Can I just say all of Pinterest?  I get so many ideas from just browsing that website.  I’ll see a board feature a lacto-fermented dandelion soda and then need to figure out how to make a drink with that. Oh, you pinned a Mexican street drink you once enjoyed?  I’ll be spending the next hour learning everything about the flavor of that drink, how to make it, its history and traditional use, and then set a plan in motion to make a similar drink for my cocktail list.

Finish this sentence: “By the time I’m 40,     I’ll be…”
A morning person.  I swear it.   

Favorite cocktail?
I can always feel like a classy lady sipping on a French 75.

Alex Gregg, Houston, TX

What’s particularly interesting about the drink scene in the places where you work?
I am surrounded by exceptional, quality, concept-driven establishments, so it’s important to find that point of differentiation. I take an approachable route at Goro & Gun-—we have an expansive back bar, with room for things that a lot of craft bars tend to avoid, like vodka, Canadian whiskies, Tennessee whiskies, spiced rum, etc. The goal is to make people feel comfortable. We take the same approach with our beer. While most of the selection is craft beer, we still offer things like PBR and Lone Star. Why? Because people like it.

What one thing would you change about bartending or the bar business in the U.S. today?
The way professionals are compensated. While bartenders themselves make great tips, it can be extremely difficult for managers to get fairly compensated. This is why so many bar managers and even owners wind up working for brands on the side. I don’t feel that a professional in any field, in a position of leadership, should have to look for compensation outside of the business they are running.  

What are your career goals, either in hospitality or elsewhere?
After becoming an owner, my next goals are to open and operate multiple venues/concepts, help train and develop the next generation of bartenders, and make a positive impact on my community.

Who do you most admire in the restaurant/bar business?
Danny Meyer, Jason Kosmos, David Alan, Bobby Heugel, Chris Shepherd.

Recent drink innovation or trend that bothers you?
The creation of house-made ingredients simply for the sake of having said it was made in house. My rule has always been: “If its available, of quality and cost-effective, buy it.”  

Favorite cocktail?
Sazerac.

Laura Kelton, Chattanooga, TN

What’s particularly interesting about the drink scene where you work?
Working in a smaller market like Chattanooga is really interesting because you get to watch a cocktail scene grow. No one was drinking cocktails here five or six years ago and it has been awesome to see how the culture evolves. Working at Easy specifically is a blast because the front and back of house really collaborate on new ideas. We are always looking to build clean, well-structured drinks with a unique twist. I’m lucky to be surrounded by so many local purveyors and have them regularly as bar guests.

What one thing would you change about the bar business in the U.S. today?
I would love to see more uniformity in liquor and beverage laws. It’s a pipe dream, and I don’t think there is a perfect system out there, but sometimes it is hard to seek advice when everyone has a different set of rules. It’s always interesting to hear what people in other markets struggle with.

Recent drink innovation or trend that excites you the most?
In general I just love that cocktails are becoming more fun again. Bartenders are starting to be playful with their cocktails without losing the drink’s integrity. Craft cocktail Jell-O shots and slushies? Yes, please!

Finish this sentence: “By the time I’m 40, I’ll be…”
Running my own bar. Hopefully trying my hand at distilling, too. I’d love to work with creating domestic vermouths and amari. With the distilling industry growing as rapidly as it is, I’ll be curious to know what innovations and demand for new products there will be.

Favorite cocktail?
Americano.

Chris Lowder, New York, NY

What makes you a good bartender?
Bartending is about making people feel comfortable. Sometimes that means being nerdy and talking about mash bills and classic cocktails. But sometimes that means knowing when to hold back so that guests don’t feel overwhelmed or uninformed. My bar is always clean, I work quickly and efficiently, and I have deep cocktail and product knowledge. But at the end of the day, my service is about making people comfortable and happy.

What one thing would you change about bartending in the U.S. today?
Pretension. We are in the business of serving people, not drinks. I think that too many people get into this business because they think that the bar is their party. People need to come to work and be humble. If anybody behind the bar is a rockstar, it’s your barbacks.

Who or what outside the drinks business influences your work and how?
We have a lot to learn from the kitchen in terms of discipline and structure. Bring your own tools and keep them nice. Work in a tight, organized fashion. If someone has something to say about your work, respond with “yes” or “thank you.” If you strongly disagree with the feedback or criticism, say “yes” or “thank you.” And then talk about it at the end of the day in a way that’s positive and constructive.

Who do you most admire in the restaurant/bar business?
Joaquin Simó. Hands down. That guy is the real deal.

My biggest non-hospitality related enthusiasm, hobby or pastime is…
Foreign language and culture. I studied Japanese and Mandarin, and lived in China and Japan as a student and professional translator for more than three years. I love the challenge of immersing into a culture so different from your own, and of course the food is to die for.

Favorite cocktail?
Queen’s Park Swizzle.

Nicole Laurita, Denver, CO

What are your career goals?
In college I studied anthropology with an emphasis on Mesoamerica. I would love to study the development, impact, and history of pulque, mezcal, tequila and bacanora. I would examine how views toward liquor changed during the fusion of Aztec and Spanish cultures. It was a tumultuous and innovative time, and we have some delicious agave spirits as a result.

What one thing would you change about  the bar business?
Employee bathrooms: we don’t have time to wait in line.

Who or what outside the drinks business influences your work and how?
I love those Food Network competitions. What the judges say on those shows translates over to cocktails. Those contestants have to think about visual impact, from the plating of their dishes to how they present themselves. They’re pushed to work on their vocabulary and describe their food in innovative and intriguing ways. They also must have a practical plan and be able to execute it while throwing in a creative flair.

By the time I’m 40…
I will have befriended a novelist. I want the next Ian Fleming or Ernest Hemingway parked right in front of my bar. We would, of course, discuss which spirits the novel should feature, possibly invent a cocktail or two for the major characters. And on those more entertaining nights when the booze flows and the voices crescendo, perhaps I may even witness a scene of the novel in action.

When I’m not behind the bar, I am…
Hiking some Colorado trail with the dog and camera in tow. We’re thinking of doing a calendar this year featuring dogs on mountains. I expect it will be popular for the Christmas season.  

Favorite cocktail?
White Negroni.

Frank McGrath, San Diego, CA

What’s particularly interesting about the drink scene in the city where you work?
San Diego is up and coming, but there is so much room for growth. I like that our particular program is more of a pre-Prohibition style. We are using gum arabic in our syrups; and we don’t muddle sugar cubes or maraschino cherries.

What one thing would you change about bartending or the bar business in the U.S. today?
I would take away any high-fructose corn syrup in any bar. Fresh fruits, herbs and unprocessed sugars are not hard to get your hands on. I would also want more emphasis on hiring and creating a team before anything. A lot of people just hire without investing time or money into these cats, and then wonder why the turnover is so high.

Who or what outside the drinks business influences your work and how?
My father is the biggest inspiration in my life. He has owned a Mom and Pop pizza and Italian shop for 23 years. He knows nothing about craft cocktails, has only four beers on tap, completely old school. But the work ethic he instilled in me is why I am thriving at the bar now. He taught me how to work hard, and that will carry with me throughout every single job that I will ever have.

Who do you most admire in the restaurant/bar business?
My hat is off to Erick Castro because that man taught me everything that I know about cocktails today. He is in this for the right reasons and he believes in giving people a chance to succeed.

Favorite Cocktail?
Old Fashioned.

Tim Rita, Las Vegas, NV

What’s particularly interesting about the drink scene where you’ve worked?
What’s beautiful about Hawaii is you are surrounded by fresh fruit and a variety of Asian and tropical flavors. Naturally, Tiki drinks reign supreme, but then you travel off the beaten path to my roots, Lewers Lounge at the Halekulani, where you can find a proper classic cocktail selection with the touch of Hawaiian elegance.  

Las Vegas is home of the most concentrated amount of talented bartenders around, innovators such as Tony Abou-Ganim, Francesco Lafranconi and Bobby G. I’ve been blessed to work at the Cosmopolitan, where cocktails are the shining stars. Property mixologist Mariena Mercer has upheld and constantly enhanced its greatness. So for me it’s like coming in and taking the keys to a winning race car.  

When you work on crafting a new drink, what’s uppermost in your mind?
If it’s for a general audience I’ll start with balance. But the components must be adventurous and fun. If I can describe my style it would be taking “regional centric” flavors and blending them with classic standards. For example, I’ll take ube [a purple vegetable like a sweet potato used in Filipino cooking] and make a syrup from it, mix it with fresh calamansi [Philippine lime], then use Hawaiian cane sugar simple syrup and Koloa Spiced Rum from Kaua’i and make a spin on a Daiquiri.  

Who do you most admire in the restaurant/bar business?
The men and women who have made bartending their career long before the resurgence of the mixologist. These days anyone can learn to bartend and create a drink and probably be good at it if they’re passionate enough. But the bartenders I look up to are the ones that open and close the bar their whole careers.

Favorite cocktail?
Negroni.

Andrea Tateosian, Washington, DC

What makes you a good bartender?
I make sure my guests feel welcome and try to push the boundaries of their comfort zone while still taking into account their preferences. Also, my guests always have full water glasses. Seriously! As great as it is to have impressive technique and house-infused-dehydrated-doohickeys, the little things still matter.

What one thing would you change about bartending in the U.S. today?
The cult of personality. Working day jobs in DC made me fairly jaded to hollow networking, but it still bugs me to see a bartender’s social media presence valued as much as their actual presence behind the bar. Nice Instagram, compadre, now how about a balanced drink?

What’s particularly interesting about the drink scene in the city where you work?
When most people think of DC, they picture bland policy wonks and out-of-touch politicians. In reality, DC’s culture is incredibly rich and vibrant, and the drink scene is no different. I’ve been at The Gibson for almost four years now, and have a lot of license to experiment with different drink, menu, and event concepts. It’s wonderfully freeing.

Who do you most admire in the restaurant/bar business?
I look to the example that Julie Reiner has set in the industry. She’s innovative, smart as hell, and has impeccable taste. Steve Olson is another rockstar who has done great things for the industry.

Who or what outside the drinks business influences your work and how?
Literature and music have a really significant effect on my drink creating process. If I read a line or hear a lyric that resonates with me, I want to translate that sensation into a cocktail. My drinks have been inspired by anything from the first stanza of a Nabokov poem to the trite intensity of puppy love.

Favorite cocktail?
What a concept! I’m drinking a lot of Negroni Sbagliatos right now.


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