We write a lot about Austin’s best bars, but for this round-up, we want to focus on the bartenders who really took strides in the industry in 2016. After gathering intel from industry insiders -- which is code for "hanging out at bars" -- we decided to give props to this talented gang of people who are solidifying Austin’s reputation as an innovative and fun drinking city. Now, go get a cocktail from them all immediately, and be sure to tell ‘em Large Marge sent you. Kidding, “the chick from Thrillist” will work just fine.
Barman at Whisler’sAddress and Info
It’s safe to say it’s been a good freakin’ year for Brett Esler -- his cocktails have been featured in most every media outlet imaginable and at 27, he’s one of the youngest bartenders in Austin making a name for himself, locally and nationally. Brett has worked at Whisler's and Mezcaleria Tobalá since moving to Austin nearly three years ago and can be found behind the bar at the popular East Sixth bar. He, along with the rest of the bar team, work in collaboration with the GM to develop Whisler’s rotating, seasonal cocktail menu.
Chief of Bar Operations at Geraldine’sAddress and Info
With more than 20 years in the service industry, Jen Keyser is a force to be reckoned with. She’s worked at many of Austin’s hot spots, most recently at Midnight Cowboy and Contigo, before accepting the position as chief of bar operations at Geraldine’s. This year, Jen has been kicking butt with her inventive Austin-inspired cocktail program and, led her Geraldine’s bar family to victory at The Austin Food and Wine Alliance’s 2016 Official Drink of Austin competition with their rum-based cocktail, Far From the Tree.
Beverage Director at VOX TableAddress and Info
Hailing from Madison, Wisconsin, JR Mocanu took over the popular eatery’s bar program this year when Travis Tober moved into the brand education realm. In addition to helping open VOX’s new concept, El Burro -- which opens very soon -- JR owns and operates The Barmadillo, a mobile bar housed in a vintage Airstream. “Fearless” and “fun” are words one could use to describe JR’s current menu for VOX Table; visit him for one of his cheeky creations like the That Island Chick that Broke Your Heart: (Avua Amburana cachaça, Rhum Clement Canne Bleue, Plantation 3 Stars, Green Chartreuse, anise, pineapple, vanilla, honey, lemon , orange, and Bittermens Tiki bitters).
Bar manager at The JackalopeAddress and Info
Having worked at The Jackalope on 6th St and at Firehouse Lounge, Antonio’s approach to bartending walks the line between an enthusiastic “here’s your meticulously crafted Sazerac” and a deadpan “please don’t order that"... in the best way possible, of course. This year he helped open the shiny new Jackalope location on East Riverside where he works as bar manager in the company of a skilled and fun team of bartenders. He also participated in the Bar Institute mashup event featuring NYC’s Holiday Cocktail Lounge, which helped raise over $3,300 for Austin charities.
Bar manager at The TownsendAddress and Info
From dive bars to Michelin-rated restaurants, Florian Minier has worked behind all types of bars over the last 12 years including stints at Haddington's, Midnight Cowboy, and Half Step since moving to Austin. This year, he joined the team at The Townsend supporting Justin Elliott who serves as beverage director and partner.
Without skipping a beat, Florian’s experience and talent have lent themselves (along with the amazing Townsend team!) to the consistent success of the Congress Ave bar that creates cocktails and food topping all of Austin’s “Best Of” lists.
Bar manager/beverage director at BackbeatAddress and Info
When Drink.Well.’s sister bar Backbeat opened in February, Moscow native Ania Robbins was appointed as bar manager and beverage director. Ania helps create Backbeat’s menus, oversees the extensive spirits list, and helped train an entirely new bar team from the ground up. This year, Ania competed in her first national competition for the House of Agricole (the cocktail she designed, the “Bellevue Sling” was added to Backbeat’s dazzling opening menu!). Ania’s knowledge of the rhum category and her performance at this competition lead to her being offered the role of a part-time ambassador for the House of Agricole, becoming a sought-after advocate and educator on the category of agricole rhum from the islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe.
Bartender at Firehouse LoungeAddress and Info
Paul is known as “a bartender’s bartender” and also as “Mr. Firehouse,” which is chanted by co-workers and patrons alike. No one quite knows why, but it contributes to his legend. Paul was a major driving force behind the establishment of Firehouse's Bartender Karaoke nights (first Mondays of the month, generally), which have proven to be a hit with the cocktail community in Austin. Paul gives back to the community via his work in the Austin chapter of the Barman’s Fund -- a non-profit organization made up of bartenders -- with events like bingo night, cocktail parties, and burlesque dancing, where all of the night’s tips are donated to local charities.
Larry Miller II
Head bartender at JulietAddress and Info
Larry Miller is really into hospitality. As former bar manager of French eatery Peche, he made it his goal to inspire the same passion in both his staff and his peers. As of this year, he is now lending his talents in both crafting cocktails and providing the best guest experience to the Italian hot spot, Juliet. In the national realm, Larry was selected as a finalist in the 2016 Lustau brandy cocktail competition with his drink, the Lola Flores.
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1. Whisler's1816 East 6th St, Austin
2. Geraldine's605 Davis St Ste 400, Austin
3. VOX Table1100 South Lamar Blvd, 2140, Austin
4. The Jackalope404 E 6th St, Austin
5. The Townsend718 Congress Ave Ste 100, Austin
6. Backbeat1300 South Lamar, Austin
7. Firehouse Lounge605 Brazos St, Ste 100, Austin
8. Juliet Ristorante1500 Barton Springs Rd, Austin
Whisler’s is the the go-to patio on the East Side for great classic cocktails, spicy eats from Thai-Kun, live music shows, and ample seating. And, while the outside of Whisler’s may seem pretty ordinary, the bar’s unique brand of elegance is evident inside, where the juxtaposition of different elements makes for a truly lovely place in which to do your drinking. Chandeliers and candles cast a glow on stone walls, while a few tiny tables exist for quiet conversation. Drinks are muddled behind a gleaming wooden bar, and other unexpected touches -- intentionally cloudy mirrors, the occasional piece of art -- combine to create a one-of-a-kind feel.
Geraldine’s -- located on the fourth floor of the swanky Hotel Van Zandt -- offers up elevated American cuisine, craft cocktails, and live music in a chic, massive space. The menu features dishes inflected by local Austin flavors, like fermented chile hush puppies with pickled fennel ranch, cornmeal-fried oyster mushrooms, and local goat tartare. Head to the rooftop bar and enjoy unparalleled views of Lady Bird Lake as you sip cocktails poolside.
Vox Table is known around Austin for their killer New-American style small plates and lively craft cocktail bar, but this South Lamar restaurant serves up a serious brunch on the weekends. The must try of the menu is Olive Oil Pancakes with fig/walnut butter and maple syrup. If brunch isn't your thing, stop by and try dinner menu, featuring a wide variety of meat and fish entrees, or happy hour specials.
Many dive bars have burgers, but few have burgers this epic: flame grilled and piled high on a toasted bun with premium toppings like smoked bacon, brie cheese, and carmelized onions, they're plenty sizable and a good bang for your buck ($10). Cheap signature shots, tunes from the house DJ, and a giant jackalope that you can mount merely sweeten the deal.
Located in the middle of Congress Ave, The Townsend serves as a natural go-to happy hour spot for Downtown nine-to-fivers. There's a bustling, upscale vibe to the place, and occasional live music nights really bring in crowds. Open from 4pm - 2am every day, The Townsend is a great place to order a small plate and a signature cocktail after a long day at work.
Backbeat is a lush space that oozes mid-century modern cool. A rooftop deck provides gorgeous views of South Austin and the cocktail menu is fresh and inventive. You can also enjoy fresh East Coast oysters and charcuterie plates while sipping on any of the delicious drinks.
Located in Austin’s oldest standing fire station, built in 1885, the Firehouse Lounge is a speakeasy hidden behind a bookshelf in the Firehouse Hostel’s lobby. With cerise damask wallpaper and candlelit tables in an otherwise dimly lit space, the split-level cocktail room is redolent of an old jazz club, which is fitting as the Firehouse Lounge doubles as a music venue, featuring DJs and jazz, blues, and rock musicians. Craft cocktails change seasonally and can be paired with the menu of small bites, including sandwiches and snacks.
Juliet combines modern and classic Italian influence to deliver unique, rustic dishes with seasonal ingredients. Boasting an expansive outdoor dining area and an airy interior with a marble bar, this place has an elegant, joyful and comfortable vibe.