Food & Drink

The Denver Bartenders You Absolutely Need to Know

Published On 11/02/2016 Published On 11/02/2016
Green Russell
Green Russell | Ryan Fitzgerald
Courtesy of Haylee Ortiz

Haylee Ortiz

Mister Tuna

Address and Info

Five Points

Like many on this list, Haylee Ortiz has deep experience in the Denver bar scene. A current board member of the Colorado Bartenders' Guild, Ortiz has racked up awards for her work behind the bar at some of the area’s finest establishments, including OAK at Fourteenth, Session Kitchen, and Baur’s. At the latter two, she served as bar manager. These days, you can find Ortiz at Mister Tuna, Troy Guard’s latest and greatest restaurant and bar. Not only does the cocktail menu at the Hawaiian-influenced concept challenge and excite, it emphasizes service. And Ortiz plays her part, as exemplified in her “black book,” where she keeps guests’ favorite drinks for return reference.

Courtesy of Merlin Mitchell

Merlin Mitchell

Green Russell

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Larimer Square

To call Merlin Mitchell a wizard is no understatement. Originally from Tallahassee, Florida, Mitchell attended the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, where he earned his mechanical engineering degree and took up bartending. Since relocating to Denver in 2014, he has worked at exactly one location -- the Green Russell, Frank Bonanno’s chef-driven bar in Larimer Square.

After nearly two years behind the bar there, Mitchell took over as bar manager in August. Since then, he has carried the proverbial torch of the reputable speakeasy. Need evidence? Pop in for a taste of the recently updated fall menu and have Mitchell and his team point you in the direction of your new favorite cocktail.

Carl Zoch

Jack Bethel

The Nickel

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Although he spent half of this year managing the bar program at Downtown’s Squeaky Bean -- which has racked up accolades for its cocktail program -- Jack Bethel currently works at as the assistant food and beverage operations manager for the Hotel Teatro and adjoining Nickel restaurant. And while many guests became familiar with Bethel’s endlessly creative mind and gregarious disposition while sitting in a barstool at the Bean, his next step makes complete sense. At the core of his philosophy he believes that there is “a drink for every disposition,” and he fearlessly leads his Teatro team to excel in all things hospitality. While Bethel’s concoctions have always utilized the most cutting-edge of culinary techniques and fluid sciences, his emphasis on the final product includes stripping away all pretense and presenting an approachable -- and delicious -- beverage for your consumption.

Adam Larkey

Chad Michael George

The Way Back

Address and Info

Highland Park

Chad Michael George is no stranger to the Denver bar scene, or to accolades. George has worked in the industry for more than 17 years, and cut his teeth in town at the legendary Williams & Graham. This year, however, has arguably been his biggest year to date, between the opening of his own bar and his mention as one of Food & Wine’s “Best New Mixologists.” Inarguably one of Denver’s preeminent talents, George’s skill and passion is manifested in The Way Back, his stylish, sexy bar and restaurant that opened in March. The Highland haunt, which is co-owned by Kade Gianinetti (of Method Coffee Roasters) and Jared Schwartz (of American Grind food truck), epitomizes the Denver food and beverage scene as of late. Much like George himself, The Way Back pays close attention to hospitality. Or in other words, the little things that make going out enjoyable in the first place.

Stuart Jensen


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By now, the Stuart Jensen story is well-known around town. After working in kitchens throughout the area -- notably, the high-profile ChoLon Modern Asian Bistro and TAG -- he transitioned to work behind the bar. After working as a bartender at Green Russell, he became the bar manager at Mercantile Dining & Provision (when it opened in early 2015), a position he held until just a few months ago. These days, Jensen is a partner at Curio, the bar inside the newly opened Denver Central Market. While Jensen initially started as a consultant, in October 2016 it was announced he would become the bar’s third owner, in addition to the husband-and-wife team Katsumi Yuso Ruiz and Stephen Julia. Curio serves as the central hub of the communal area of the market -- and Jensen is superbly qualified to play the role of greeter.