Food & Drink

The Best Bartenders in Indy Want to Pour You a Drink Tonight

Published On 11/09/2016 Published On 11/09/2016

Poppin’ down Mass Ave or Fountain Square for a bar crawl? Brunchin’ in Broad Ripple? Slurpin’ cocktails at one of Indiana’s distilleries? Whatever your poison is, there is a special group of people that take care of you. Those people are your favorite bartenders. Nominated by Indy’s best and fellow drink slingers, these people are ones you should make an effort to be friends with. You never know what the next unique libation they’ll expertly blow your mind -- and tastebuds -- with.

Brian Brissart on the right | Thunderbird

Brian Brissart

Thunderbird

Address and Info

Brian Brissart started two years ago as a barback but moved up through the bar rungs to prove he knows his craft. Bringing creativity, passion, and a whole lot of funk to the bar, his colleagues said Brissart captivates guests in a totally new way. Thunderbird owner Josh Gonzales said “Brian has no comparison,” while staff believe Brissart is the reason why people of all ages swing by the bar again and again. He’s made it his mission to educate people on his craft, and when you can talk the talk, it proves you’re a master of elevated cocktails. Brissart recently competed in the Midwest regionals for the Diageo World Class bartender competition.

Ethan Rogers

Hotel Tango Whiskey

Address and Info

At an old, gutted carriage house on Virginia Avenue, you’ll find a distillery that has made it’s name through its spirits and crafted cocktails. Ethan Rogers is to credit for developing the outstanding menu that rotates seasonally based on what fresh produce is available. Under the state’s Artisan Distilling law, Rogers is only allowed to use the spirits produced at Hotel Tango Whiskey, which is no problem at all. His distinct concoctions range from a riff on old classics like the Old Fashioned (swapping whiskey for moonshine), to clever herbal “remedies” like Not Your Sister’s Juice Cleanse, and a sexy take the only locally made limoncello, The Milk Man’s Son.

- tini -

Curtis McGaha

Tini

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They don’t call it “Tini” because it’s got a tiny menu. Curtis McGaha has made it clear that size  -- wink wink -- of a cocktail menu does matter. Passionate about his craft, McGaha is an expert who has taken on many formal and informal leadership roles in the local chapter of Indy/US Bartenders Guild. He continually keeps his cocktail craftmanship up by learning, and traveling to many destinations and distilleries to better understand how various liquors are made.  In being addition to being known for his winning personality, McGaha never forgets a face and drink pairing; many patrons notice that he always remembering their drink order.

Michael Toscano

Libertine Liquor Bar

Address and Info

Of course, a portion of bartending is making cocktails, but the most important part of tending bar might be making sure patrons have the best experience possible. While he’s left for New York City, people seem to be still talking about Michael Toscano. In an industry where egos flare, peer bartenders said Toscano never lost touch of the fact that the cocktail work stays up through the night in the hospitality biz. With his unique cocktail crafting, he pairs tongue and cheek concoctions such as giving homage to JFK with back and to the left -- a rum-based cocktail with blackberries and thyme.

Adam Ramsey on the right | The Libertine Liquor Bar

Adam Ramsey

Libertine

Address and Info

Some people say no one else is close to “The Adam Ramsey.” In fact, with Michael Toscana gone to the Big Apple, some say Ramsey will to turn the Libertine into something we can’t even yet fathom. (Sorry, Michael!) While some may say Ramsey’s skill have a diva-like flair, his pedigree with mixing cocktails overshadows any caveats about bartender ego. Known for the Six Horse -- a combination of the Trinidad Sour and the South Side -- Ramsey knows the meaning of balance and the importance of drink families. His peers said Ramsey is a true professional that understands how to take care of a guest and accommodate any drink style.

Andy Ashley

Dorman Street Saloon

Address and Info

Some argue that Andy Ashley started the craft cocktail movement in Indy that helped inspire today's bartenders. Whether you agree, know that he was one of the first to make specialty syrups to tickle your tongue, helping to jumpstart the local Indy bar scene market. A creative soul, he’s been with Dorman Street with more than 10 years and lays low despite the credit he may indeed be deserving of.

Spoke & Steele

Tyler Burns

Spoke & Steele

Address and Info

Putting elevated twists on classics, Tyler Burns is known for pushing the envelope with the creative. The Smoke & Spice cocktail is an excellent example of a theatrical cocktail that wows guests: Burns lights a cedar plank which smokes the glass, then pours in a mix of rye, tequila, amaretto, and bitters. Burns is also responsible for a delicious homage to the Indianapolis Colts, the Blue Steele slushie.

Jacob Cantu

Bakersfield

Address and Info

Jacob Cantu is the man known for running the show on the back patio of Bakersfield. Whether you’re wanting a skinny spicy margarita or smoky and sly Red Headed Stranger, Cantu’s got you covered -- and can whip up likely anything you have your heart set on, or even allow him to surprise you. Cantu is known for his unbuttoned shirts and mohawk hairdo. This bartender also has a PhD in biology, which makes sense when you consider the formula for his unique libations.

Liberty Street

Kit Clouser

Liberty Street

Address and Info

Kit Clouser may seem reserved on the outside, but precise when it comes to cocktails. He’s spent two years at Liberty Street, and came from Zest! Twist after it closed. Peers describe him as “a hell of a nice guy,”  and his charisma is underscored by a degree in broadcast journalism. Perhaps being a talented musician also helps create top notch cocktails, as his creativity shows through with the use of smart flavors and spices. His knowledge of liquor and the distilling process runs deep and shows, with seasonal cocktails like the rum negroni pineapple sour and a plum mojito.

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Carson Quinn clearly has friends in special places -- namely Indy bars. Got a bartender you think should make the next list? Let her know ASAP by following her on Twitter and Facebook.

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1. Thunderbird 1127 Shelby St, Indianapolis, IN 46203

Fountain Square’s Thunderbird hasn’t completely shed its former guise as a mid-century live music venue. The old-fashioned black upright piano is the visual epicenter of the room, and the bar is lit like a stage, though Thunderbird is now a Southern-leaning gastropub, where dishes like pickled okra fries, hot chicken biscuits, and a pimento patty melt shine. It's also a gem of a craft cocktail bar; and the drink menu, divided into "Chillers" and "Thrillers," features the noteworthy Escape from New York Sour with bonded bourbon, vanilla, lemon, strawberry, egg white, and red wine. on the drink menu of “Chillers” and “Thrillers,” take a vacation with the Escape from New York Sour, with bonded bourbon, vanilla, lemon, strawberry, egg white, and red wine.

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2. Hotel Tango Whisky 702 Virginia Ave, Indianapolis, IN 46203 (Fletcher Place)

Hailing from military roots, Hotel Tango Whiskey is a veteran-owned artisan distillery in Fletcher Place, just outside of downtown Indianapolis. Inside Hotel Tango is a tasting room, bar, and retail establishment, all housed in a refurbished 19th-century carriage house. Poured up are Victor Vodka, Romeo Rum, Golf Gin, Lima Charlie Limoncello, and Mike Moonshine, all designated with military phonetic nomenclature. With high quality local ingredients like Indiana-grown corn, good ole American booze is made even better (is that possible?) when enjoyed by Hotel Tango’s cozy fireplace.

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3. Tini 717 Massachusetts Ave, Indianapolis, IN 46204

The folks at Indy’s Tini have discovered that the formula to an unforgettable night out is equal parts vodka and video. Tini’s walls are lined with flat screen TVs that play throwback music videos all night long, and if that doesn’t get you dancing, perhaps one (or four) of their cocktails will. Beverages, like the crowd favorite Purple Rain, made with Absolut Acai, lemon, Rothman & Winter violette, and blueberries, are fresh and fruity, while food is served as small plates, like the hummus plate and spinach dip. Tini is, well, tiny, and it’s almost always packed, but don’t let the crowds deter you.

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4. Libertine Liquor Bar 608 Massachusetts Ave, Indianapolis, IN 46204

Libertine Liquor Bar’s food menu is largely international; chilaquiles with braised pork, pickled onion, avocado crema, cilantro, and fritas sit flesh on the menu with rabbit pierogi with ricotta, charred leek, and rabbit jus. Libertine’s beverage ethos celebrates the pioneering American spirit by emphasizing craft distillers and boutique wines. Cocktails are taxonomically classified by spirit on the menu into “Vodka/Gin,” “Brandy/Rum,” “Agave,” and “Whiskey & More,” and standouts include the Hit or Miss – which is anything but – with pineapple-infused Vida Mezcal, jalapeno-infused tequila, agave nectar, fresh lime, and cilantro, and the Coffee Cocktail with AE Dor cognac, ruby port, egg, sugar, and nutmeg.

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5. Dorman Street Saloon 901 Dorman St, Indianapolis, IN 46202 (Cottage Home)

The Dorman Street Bar has been boozing up guests for almost a century. This saloon is about as divey as they come: the joint is dim and humming with locals enjoying a night out or a post-work drink, the jukebox is singing classic rock anthems and indie songs, and there is a substantial selection of craft beefs on tap and in bottles. The pay-to-play pool goes for about a quarter a round, so bring your jingling pockets on over.

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6. Spoke & Steele 123 S Illinois St, Indianapolis, IN 46225 (Wholesale District)

This downtown spot that looks like the house of a wealthy and ultra-stylish friend slings creative American dishes across its whitewashed lounge and rustic bar with the kind of culinary confidence that can only come from sourcing produce from the nearby Compart Family Farms (among others). Hefty charcuterie boards and sandwiches with house-cured meats make the rounds while house cocktails are infused with spicy, smoky flavors to match.

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7. Bakersfield 334 Massachusetts Ave, Indianapolis, IN 46204 (Massachusetts Avenue)

This hip, industrial-style spot on Mass Ave will keep your Mexican cravings under control with authentic street fare and a selection of more than 100 tequilas and whiskeys. The food menu focuses on the three Ts: tortas, tostadas, and tacos. Once you've settled in with an expertly crafted spicy margarita and some chips & guac to start, try your hand at each T -- particularly the braised short rib torta, chicken chorizo tostada, and the fish tacos with crispy mahi on hand-made tortillas.

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8. Liberty Street 653 Massachusetts Ave, Indianapolis, IN 46204 (Massachusetts Avenue)

Housed inside an historic brick building on Mass Ave, Liberty Street may have opened in 2014, but its decor harkens back to the building's construction in the late 19th century, particularly the massive mahogany bar, where you can post up with old-school and inventive craft cocktails, plus an extensive selection of local and regional brews. There's even a performance stage in the corner of the pre-Prohibition-style space that hosts local ensembles that range from jazz and blues to folk and rock.

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