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