For our first CultureMap Dallas Tastemaker Awards, we're honoring all the major players in the restaurant world. We've gone sweet on the city's top pastry chefs, suds'ed it up with the best breweries and toasted the best bars. We've bowed to the top chefs and highlighted the rising stars.
For this category, we visit the best bartenders. We love how they take the act of mixing drinks and turn it into an art form. We appreciate their use of fresh ingredients, their knowledge of history and their prolific imagination. Most of all, we love the wonderful cocktails they make us.
Eddie Campbell, mixologist at Abacus
Favorite spirit: Small-batch bourbons, especially those from the Sazerac portfolio.
Favorite drink: Any of the stirred brown bourbon cocktails, like the old fashioned – not only because I think bourbon is the best spirit, but also because they are the best examples of classic American cocktail history. In fact, the old fashioned was right there at the very beginning of the origin of cocktails; it's one of the first perfected cocktails. It's the best use of a smooth but strong bourbon.
Proudest moment: I think rebounding from my experience with the Chesterfield, to open the Parliament. That was a personal challenge, to let go of all that, in an effort to create something better.
Michael Martensen, bar mentor
Favorite spirit: What time of day is it? But I'll go with mezcal. I go down to Mexico once a year and source out mezcals. I have a friend who imports mezcal, he draws out a map and we go cruise. They're all different. Everything is literally passed down from generation to generation; some date back to the 1300s. There's 200-plus types of agave plants, growing at different elevations. It's like wine and terroir.
Favorite cocktail: Vermouth on the rocks with a twist of orange is my drink, traditionally.
Proudest moment: I think the idea of mentorship. Of trying to sift through the BS of Dallas restaurateurs and cultivating talent. I'm proud to have had a positive influence on the culture here, dating back to the opening of Cedars Social. We all roll together, we are a family.
Brian McCullough, co-founder and bar man at Standard Pour
Favorite spirit: I'm a big bourbon guy.
Favorite drink: Drinking or imbibing or consuming cocktails is a social gathering, even if it's one person at your house. You drink for the occasion. But I tend to drink with the seasons. In the winter, I drink Irish coffees a lot. I love the hot drinks, like wassail. I love blended drinks. I love the tiki drinks. I’m not afraid of the blender at all.
Proudest moment: Of all the things, it's the amount of charity work that myself and the people I've worked with have done. This whole business is a lot of fun and we entertain people. But the fact that you can use this business to benefit other people is more rewarding than anything I’ve ever done.
Rocco Milano, beverage director at Barter
Favorite spirit: That's a little like asking me to pick my favorite day of the week, but gin has been what I've been into lately. It's because of the incredible complexity it has and the flavor it delivers. It is very difficult to make good gin. Everyone knows Tanqueray, Sapphire, Beefeater, but there's so much more going on.
Favorite drink: I generally like things that are simple: just any well-made spirit with a little bit of lime juice and sugar to cut it. If it's vodka, we're talking gimlet. If it's rum, we're talking daiquiri. Three ingredients that you can make in a heartbeat, but when it's balanced and flavorful, it's a spectacular drink.
Proudest moment: On the day in and day out, it's when someone thinks one way and you're able to make them think something different. Someone who's had a bad experience with a spirit when they were 18 and you're able to reintroduce them to it. I had a customer recently say, "You just served me everything I never knew I always wanted." You couldn't pay me a higher compliment.
Gabe Sanchez, owner-bartender at Black Swan
Favorite spirit: What I'm liking lately is this Mount Gay Black Barrel Rum from Barbados. They're one of the original rum makers; they've been around since 1703. They're putting it in these bottles that are exactly like what they had in early 1700s. It's rad. And because of the way it's aged, even people who don't like rum are liking it.
Favorite drink: I like to make a Vieux Carre; it's a classic drink from the 1930s. But I've been doing it with this rum I like, and it makes it completely different.
Proudest moment: To see three couples get married who met [at Black Swan] on their first date. At the end of the day, you can take whatever you have behind the bar and put it in a glass and it doesn't matter. It's not just selling booze. It's about the memories. When people remember their experience, it's the person behind the bar who makes sure it was a good memory.
Omar Yefoon, bartender consultant
Favorite spirit: Rum. It's one of the most diverse spirits out there. My favorites come from the Caribbean. Every island makes a different kind, with a different flavor, consistency or range from light to dark, all based on the conditions of the island.
Favorite drink: It changes all the time. The last one I ordered was a daiquiri. I was wanting to get out of the house, so I ran down to the Libertine to sit on patio for a bit, and it seemed like the perfect day for a daiquiri. What I've been making lately is martinis. Most people who order martinis want a super-dirty vodka martini, just vodka and olives, which is a pity because they're not embracing the cocktail for what it is. I try to do it in the classic way, with a lot of vermouth, a lot of gin, a dash of orange bitters and no olive. It’s a delicious cocktail.
Proudest moment: I'm excited about an ad I'm in, in this month's Wine Spectator for Stoli. I participated in a competition — first in Dallas, then New Orleans — and won. Part of the prize was this ad campaign. It's a two-page spread that shows a bunch of cocktails that I created. I'm thinking of getting it framed.
Come celebrate the Tastemakers with us on Tuesday, May 6, at Seven for Parties in the Dallas Design District. To learn more about the event, including information about our beneficiaries, judges, participating restaurants and ticket sales, visit our Tastemakers website.