The city's largest cocktail charity event is back. On September 30 at Klyde Warren Park, more than 100 bartenders will donate their time and skills to the Ultimate Cocktail Experience, all for the purpose of raising money for local charity Trigger's Toys. The pop-up event will whisk guests around the world, with each top bartender creating a unique bar concept and mixing up drinks to represent a different exotic city.
Before you buy a ticket and raise a glass (or several) in the name of charity — there will be more than 35 cocktails and a handful of non-alcoholic libations, after all — meet some of the talented men and women who will wield the shakers as captains of their teams.
Ravinder Singh, Rapscallion
City: Havana, Cuba
Though Singh is a teetotaler himself — keep the Topo Chico coming, please — he has the uncanny ability to guess what you want to drink even before you order it. At Rapscallion, he's partial to making Tiki concoctions such as the Have You Seen My Keys?, a crowd-pleaser of a drink that comes with fancy garnishes and a guaranteed reaction when presented.
At UCE he'll be whipping up, among other recipes, a killer daiquiri.
"I've never been to Havana but quite a few of my friends have," says Singh. "They always return full of passion and renewed vigor for life. It seems like a wonderful place and I'm looking forward to visiting someday."
Robbie Call, Filament
City: Hong Kong, China
Ask Robbie Call which cocktail he most enjoys making, and his response reveals just how much he loves bartending: "It’s like a personal Sophie’s choice every time, except I have hundreds of beautiful babies to choose from."
If he's pouring for himself, expect a whisky neat or an amaro cocktail topped with a spirit. When he's pouring for guests, he determines what spirit they're craving and then asks for three adjectives that describe their current mood — a method which almost always yields successful results.
For the Rob Roy he's creating for UCE, Call was drawn most intensely to the idea of dissonance.
"I see this in Hong Kong — you have the obvious influence of classic Cantonese culture as a backbone, and the last 170 years saw culture after culture trying to mate with it to create something new, and the result is this big melting pot," he says. "It’s intriguing, unique, exciting, and it represents so many different things. It’s been fun trying to tackle it and represent it genuinely."
Has he ever actually visited Hong Kong? "No," he admits, "but I damn sure will now."
Keisha Cooper, Shoals
City: New Orleans, Louisiana
Not only did Keisha Cooper get married in New Orleans, she also returns to the Big Easy several times a year for extended vacations.
"The thing I love most about NOLA is that it feels like a living, breathing entity," she says. "The history, beauty, and decayed glamour of that city draws me in like a drug and wraps me in its familiar cultured splendor."
It's only natural that Cooper will be serving her take on a sazerac, the cognac cocktail that was invented in New Orleans (though in her off hours you're more likely to find her sipping a a dry vermouth or sherry mojito, or the classic Campari and tonic).
Besides stocking her bar with quality modifiers — vermouth, sherry, benedictine, amaros, cordials — Cooper will concentrate on making her concept feel as authentic as possible.
"You are definitely going to feel my NOLA when you walk in!"
Omar Yeefoon, Shoals
City: London, England
Peek behind Omar Yeefoon's bar, and you'll always spot what he considers the most important item that any bar can stock: sugar.
"It's almost impossible to make a cocktail without it," he says.
Yeefoon also makes sure to have plenty of empathy, a trait he calls "the most important trick in the bag" for any bartender, when he's mixing up drinks. His favorite to make? An old fashioned. And to drink? The same, but only if it's well made.
The self-proclaimed Anglophile only visited London for the first time this past March, but he has long admired the city for its long history and combination of so many cultures. As a nod to the city's famed Beefeaters, one of the drinks he'll be mixing up is his take on a gin and tonic.
Andrew Stofko, Hot Joy
City: Casablanca, Morocco
Though he may not have known much about his assigned city before UCE, Andrew Stofko certainly identifies with Casablanca's coastal vibe.
"I like making blended cocktails, actually," he says. "Especially with bananas. And I don't even like bananas by themselves."
When it comes to consuming, however, Stofko can't resist the aromatic call of Angostura bitters. The botanically infused mixture makes it onto his list of bar must-haves as well, along with a good knife.
Perhaps add in a broom and dustpan too, because Stofko admits that his fanciest bartender trick is that "I will break at least one glass during a shift, without fail."
Brad Hensarling, The Usual
City: Mexico City, Mexico
Along with bartender Megan McClinton, Brad Hensarling will be giving Mexico's tequila fame a nod at UCE with their special take on the traditional margarita.
But you also might find him hanging out at Omar Yeefoon's London-themed bar, as a gin and tonic is his own personal favorite drink.
Hensarling gets to flex his mixology muscles at his Fort Worth bar, where Prohibition-style cocktails are the star. His favorite to make is The Third Way Whisky, a combo of house whisky blend, grapefruit, demerara sugar, lemon, saline, and Laphroiag scotch whisky: "Small, powerful ingredients can go a long way."
And though he's never visited Mexico City, Hensarling did his research. "Mexico City has gone from not having a cocktail scene to having a great one in almost no time at all," he says. "The bartenders there have been resourceful and creative in a way that I have never seen before."