Hope you're getting hungry, because the 2017 CultureMap Tastemaker Awards, our annual event honoring the best in local food and drink, is in the wings. We've elected nominees in all categories of food and beverage, from best chefs to the best restaurant in Dallas-Fort Worth.
We'll celebrate them all at a party on April 20 from 7-10 pm at Sixty Five Hundred, with tastings and awards, emceed by Texas celebrity chef Tim Love. Tickets are on sale now, for $45, through March 31.
We've already profiled the candidates for Rising Star Chef, Best Neighborhood Restaurant, and Best Bars. This time, we take a look at the city's best bartenders, whose creativity allows them to take simple ingredients like spirits and mixers, and transform them into something transcendent.
Here are the nominees:
Alicia Ann Garcia, Nick & Sam's Steakhouse
Clubby steakhouse isn't just about the big reds. There's a cool lineup of specialty cocktails executed with style by veteran bartender Alicia Ann Garcia, who often creates weekend specials like the "Mexican circus" with tequila, agave, and cotton candy. If you want to get her undivided attention, order the $100 "Millionaire margarita," which she'll mix up tableside, with patron, 100-year anniversary Grand Marnier, agave nectar, lemon, and lime.
Zach Smigiel, Black Swan Saloon
Lawyer-turned-bartender is not a career path you see often, but Dallas imbibers can thank ex-attorney Zach Smigiel for trading in torts for shakers. A native of Michigan, Smigiel worked in various capacities in the hospitality industry before diving into mixology at the Midnight Rambler, the glossy lounge at the Hotel Joule founded by the renowned Chad Solomon and Christy Pope. Smigiel's Midwest upbringing gives him a sense of modesty and work ethic that fits the vibe at his current hang, Gabe Sanchez' adored Black Swan Saloon.
Andrew Stofko, Victor Tangos
Pianist-turned-bartender is not a career path you see often, but that's the one forged by Andrew Stofko, who is making magic at the bar at Victor Tangos. A native of Korea, Stofko worked his way up the ranks first as a bar back, then bartender, and finally bar manager. Victor Tangos was one of the first bars in Dallas to take the "kitchen ingredient" approach to cocktails seriously, and Stofko continues that tradition with panache.
Charlie Papaceno, Industry Alley Bar
"Charlie Pap," as he is called, helped pave the way for the mixology trend in Dallas at the Windmill Lounge, which he opened with his ex-wife Louise Owens in 2005. A native of New York, he brings an East Coast authenticity to the local scene, as well as an outstanding sense of hospitality. In 2015, he opened Industry Alley, a comforting retro dive on the South Side that's a favorite of the service industry and other savvy insiders, who appreciate its solid drinks, pool tables, pinball machines, arcade games, and neon beer signs.
George Kaiho, Jettison
Companion lounge to the Houndstooth Coffee bar at Sylvan Thirty has a sharp focus, specializing in drinks made with coffee, mezcal, or sherry, including a sherry flight. The bar program is headed by George Kaiho, who previously tended bar at Parliament, Tei-An, and Lava 10. Kaiho's background includes a childhood spent in Japan before moving to Texas when he was 18. He immersed himself in a study of Japanese bartending, which aspires to precision and perfection, which he fuses with the American bar scene's penchant for creativity and innovation.
Brad Bowden, Lounge Here
This outpost of hipness in East Dallas has it all: rock star credentials, cool airport decor, and good bar snacks. Great drinks, too, thanks to bartender Brad Bowden, whose enthusiasm for his work makes it clear he loves what he does. A native of West Texas, Bowden did some world traveling before joining the sharp mixology team at People's Last Stand, where he worked with previous Tastemaker nominees Alex Fletcher and Omar Yeefoon. He's also stirred 'em up at Midnight Rambler, Parliament, and Remedy.
Jenny Park, Niwa Japanese
Park is a Deep Ellum regular who previously served as bar manager at Filament. She's done guest bartending at mixed drink meccas such as The Mitchell and People's Last Stand. She's currently bar manager at another Deep Ellum spot, Niwa Japanese BBQ, an edgy restaurant-bar where you cook your own meat at a table-side grill. Drinks are edgy, too, with a tropical flair, such the Spicy Brass Monkey, with spiced passion fruit, nigori sake, hard cider, and smoked shichimi.
Austin Gurley, High & Tight Barbershop
The demands of an establishment that combines bar with barbershop are unique, but bartender Austin Gurley is up to the task. He rose from waiting tables at a burger joint to bartending at Tate's, before joining H&T. He places great emphasis on hospitality, and his favorite drinks spotlight unique ingredients such as Mexican coffee.
Eddie Eakin, Boulevardier
A popular figure in Dallas' beverage world, Eddie Eakin is the second nominee from Boulevardier/Rapscallion, following Ravi Singh, a 2016 nominee. Eakin can do it all: As manager at Veritas Wine Room, he learned all he could about wine. He tackled beer and became a certified ciccerone. His cocktail program at Boulevardier is a minimalist thing, while Rapscallion goes wild; its latest venture is an exploration of tiki drinks.
Colin Phillips, Nikkei
Nikkei in Uptown Dallas is shaking it up with its spicy Peruvian-Japanese menu, and the drinks aren't so bad either. The cocktail menu includes sakes and Japanese whiskeys, a spirit on the rise that appears in drinks such as the Prinz, made with Japanese whisky, yuzu, lemon juice, house made orgeat, vanilla bitters, and egg white. For sake sips, consider the El Raba, made with sparkling sake, pisco, and ginger syrup. There to execute the program is Colin Phillips, who previously worked at Parliament and FT33.