Up next in the reveal of our nominees for the 2016 CultureMap Tastemaker Awards, we take a look at the city's best bartenders. These mixmasters combine spirits with liqueur, soda, juice, and other ingredients to concoct a beverage that's greater than the sum of its parts. They make magic happen in a glass.
The Tastemaker Awards is an annual program in which we honor the best in local food and drink, and it culminates in a celebratory event, this time on May 19 at Hall of State. We've already revealed nominees for Rising Star Chef of the Year, Best Sushi Restaurant, Best Sommelier, and Best Pastry Chef of the Year, and there's more to come.
These are the eight candidates for Bartender of the Year:
Christian Armando, The Standard Pour
Uptown bar with a nostalgic '20s bent, co-founded by famed mixologist Brian McCullough (a Bartender of the Year nominee in 2014), is as lauded for its food as well as its drink, as it excels in both realms. Bartender Christian Armando is a 26-year-old native of Peru who came to Dallas 10 years ago. Tending bar runs in the family: He has a brother who is also a bartender.
Danny Caffall, Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek
Caffall used to work in the real estate industry before switching over to the world of muddlers and citrus peels. At the Mansion, he's known for his athletic approach to shaking, and for revolutionizing the seemingly simple gin and tonic, by using house-made tonic water with Ford Gin, then giving it a citrus twist with grapefruit zest and a kaffir lime leaf.
Alex Fletcher, Henry's Majestic
Fletcher, who showed us how to make two drinks for New Year's Eve, is a savvy hand behind the bar. He's worked the Dallas bar scene for about 13 years, at places such as Victor Tangos, Barcadia, The Dubliner, and People's Last Stand. He spices things up by using offbeat ingredients; one recent concoction combined tequila, arugula, lime, and lemongrass. He has a heightened awareness of the connection between the kitchen and the bar.
Drew Garison, Parliament
Garison came to Dallas from Abilene, where he helped open and managed a bar, before landing at Parliament, one of our best bars and home to Eddie Campbell, who won Bartender of the Year in 2015. Garison is an intuitive and empathic presence and serves as a regional ambassador for Cornerstone, a national group of bar industry workers giving back to their communities.
Kyle Hilla, The Theodore
After five years as bar manager at Bolsa, the congenial Hilla made the jump to sibling concept The Theodore, where he serves straightforward beverages inspired by timeless American classics. He changes the cocktail menu with the seasons, and he has a knack for creating multilayered mixed drinks using the simplest ingredients. This is not his first time as a Tastemaker contender; he was on the list for 2015.
Benj Pocta, Small Brewpub
Small is the word for this brewpub in Oak Cliff starring chef Misti Norris, herself a contender in our Tastemaker Awards in 2015, in the category of Rising Star Chef of the Year. Prior to Small Brewpub, Pocta worked at FT33.
Zach Potts, Remedy
Potts left the employ of UPS three years ago and has worked at bars such as Amsterdam and Renfield's Corner. He was at HG Sply Co., before switching over to sibling Remedy in 2015. For a bartender, it's a good move: This Greenville Avenue restaurant is noted for its cutting-edge bar, where they've extended the beverage realm with trendy items such as sodas and shrubs.
Ravinder Singh, Rapscallion
Singh has been a member of the Rapscallion family for two years, tending bar at sibling restaurants Boulevardier and Veritas Room, as well. But he's been in the Dallas food and beverage world for more than 20 years, most of it behind the bar, at places such as Obar and Fireside Pies. Creations such as his clarified pineapple milk punch, currently featured at Rapscallion, are as complex as anything coming out of the kitchen.