As part of our annual Tastemaker Awards, CultureMap celebrates the best in food and drink, and there's no group more celebratory than bartenders.
Tending bar is a complex task, requiring a wide range of skills including precision, hospitality, multi-tasking, teamwork, patience, attentiveness, the ability to perform under pressure. It's also a creative job that allows room for personal expression and a large degree of autonomy.
We'll toast the nominees and announce the winners at a Virtual edition of the Tastemaker Awards on July 30.
Here are our 10 nominees for the 2020 Tastemaker Awards Best Bartender of the Year:
Daniel Al-Qassem - Bowen House
Al-Qassem is part of the team at this acclaimed Uptown Dallas bar where his special skill is his ability to read people and intuit what they want.
Julie Bennett - AC Dallas
Bennett learned the ropes of bartending at the Fairmont Dallas Hotel, where she worked with old-school professionals who knew all the classic techniques. She then dove into some of Dallas' more advanced craft havens such as Henry's Majestic and its adjoining speakeasy the Atwater. Hotel bars are her sweet spot; she worked at the Adolphus before signing on with the new AC by Marriott in downtown Dallas.
Wilborn Blalock - Tipsy Alchemist
In Dallas there is not a more cutting-edge, out-there bar than Uptown haunt Tipsy Alchemist, where they're mixing up some of the most fantastical cocktails around. There is fire, ice, liquid nitrogen, and smoke. Holding court is Wilborn Blalock, the bar manager in charge of creative concepts, whose goal is to push Dallas' cocktail scene in new directions. A native of California, he's been with Tipsy since it opened four years ago.
Daniel De La Sancha - Paradiso
A native of Massachusetts, De La Sancha recalls wanting to become a bartender as far back as kindergarten, when his teacher asked the class to draw a picture of what they wanted to be and he drew a photo of himself behind a bar. He moved to Dallas in 2011 and diligently worked his way up through the ranks, at bars and restaurants such as Las Palmas, Jose, Eureka, and Kona Grill. His favorite cuisine is French and he likes bringing those kinds of culinary techniques to his cocktails.
Josh Hendrix - Las Almas Rotas
Hendrix is easily one of the most liked figures in Dallas' mixology world. "He doesn't know a stranger," says one peer; "he's a sweetheart," says another. He started in Atlanta with pit stops in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, and has been on the Dallas scene for more than a decade, at numerous high-profile bars such as Proof + Pantry and The Standard Pour. He's supportive of other bartenders, of bars, and of the local scene.
Mario Ortez Huerta - Alamo Club
Huerta is a former sargeant in the Marines who studied criminal justice ethics at Mountain View College. He's tended bar at Knife Dallas, Scout at The Statler, and Musume in Dallas' Design District, and most recently at the Alamo Club.
Loren Marino - Virgin Hotels Dallas
Understated and calm, Marino balances a thirst for learning new things in the field with a genuine interest in people and what they have to say. He's worked at all types of bars, both in Dallas and Chicago: the hole-in-the-wall, high-end steakhouses, hotel bars, craft cocktail bars, picking up tips and techniques, but always paying attention to the customer. "Everybody has a different story," he says.
Kayla McDowell - Bowen House
McDowell has slowly but surely worked her way up to the top tier of bartending, first getting to know the service scene by waiting tables at restaurants such as Chili's and Bread Winners, before gravitating to cocktails. She's been behind the bar at State & Allen, Hopdoddy Burger Bar, and at The Nova on Preston, and now is part of the creative team at Bowen House Dallas.
Marty Reyes - Swizzle
Texan native has been in the service industry for 25+ years, including Dick’s Last Resort, Bowlounge, Industry Alley Bar, Cibo Divino, and the Green Door Public House. He and his wife Jen Ann Tonic bring a special twist: They're longtime tiki aficionados whose endeavors include organizing the 2019 rendition of Dallas Tiki Week in June.
Zach Smigiel - Billy Can Can
Smigiel is a repeat Tastemaker Awards nominee for best bartender (he was nominated in 2017), with a heavy resume at cocktail hot spots such as Midnight Rambler, Victor Tangos, The Porch, and Black Swan Saloon. He's a former attorney and originally from famed Flint, Michigan, with Midwestern roots that keep him grounded.