Our latest chapter in our 2023 CultureMap Tastemaker Awards, honoring the people who make our local restaurant scene soar, covers an irrepressible group: bartenders.
They're one of the categories featured in a special
editorial series in which we've elected
nominees, and whom we'll celebrate at a party on May 4 at Fashion Industry Gallery (F.I.G.) with tastings and awards to the winners. Tickets are on sale now.
We've already profiled the nominees for
Rising Star Chef, Neighborhood Restaurant, Bar of the Year, Brewery of the Year, and Best New Restaurant (don't forget to vote!), and we'll soon be covering Restaurant of the Year, Chef of the Year, Wine Program, and Best Burger.
Bartenders are a creative group possessing a wide range of skills: 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.
Here are our nominees for best bartenders of 2023 in Dallas:
Christian Rodriguez - Tipsy Alchemist
Rodriguez hails from artsy San Miguel de Allende in Mexico and learned the craft cocktail ropes at The Standard Pour. He's done cocktail pop-ups in San Francisco, Chicago, and New York, donating tips to charities including a dog shelter, Planned Parenthood, and hurricane relief in Puerto Rico. He's been with Tipsy Alchemist for four years, and also helped open Tipsy Alchemist in Austin.
Elizabeth Hooker - Billy Can Can
North Carolina native moved to Dallas for a job with the Dallas Mavericks before changing careers into the food & beverage industry. She's been behind the bar at Armoury DE, Ruins, Nick & Sam’s, Drake’s, and craft cocktail bar The Parliament, and is currently with Billy Can Can in Victory Park, while she pursues certification as a sommelier.
Haley Merritt - Midnight Rambler
Native of El Paso started her craft career at Deep Ellum bars Hide and Ruins as a bartender and manager, before rising to fame when she won The Shake Up, an all-female cocktail competition organized by bartender/advocate Rosey Sullivan. Merritt's been working at Midnight Rambler for two years, and loves a craft cocktail, but hospitality is her first priority. "You can make someone a fancy cocktail, but if they’re having a bad time, that's what they're going to remember," she says.
James Slater - Chimichurri
returning nominee who has worked at high-profile spots including IdleRye, Oak, Knife, Spoon, Five Sixty, the Joule, and the Network Bar in Trinity Groves. He's created many noteworthy cocktail menus, including the one at Chimichurri where he also serves as bar manager.
Jermey Elliott - Double D's
Elliott has worked in the industry both in Dallas and Arizona, including Parliament and Milkshake Concepts in Dallas, and at Bitter & Twisted, an acclaimed cocktail lounge in Phoenix. He came back to Dallas
in 2021 for the opportunity to develop Double D's, a new bar from This and That Hospitality that opened in spring 2023.
Kelsey Hanshew - Armoury DE
A career bartender since her early '20s, Hanshew started out at corporate restaurants in the Grapevine area, before relocating to Dallas, where she joined the team at Armoury, and also tended bar at the Granada Theater on the side. At the Armoury, she learned the ins and outs of craft cocktails while working her way up to bar manager, and has represented the bar at competitions around the U.S.
Leonard Madison - SER
Madison started his cocktail journey at Great Wolf Lodge where he worked for a decade, then got a huge opportunity at Cowboys Stadium, when he was hired as mixologist at the Cowboys Club, a members-only private social club for the Dallas Cowboys. During COVID, he started a mobile bartending business called Fort Pours, then joined SER as part of their post-COVID reopening team.
Tab Hirschey - Coupes
Since moving to Dallas in 2015, Hirschey has worked at bars at Jose, Bourbon & Banter, and The Standard Pour among others, before joining the NL Group as Beverage Director where he helped reopen Dakota's Steakhouse. He left the NL Group for Coupes, helping design the physical space and menus, then signed on as general manager.
Taylor Witt - The Mitchell
Witt began his DFW career in Fort Worth, starting out in the fine-dining world at restaurants like Truluck’s, Del Frisco's where he was wine director, and Rise Souffle, where he served as wine manager. He switched more intensely into spirits after moving to Dallas, first at Reveler's Hall in Bishop Arts, then at The Mitchell, the craft cocktail nexus in downtown.
Vanessa Chambless - Cock & Bull
Calling Chambless a bartender understates the role she's assumed at most of the bars where she's worked, often serving as a manager, as well. A longtime industry veteran, her career dates to the heyday of Deep Ellum, and she's worked at legendary places such as Club Clearview and the Elbow Room. She's been a fixture and customer draw at Cock & Bull for more than a decade.