Bartenders are easy people to like. After all, when life has a person feeling blue, a bartender is there with a tonic to brighten one's mood. Or allow a person to wallow in his or her misery. Either way, we rely on bartenders to know how to match our moods.
Collectively, our Tastemakers Bartender of the Year nominees are equally adept at serving their customers and crafting tasty libations. That's why they've been selected by our panel of restaurant industry insiders as the best of the best.
Join us for the Tastemakers celebration on May 13 when our nominees will create cocktails using spirits provided by presenting sponsor Tequila Herradura.
Lainey Collum, Prohibition Supperclub & Bar
As part of its move downtown from the Galleria, Prohibition realized it needed to step up its beverage program to match the high-quality cocktails at neighbors like El Big Bad and the bars on the 300 block of Main. The restaurant turned to Collum who brought her extensive resume that includes stints at Double Trouble, The Pass & Provisions and Hay Merchant, where she earned a Cicerone certification. As Prohibition's beverage director, Collum has maintained the bar's barrel-aged cocktail program while introducing a menu that features both classics with a twist and new creations. Well-chosen lists for both wine and beer show off her diverse skillset.
Mike Criss, The Nightingale Room
The former OKRA general manager has thrived at this new spot downtown that's all about the music. Criss's welcoming attitude and relentlessly positive energy set the tone for The Nightingale Room's upbeat atmosphere. Similarly, the cocktail menu furthers the party feel with features like a high-quality take on the Long Island Iced Tea and a range of shots. Criss's vision for the bar can best be seen on Thursday nights, when it gets a jump on the weekend by hosting a different live performer each week.
Alex Gregg, Moving Sidewalk
Lots of bartenders take their work seriously, but few bring as much passion and discipline to their work as Gregg. Tasked with converting Goro & Gun into a cocktail bar, Gregg rolled out a new menu that leverages the space's kitchen to create infusions and syrups that help set Moving Sidewalk apart from its neighbors. Additionally, Gregg has partnered with popular Houston bartender Aaron Lara to launch Ice Age Houston, a boutique ice service that will sell Moving Sidewalk's signature hand-cut ice to other bars and restaurants.
Laurie Sheddan Harvey, Sanctuari
In her role as beverage director, Harvey is responsible for creating the elaborate, beautiful cocktails that have given Sanctuari a separate identity within upscale restaurant Triniti. Harvey is equally at home creating twists on classics and her own original libations, but it's her flair for making patrons feel welcome that's her true gift. Even when Sanctuari's intimate space is buzzing, Harvey's calm, reassuring presence ensures that every patron feels properly coddled.
Richard Middleton, Brennan's of Houston
As one of the first people diners are likely to encounter at Brennan's, Middleton sets the tone for delivering the high-standards of service people expect at the Creole classic. By Brennan's standards, Middleton's eight-year tenure is a brief one — some employees claim 30-plus years — but he's already established himself as an essential member of the team. As with Brennan's food, Middleton's cocktail menu takes advantage of high-quality, seasonal ingredients from local producers. That's why his title isn't just "bartender;" it's "bar chef."
Brandon Ricks, Captain Foxheart's Bad News Bar & Spirit Lodge
When Bad News Bar is at its most chaotic, Ricks is at his best. Even on Saturday nights, when patrons may have stood outside for a few minutes before being admitted to the packed bar upstairs, Ricks can be found working quickly to keep the Old Fashioneds and Negronis coming. On quieter nights, Ricks can talk people through the bar's intriguing spirits selection, which features rare Scotches and bourbons. Ask him what he's working on, and he can produce a thick notebook of ideas for future cocktails. Try on. It'll be delicious.
Leslie Ross, Treadsack Group
As bar director for the Treadsack Group, Ross has brought her unbridled enthusiasm for the world of spirits to the the ambitious, Heights-based restaurant group's four new concepts that are opening in 2015. Ross provided the first glimpse at Johnny's Gold Brick, where her menu of 10 classic cocktails for a reasonable $8 is painted on the chartreuse-green walls (conveniently Ross's favorite spirit). At Johnny's, Ross brings her extensive cocktail competition experience to the bar's staff by teaching proper techniques for preparation and service. As for what direction the cocktails will take at Treadsack's three upcoming restaurant, we'll just have to wait and see.