bartender of the year
Houston's 10 best bartenders craft stellar specialty sips and top-shelf service
The nominees for Bartender of the Year in the 2021 CultureMap Tastemaker Awards are a diverse group. Collectively, they work for some of the city’s finest bars and restaurants and brings decades of experience to their craft.
Earning the attention of our judges’ panel of restaurant industry experts isn’t easy. To stand out, a bartender not only needs to make drinks, but they should be committed to service, passionate about the drinks they serve, and constantly looking to improve.
Our 10 finalists demonstrate these qualities and serve as positive examples for their peers. Also, they’re just really fun to sit in front of and have a drink. That counts, too.
Who will win? Find out July 22 at the Tastemaker Awards party. We’ll dine on bites from this year’s nominated restaurants before emcee Bun B reveals the winners. Buy tickets now before they sell out.
Alphonso Quiñones - Tiny Champions
This veteran of establishments such as Johnny’s Gold Brick and Bad News Bar brings his passion for gently guiding people to new spirits and cocktails — he says converting vodka-soda drinkers is a personal favorite — to the buzzy East End restaurant. His interest in tropical flavors shows up in the restaurant’s chutney chilada, a riff on a michelada that incorporates a fermented mango chutney. In general, Quiñones says he looks to utilize techniques from the kitchen and apply them to making ingredients for the bar.
Avery Davis - March
Not only will diners find Davis behind one of city’s prettiest bars, they’ll also find him on stage performing either solo or with other local musicians. That outgoing personality translates well to customer interactions, but Davis says it also makes him very meticulous about his work. A barista before he became a bartender, his favorite cocktails incorporate amaro a slightly bitter profile — just like espresso.
Derek Brown - Riel
This bartender brings experience working for some of New York’s top chefs, including Daniel Boulud and David Chang, to his role at the Montrose restaurant. Count on him for balanced cocktails that pair well with whatever creations chefs Ryan Lachaine and Peter Nguyen throw at him. On Thursday nights, diners will find Brown overseeing the Nhau happy hour offerings at Blood Bros. BBQ.
Josh Alden - Reserve 101
Bringing a sophisticated, modern cocktail program to a bar known primarily as a place to drink whiskey neat has been a welcome challenge for this veteran bartender. Reserve 101 will always be a whiskey bar, but with Alden behind the bar it’s more welcoming to a wider class of drinkers, which seems fitting for someone who helped shape the ultra-popular offerings at Heights Bier Garten. While contemporary cocktails are his signature, ask him to recommend an Islay Scotch; the man has a passion for peat.
Khrystah Luisa de los Santos Gorham - Two Headed Dog
This bartender describes herself as a ‘“gender non-conforming, eighth generation Texan who lives to taste the earth.” Gorham’s outgoing personality led to a career in the service industry, where she can make drinks made from local, seasonal ingredients that take inspiration from her Mexican heritage. Look for her welcoming presence behind the bar at Two Headed Dog, where she’ll make customers whatever they request but will recommend a favorite mezcal or other funky agave spirit if prompted.
Máté Hartai - Tongue-cut Sparrow
This 15-year bartending veteran describes himself as detail-oriented, which is an important trait at a bar where the cocktails are as precisely made as Tongue-cut Sparrow. Asked about favorite cocktails, he cites the classic daiquiri as one he’s particularly devoted to. A Hungarian immigrant, Hartai will soon begin importing his family’s apricot brandy (Pálinka in Hungarian); he’s been known to share a sip with friends and regulars alike.
Rebecca Burkart - Johnny's Gold Brick
As the general manager of Johnny’s, Burkart oversees a team known for its ultra-creative monthly cocktail menus. Her detail-oriented approach prompts her to focus on every aspect of a cocktail’s creation — down to finding just the right element from the bar’s garden to garnish a drink. She says her favorite thing is to present a spirit in a way that changes someone’s perception of it; don’t be afraid to ask her about her favorite Scotches.
Sarah Crowl - Rosie Cannonball
This veteran bartender describes herself as a “ninja” who aims to serve without disrupting a diner’s experience. Primarily known for her zero-proof drinks, all of Crowl’s creations can be identified by their beautiful presentations and balanced flavors that pair well with the restaurant’s dishes. Her affection for brandy and amaro will occasionally be reflected in her cocktails, or customers can ask her to suggest something that will round out their meals.
Shannon Currin - Two Headed Dog
Currin says she’s coming a long way since she first got behind the bar at Goro & Gun eight years ago. Customers will find her making beautiful drinks with fresh ingredients at Two Headed Dog and popping beers and pour shots at Lil’ Danny Speedo’s Go Fly A Kite Lounge in the East End. With a goal of always challenging herself, she encourages other bartenders to taste as broadly as possible and keep detailed notes, because one never knows what flavors will provide inspiration.
Zach Hornberger - Nancy's Hustle
He may be a quiet presence behind the bar, but Hornberger lets his drinks do the talking. Typically, they're tall, tart, and incorporate a savory element designed to pair well with the restaurant's creative menu. Hornberger has also pioneering offering more zero-proof options for diners who want a flavorful drink without alcohol.