This week Eater celebrates not only cocktails but those who make them possible, the bartenders. It is the third year of spotlighting the talent that makes our bar culture rock. Yesterday, we revealed the 14 talented bar men and women chosen for this year's feature. Today, we present you five of them in more detail — from first jobs to idols and mentors and favorite spirits.
Name: Chris Clewell
Where from: Denver
Behind the bar at: Acorn
First job: I worked at TAG
Drink of choice: Mezcal Last Words
Last meal before you die: Duck Confit
Favorite spirit: Tequila/Mezcal
If you could take a trip anywhere in the world right now, where would you go?: France. I have been hearing amazing things about the country for years and its been a dream of mine to visit.
If you could have a superpower, what would it be?: I would want to be able to stop time for at most 5 minutes. It would give me that edge when I'm 3 deep at the bar.
What's on your phone's screensaver?: A pirate skull and cross bones stamp.
What's the best feeling when are behind the bar?: Seeing everybody laughing and smiling and shrugging off any worries they had before they came in.
Name a bartender in Denver who is a mentor or an inspiration: Every bar I sit at is an inspiration and everyone I have ever worked with has given me the ability to see things in a different light.
Name: Haylee Ortiz
Where from: I moved around. Most of my childhood was spent in Fairbanks Alaska and near Watertown New York
Behind the bar at: Session Kitchen
First job: Music Promoter. I started putting shows together for garage bands in barns and ended up working with a few venues in Nashville and going on a few tours.
Drink of choice: Something boozy that pairs well with a fireplace and a good book, or a big earthy Italian red wine, which also pairs well with a fireplace and a good book.
Last meal before you die: Probably moose or true fresh smoked Alaskan salmon. It would have to be eaten in a log cabin or haphazard shelter, in Alaska. True frontier style.
Favorite spirit: single malt scotch whisky (Islay mostly) and Cognac/Armagnac
If you could take a trip anywhere in the world right now, where would you go?: I am studying wine right now so probably Piedmonte, but Scotland is on my list as well.
If you could have a superpower, what would it be?: Telekinesis. It would be just like Fantasia when it was chore time and tending bar would be even more of an obscenely good time.
What's on your phone's screensaver?: The first time my boyfriend and I got caught in the rain on his motorcycle, I took a picture of us when we got back to his garage. It was dark and the picture is creepy and beautiful. We look like a smitten duo of mischief.
What's the best feeling when are behind the bar?: There are two big highs I get. I love just crushing the service well. Streamers of tickets and having to really work out the puzzle and push everything out really quickly. There is nothing like that sweat and focus. Your brain finds a different mode. Then there is just having a bar full of guests that are just as stoked to be there as you are and the ease of hospitality that comes with it. That feeling of really hosting a gathering of strangers that turn into friends on both sides of the bar.
Name a bartender in Denver who is a mentor or an inspiration: Les Baker. I get to work with him a few times a week. He is always turned on. He is probably the most creative and ambitious bartender I have ever met. He is always genuine, always fun, and just lights up a room. He has that "it" quality.
Name: Sam Johnson
Where from: Denver
Behind the bar at: Williams & Graham
First job: When I was 15, I got payed under the table to archive files for an architecture firm in a room two stories below street level. I didn't meet many girls that summer.
Drink of choice: At the end of a long shift, I like to drink a cold beer quickly so it's cold all the way through.
Last meal before you die: My father's lamb chops with Greek salad and potatoes; my sister's homemade pasta and pesto; and my mother's linguine with clams. I wouldn't leave my final meal hungry...
Favorite spirit: Free spirits.
If you could take a trip anywhere in the world right now, where would you go?: I would go to Sololá, Guatemala to visit my friend Rigoberto and his family in the house we built together for them seven years ago.
If you could have a superpower, what would it be?: When I have free time, I really love to cook. I would like to have the ability to transport friends and family to my dinner table at any given time. I would also need the ability to transport them back out, because you know how family functions can be after a few hours...
What's on your phone's screensaver?: It is a photo of local artist and my good friend Lance Jackson's painting.
What's the best feeling when are behind the bar?: Honestly, I enjoy the challenge of when a guest tells me she is not completely happy with her cocktail. It means we have created a space in which she feels comfortable enough to give critical feedback, and then I have the opportunity to make her entire night better.
Name a bartender in Denver who is a mentor or an inspiration: Not only has Jason Patz taught me so much of what I know about bartending from his encyclopedic knowledge of cocktails and spirits, he also works exceedingly hard to keep our bar running well. Marcel Templet is also an inspiration. He has a keen instinct for hospitality. I brought some out-of-towners to his bar a week ago, and he had all of us in stitches within 60 seconds of sitting down. He makes guests have FUN. Period.
Name: Brandon K Parker
Where from: Longview, Texas
Behind the bar at: The Arvada Tavern
First job: TCBY, the frozen yogurt shop.
Drink of choice: A Sazerac
Last meal before you die: Street tacos
Favorite spirit: Bourbon, of course!
If you could take a trip anywhere in the world right now, where would you go?: Patagonia, the region, not the store. To see the physical landscape and experience the culture.
If you could have a superpower, what would it be?: (Selective) Mind reading. Mind reading would facilitate communication. I say selective to maintain privacy, otherwise things might get weird.
What's on your phone's screensaver?: A picture of the Gore Mountain Range
What's the best feeling when are behind the bar?: Seeing the moment when a patron realizes there's no where else they'd rather be.
Name a bartender in Denver who you consider a mentor or an inspiration: Jeremy Duffy of the Arvada Tavern. His leadership, positive attitude, and attention to detail are inspirational.
Name: Carly Raemer
Where from: Littleton
Behind the bar at: Golden Moon Speakeasy
First job: "Receiving Manager" at the Limited Too. Basically I hid in the back shipment room, folded and hung clothing, and listened to 90's teenage punk rock.
Drink of choice: A well executed Old Fashioned
Last meal before you die: Campfire quesadillas and Rittenhouse Rye.
Favorite spirit: Absinthe. I love the mystique, the stories, the fabrications, the adventures, the truths, and the non-truths. The colors, the louche, the transformation, and the awe. Absinthe has a brilliant history and done well is one killer spirit. It can stand beautifully alone, plays well with others, or subtly whispers itself around a cocktail.
If you could take a trip anywhere in the world right now, where would you go?: The best part about traveling for me is the spontaneity of transit. It's not so much the destination as it is the wanderlust. That being said, I'd like to kick it in Iceland with Sigur Ros, drinking tea and wearing sweaters.
If you could have a superpower, what would it be?: Wizard. With a focus in potions.
What's on your phone's screensaver?: Pinstripes.
What's the best feeling when are behind the bar?: The spark of a new idea/creation. That electricity of creativity that drives me around; jumping on the back bar to grab tinctures, or to the back for spices, the ISI charger, or the induction burner, down the hallway for a new tea or espresso grounds. It's a force within me that needs to explore, discover, and actualize.
Name a bartender in Denver who is a mentor or an inspiration: Noah Heaney is my jam. He gives me direction, guidance, and confidence when I need it, and knows exactly when to let me shine alone.