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Best Bartenders Uncovered: Nicole Laurita, Daryl Pryor, Rae Raymond, Les Baker

Cheers to some of the best cocktail makers in Denver!

Nicola Laurita, Daryl Pryor, Rae Raymond, Les Baker V
Nicola Laurita, Daryl Pryor, Rae Raymond, Les Baker V
Jennifer Olson

This week Eater celebrates not only cocktails but those who make them possible, the bartenders. It is the fourth year of spotlighting the talent that makes our bar culture rock. Yesterday, we revealed the 12 talented bar men and women featured this year. Today, we present you four of them in more detail — from first jobs to mottos and go-to spirits, and best meals ever.

Name:  Nicole Laurita
Where from: Denver, Colorado 
Behind the bar at: Williams and Graham
First job: I want to say I made pizzas, but really I just racked up an impressive number of oven burns.
Last cocktail before you die: I want a Smith & Cross passion fruit daiquiri, which probably means I'll die near a beach from shark related causes.
Best meal ever: I love street hotdogs after a night of heavy drinking.
Go-to spirit for new cocktails: Rum
Dream trip: I want to visit Italy because they know how to take it easy.
One thing you'd change in the world: Everyone should have a puppy.
Motto or favorite quote: "Yes there are two paths you can go down, but in the long run, there's still time to change the road you're on." -Led Zeppelin
Craziest thing you witnessed while bartending: I think sweeping poop of the floor takes the cake . . . the shit cake.
Best bartending lesson you've ever learned: When you're bartending, you're welcoming guests into your home. Before everything else, ensure they enjoy themselves.
Advice on becoming a better bar guest: Guests should relax and have a good time while still being respectful of other guests.

Name: Daryl Pryor
Where from: All over. Denver's home now, Virginia was home once.
Behind the bar at: Mercantile Dining & Provision
First job: I worked at Subway when I was 14. Since then, I've only ever worked in independent restaurants, and I can't remember a time when I haven't been working. I need a vacation.
Last cocktail before you die: Probably a Diamondback, a combination of rye, apple brandy, and Chartreuse. It's a high proof, boozy concoction, and it's almost unfair how good it is. Either that or an ice cold daquiri.
Best meal ever: Any time I get together with my fiancé, Jess, and our friends to cook, that's when I'm happiest. No better meal in the world.
Go-to spirit for new cocktails: It's something different every day. I pour through a lot of calvados, olorosso sherry, Dolin Blanc, and. apricot liqueur. Not always in the same drink. Although.... Hang on, let me write this down.
Dream trip: I'd love to take my lady to Southeast Asia. My time spent cooking at ChoLon instilled a real love of the food and cultures in that region, and I'd love to be a part of it for a while.
One thing you would change in the world: Ending war and injustice could be nice, but I suppose I'd be happy if The Simpsons had ended after season 12.
Motto or favorite quote: "The only time you look in your neighbor's bowl is to make sure that they have enough. You don't look in your neighbor's bowl to see if you have as much as them." -Louis C.K.
Craziest thing you witnessed while bartending: A very drunk man pulled a very small knife out on me once. It was weird.
Best bartending lesson you've ever learned: Bartending has really helped me have a more complete understanding of hospitality. When I was cooking, I was constantly thinking about what I could do, how much I could do, how fast I could do it. I still have that mentality, but getting behind that bar has made me realize who all that is for: the guest.
Advice on becoming a better bar guest: I suppose just being more open to new things. If you don't know what something is, let's talk about it. You might find out you love Novasalus (just kidding, nobody loves Novasalus).

Name:  Rae Raymond
Where from: All over!
Behind the bar at: The Squeaky Bean
First job: Dog walking
Last drink before you die:  Japanese whisky in my mouth!
Best meal ever: Mother's home cooked Italian meals, sometimes you need fresh love as well as fresh ingredients.
Go-to spirit for new cocktails: A nice stiff rye.
Dream trip: To infinity and beyond! To seek out new life and new civilizations to boldly go where no man has gone before.
One thing you would change in the world: The distinct lack of imagination in folks these days.
Motto or favorite quote: "If you come to a fork in the road, take it." Yogi Berra
Craziest thing you witnessed while bartending: I had a male guest pull a saber out of his bag and proceed to sharpen it at my bar.
Best bartending lesson you've ever learned: You never know who will sit down at your bar next!
Advice for becoming a better bar guest: Enjoy themselves like adults.

Name:  Les Baker V
Where from: Albuquerque, NM
Behind the bar at: Star Bar
First job: Washing dishes
Last cocktail before you die:  Yamazaki 18 Washington apple
Best meal ever: Fresh Ahi tuna straight from the ocean.
Go-to spirit for new cocktails: Tequila
Dream trip: Tour of all ancient monolithic sites. To visit where the gods touched the earth and helped to seed civilization.
One thing you would change in the world: Erase the Kardashians.
Favorite quote: ‘‘Only the dead have seen the end of war" -Plato
Craziest thing you witnessed while bartending: Having to hold back a hoard of zombies at the bar and realizing it was just people from Octoberfest.
Best bartending lesson you've ever learned: You never know who is sitting in front of you.
Advice for becoming a better bar guest: They could have a better understanding of astrophysics and a knowledge of string theory to help me solve the mysteries of the Universe.

The Squeaky Bean

1500 Wynkoop Street, Denver, CO 80209 (303) 623-2665 Visit Website

Williams & Graham

3160 Tejon Street, , CO 80211 (303) 997-8886 Visit Website

Mercantile Dining and Provision

1701 Wynkoop Street, , CO 80202 (720) 460-3733 Visit Website

Star Bar

639 Southeast Morrison Street, , OR 97214 (503) 232-5553 Visit Website