‘Tis the season for cheer and celebration and that most definitely applies to the boozy beverages whose glasses we clink and the people who concoct them. This week, Eater celebrates the bartenders in our midst who make the most potent, but tasty potions. For the fifth annual celebration, after whittling down the finalists, we spotlight five talented mixologists, cocktail connoisseurs and barkeeps in the Mile High City. Here, they share with us their hopes, dreams, fears and guilty pleasures.
Name: TJ Vong
Where are you from: Born in Houston, TX. but grew up in Colorado Springs.
Where are you bartending: Curio is in the Denver Central Market as well as Mister Tuna.
First bar job: My first bartending job was in Cripple Creek as a casino bartender for Triple Crown, I started off with the graveyard shifts working from 12 a.m. to 8 a.m. I only got to serve alcohol 3 hours out of my shift, and they were usually two ingredient drinks.
Favorite cocktail: My favorite cocktail is probably a Ramos Gin Fizz. It was one of the first classic cocktails I learned to make. It's simple a cocktail you can't rush, the time and effort you put into it almost always pays off. Even if I make one just to taste.
Last cocktail before you die: My last cocktail would probably be a Plantation Pineapple Daiquiri. It's simple and refreshing and a great way to finish a day, even if it's my last.
Favorite smell: That's tough when I enjoy smelling so many things. I've started smelling literally everything since I started bartending, sometimes I literally just hold a glass of wine and smell it for minutes unable to drink it because it smells so good. Although, if I have to pick one, rain it would be.
How many rings before you answer the telephone: Depends on how fast I find my phone. I usually end up missing the call because I'm always out doing something, whether it's climbing, snowboarding, biking, driving, hiking or working. If it's any substitute for missing the call initially, a few minutes after calling back you'll probably get a butt dial.
Worst feeling in the world: Waking up and checking your bank account after a night out of drinking and shenanigans, is usually a pretty terrible feeling. Especially if it's followed by stubbing your toe on the way to the bathroom because you're still wobbly.
If you could have any job you wanted, what would it be: Honestly, I don't want another "job" because I would probably change it. Bartending is a lifestyle for me. It fuels my creative side, works with my extroverted personality. I'm constantly learning, and wanting to learn. Eventually I'll own my own bar/restaurant but for now the only thing I would change would be the ability to travel more. If I could travel and bartend at the same time I would be in heaven.
What's on your computer screensaver: Nothing currently since my computer is recovering from a cup of water being spilt on it, but the last one I had was a photo of Burning Man, a home away from home.
Is the glass half-full or half-empty: Sounds like an Old Old Fashioned with just enough ice or an over filled glass of wine. Either way, I just drank it. Can I have another?
Guests would never guess that you: Most guests are pretty surprised that I'm a fire performer and even more so surprised when I tell them I occasionally perform for a swingers club.
Rising bartender Denver should look out for: Josh Tallant
Your guilty pleasure: Bowties, ties, and pocket squares are probably my guilty pleasure. I believe I have enough to wear a different one every day of the month if not more! I totally nerd out when I walk into a store, especially antique stores that have a unique selection. If I find an awesome self-tie bowtie I usually walk home with it, even though I know I have too many.
Restaurant/bar you frequent the most: I visit Ste. Ellie's quite frequently. It's my go-to spot anytime I have good news. Speaking of which ... it's time for another stop.
Name: James Menkal
Where are you from: The simple answer is Denver. I was born in Orange County California but moved to Colorado when I was very young. I went to high school and college here. I've also lived in San Fransisco for a year, Houston for two years, and New York City for one year.
Where are you bartending: Departure, Cherry Creek.
First bar job: The Queen Vic Pub in Houston.
Favorite cocktail: It's a tie between the Old Fashioned and the Daiquiri. I get lazy at home so I tend to make more Old Fashions.
Last cocktail before you die: A Double Bruichladdich Octomore neat and a delirium Tremens.
Favorite smell: A wood burning stove with food cooking.
How many rings before you answer the telephone: I only pick up for my mom. Text me.
Worst feeling in the world: Helplessness.
If you could have any job you wanted, what would it be: Lord of the Rings.
What's on your computer screensaver: I turn my monitor off when I've finished using my computer.
Is the glass half empty or half full: It's always full of something. If it's half full of liquid then the other half is full of air.
Guests would never guess that you: Play so many video games. I like tactics games like Starcraft 2, Hearthstone, and Orcs Must Die 2. I just imagined every girl reading this skipping to the next bio.
Rising bartender Denver should look out for: Matt Hunt. He's just as stoked as I was about the craft when I first started but he's learning faster than I did because he takes time to listen, read the right books, and practice as often as possible.
Your guilty pleasure: The Alessi Brothers. Shout out to my ex work wife, A. Minetta Gould. Miss you boo.
Restaurant/bar you frequent the most: Tommy's Thai. It's all delicious food for not that much money and the service is always amazing. I could eat there every day.
Name: Jason Snopkoski
Where are you from: Born and raised in Connecticut but have been living in the Edgewater area since February of 2015.
Where are you bartending: Avanti Food and Beverage
First bar job: A dive-y college bar called Gotham City in Danbury, CT when I was 18. I bar-backed for one night cleaning a sink full of dirty dishes, pots and pans that had been festering in a sink for two months. The owner didn't expect me to return the next night but I did and while he struggled to fix a broken keg I started serving drinks and never looked back. I've been a bartender ever since.
Favorite cocktail: A good 'Ti Punch is pretty high on my list.
Last cocktail before you die: Spring water neat; I'd rather go out with a clear head.
Favorite smell: All of them, even the bad ones.
How many rings before you answer the telephone: Two if the number registers, otherwise it's probably going to voicemail.
Worts feeling in the world: Being hungover at elevation is definitely not fun.
If you could have any job you wanted, what would it be: There aren't many jobs that I would rather be doing than bartending. It's offered me a lifetime of rewards, but Anthony Bourdain has got a pretty damn good gig, to the the "Bourdain of Bartending" has a nice ring to it.
What's on your computer screensaver: Factory default.
Is the glass half empty or half full: Overflowing.
Guests would never guess that you: That I'm a nerd for all things beverage ... coffee, tea and even spring water. You haven't blind tasted until you've blind tasted a range of spring waters with different TDS (total dissolved solids).
Rising bartender Denver should look out for: There are a handful of hungry and passionate bartenders on the come up at Avanti and a multitude of them in Denver in general, so in fairness to not naming someone I work or know well I'll say that I've been thoroughly impressed by a kid named Andrew Kim from Beast and Bottle on the occasions that I've had the pleasure of sitting in front of him. Perfect hospitality, a great depth of knowledge and has never missed a beat despite getting crushed every time I've seen him.
Your guilty pleasure: Micheladas, Affrogattos, and the occasional breakfast beer.
Restaurant/bar you frequent the most: Duo for brunch and Ste. Ellie late night are two of my regular haunts.
Name: Jon Feuersanger
Where are you from: Massachusetts.
Where are you bartending: Beast + Bottle/Coperta Restaurants.
First bar job: Second Home Kitchen & Bar.
Favorite cocktail: Daiquiri.
Last cocktail before you die: Daiquiri.
Favorite smell: Cool air just after a rainstorm.
How many rings before you answer the telephone: 2.
Worst feeling in the world: A bad service.
If you could have any job you wanted, what would it be: My current job.
What's on your computer screen saver: The hill of Hermitage.
Is the glass half empty or half full: Half full.
Guests would never guess that you: If I told you, then you'd know and that is no fun.
Rising bartender Denver should look out for: Marcello Petrone.
Your guilty pleasure: Mexican beer.
Restaurant/bar you frequent the most: Mercantile.
Name: Andreas Pejovic
Where are you from: Rochester, NY.
Where are you bartending: OAK at fourteenth.
First bar job: OAK! It's been a wild ride.
Favorite cocktail: Fortunately, it's rarely ever about what I like more than who is in front of me, but anything stirred with vermouth or sherry is a good start.
Last cocktail before you die: Hopefully something made by a friend, like the Vaya Con Dios, a play on a negroni with mezcal.
Favorite smell: The few days between each changing season that smells both new and nostalgic.
How many rings before you answer the telephone: Not more than two ... company policy.
Worst feeling in the world: Over filling a water glass, which is also a metaphor.
If you could have any job you wanted, what would it be: I'm a firm believer in doing what is happening now, but I used to teach sailing in NYC and it's hard to imagine something more wonderful, current employment excepted.
What's on your computer screen saver: Haven't had one since the pipes on windows 95', if you know, you know.
Is the glass half empty or half full: Read above.
Guests would never guess that you: I went to school for music theory ... maybe tried to go to school would be more accurate, though.
Rising bartender Denver should look out for: This list is a great place to start, and the pasts lists cover almost everything else. I think as bartenders we stand on the shoulders of the giants that came before us.
Your guilty pleasure: Kim's Special Bahn Mi, reminds me of mornings in Hanoi.
Restaurant/bar you frequent the most: Rino Yacht Club on Sunday, Plaenque on Monday, Arcana for Terroir Tuesday, then it's back to work.