Editors Note: This is the first piece in our Bartender series. This is in no particular order, numbers just make life easier.
Bartenders play quite a few roles in a bar, depending on who’s coming in to see them. To some, they’re nothing more than a guy/gal who makes them a drink when they ask, but it’s much more than that to many bar regulars and cocktail-lovers. To them, a bartender can be a friend with whom they can blow off a little steam, someone to be the center of an entire community in some cases, and maybe even someone whom many consider to be the entire life of their respective bar. This is why we went on a hunt to find the best bartenders in Cincinnati, because they play a bigger role in our nights on the town than most of us imagine. So, without further ado, we’re proud to showcase the most badass bartenders that Cincinnati has to offer!
1. Rich – Neon’s
Yes, hiding behind those devilishly good looks resides the most badass bartender in the city. This man has been bitten by a coked-up dude in a women’s restroom, had to get a tetanus shot, and got right back to work all in the same week; all because he just has that much of a passion for bartending. See, to Rich, bartending isn’t simply about getting someone drunk: it’s about providing them with an experience.
Aside from his hilarious wise-cracks and infectious laugh, Rich is definitely known for keeping it simple with drinks. That’s probably why people have come to love him for his Traditional Old Fashioned and Sazerac Cocktails. There’s just something about keeping the traditions alive with him, and you have to respect it. He’s definitely had his share of ridiculous experiences, though.
There was one time, when he was working at Neon’s, that some goon had the nerve to stumble back up to the gate at 3:00A.M. to ask Rich if he could come back in to grab a bag of coke that his “friend” had dropped. After getting shot down, he even asked if he could maybe come back the next day. Some people…
2. Gage – The Comet
Gage is a whole separate breed of bartender. Some may refer to him as an intellectual, others as nothing more than an excellent bartender, but he likes to think of himself as more of an “Armchair Anthropologist.” In saying that, he believes that a good bartender should be able to listen to what everyone has to say, however crazy it may be, and offer advice without judgment, because you’ll certainly hear a lot at a bar.
He’s going through a little bit of a Tiki phase right now, and for good reason. Summertime is prime time for drinks with a fruitier mix to them, and he has plenty of fun creating them. He even mentioned that naming a Tiki drink is kind of like naming a racehorse, and after hearing some of the names, we have to agree that there are some pretty creative ones. This is only one of the reasons why Gage is so entertaining, though, and you’ll find out why by stopping in to have a conversation with him.
Sorry fellas, the lovely Danielle just got married, but don’t worry; she’ll still make you one hell of a cocktail. Aside from being absolutely stunning, she is a true Cincinnati bartender. It wasn’t long ago that she started in UC’s Catskeller, but now she’s a favorite at some of the hottest bars in the city. A lot of it has to do with the fact that she’s picked things up so easily, and now she’s even known for leading the way with her artistic innovations on cocktails.
You can’t really do much to piss Danielle off, but definitely don’t walk behind the bar when she’s working. She definitely seemed pretty amazed at the number of people who’ve tried to do so, but one thing was clear: she hates when people do it. So, don’t be that asshole, and ask her to make you a 4th Regiment next time you see her. It’s pretty much a Manhattan that kicks more ass than any other Manhattan. We can attest. She’s helped us to a tipsy state more than a few times. We love you, Danielle.
4. Jake – Brass Tap & Longworth’s
Talk about a guy who knows his beers… Jake is just one of those guys who you can’t help but spark up a conversation with. He’s got plenty of good stories and opinions to go around, and that just adds to the fact that he knows his sh*t. He’s only been at it for around four years now, but he knows his favorite perks about being a bartender…
That’s right, ladies, he’s single and knows just the right drink to put you in a better mood. Oh, and his favorite drink to make is a Bloody Mary. He’ll bring you breakfast in bed, complete with his own mix on a classic breakfast drink. Seriously, though, ask this guy about the best beers in the world, and he’ll always point you in the right direction.
5. Aaron – OKBB
Aaron is one of those dudes who’s been around the bar scene long enough to know all there is to know about cocktails. From what we could tell, he know more about his Bourbons and whiskeys than anything else, and that deserves respect. Sure, he loves making cocktails as well, but ask him what his favorite drink to make is, and he’ll tell you that he simply enjoys whiskey on the rocks.
From a guy getting shot outside of one of his old bars to walking in on some unfortunate sexual situations, Aaron’s seen it all, but he’s definitely found a niche at OKBB. You can tell that he has a distinct pride in his job and his establishment, and it makes the experience that much more enjoyable. Definitely ask him to make his Ancient Orange. It’s what’s up.
6. Sara – Neon’s
She may look sweet, but we’ve definitely learned that she’s a complete badass when it comes to her work behind the bar. People have tried to fight her, spit on her, and bring her down by giving her sh*t about her tattoos, but she’s always stayed positive. She has this, cute, bubbly aura to her and you can tell that she gets pretty intense when it comes to crafting creative infusions.
Turns out that she’s got a little bit of a darker side to her, but we dig it. When you go in to see her, you have to ask her to make her favorite drink, especially if it’s on Sunday. She makes this crazy Bloody Mary that’s mixed with both cilantro and black cherry. We tried it. Mind. Blown.
7. Aaron – A Tavola
Yeah, he caught some drunk girl trying to steal some “Grand Marnier” from the bar once, but it turns out that she was so drunk that she grabbed Balsamic Vinegar instead. He’s definitely earned his title as “Mr. Cincinnati” for a reason. While we were sitting in a coffee shop for his interview, people just kept coming up to talk to him. He’s obviously a popular guy. After trying his “New Old Fashioned,” we can definitely tell you exactly why: His drinks are the life of the party in A Tavola. He was definitely humble, telling us that he couldn’t do what he does without how gracious the bar has been in supplying him with everything he needs.
He also attributes his success as a bartender to his knowledge on the history of cocktails. Back in the day he was a history minor in college, so the love for finding old interpretations came naturally to him when he started. If that’s enough, he’s a born and bred Cincinnati boy, and his love for the city runs deep. It’s not only the history of Cincinnati that he loves, but also the sense of community. He’s definitely become a center of this community for a reason, and you need to get down to A Tavola to find out why.
8. Johnny – Pachinko’s
Johnny’s been at it for a long time now. Make that twenty years of time, but age has brought experience to this dude. He’s famous for making his fish bowls stronger, yet tastier for all of those trying to bring the weekend in the right way. Seriously, if you’re having a rough week so far, come see Johnny on a Thursday night, and he’ll hook you up with a delicious drink that won’t break the bank.
It’s no wonder he’s been in the bartending game for so long. Everyone who came in, he greeted like family, and he knew exactly what they wanted. Pachinko’s just feels like one of those places where it would be great to be a regular. Johnny makes everyone feel like they’re apart of his own family, and that’s something to be respected. If you need to vent to someone in Mainstrasse, Johnny is your guy.
When it comes to taking bartending as an “art,” we know that’s what it’s all about to David. Sure, he loves all of his customers and regulars, but he aims to challenge their palates with some of the more bitter, experimental cocktails that he likes to mess around with. He’ll definitely make you all of the classics that your heart desires, but you’re not going to immerse yourself in the full experience until you ask him to make something bold.
Even if it’s something as simple as a Negroni, David finds a way to liven it up enough for everyone to enjoy. As soon as his hand touches the bottles his face lights up, and everything sets into motion. You know how they say that it takes 10,000 hours to perfect any form of art? Well, David has to be getting pretty damn close, because he seems to have mastered the art.
10. Wednesday – Murphy’s
Wednesday is just one of the sweetest girls you’ll ever have the pleasure of knowing. She loves to keep it simple with her bartending style, and feels no need to go over the top when it comes to giving you what you need. But why over-complicate anything anyway? Some days you just need someone to bring you a local draft beer and let you vent to, and Wednesday is that type of bartender.
And being right down the road from UC, we have to believe her. The specials at Murphy’s are great, too, and she’ll never skimp you when it comes to the $2 doubles during Happy Hour. You really can’t help but smile when you talk to her, and she’s easily one of the most down to earth people we’ve ever met. We can’t wait to see her again.
11. Kyle – Baba Budan’s
Kyle is one of those guys who’s kind of like a bro you’d chill with on a regular basis. We felt like we were a good friend of his as soon as we started talking to him. It wasn’t long until he was joking around with us, giving us sh*t about how terrible we were doing at trivia, and we realized just why we thought he was chill in the first place. To be fair, you have to be pretty “bro” to work the bar right next to a college, and no one in Clifton fills that role any better.
It’s kind of like a big party in there sometimes, and you don’t want to miss it if you plan on celebrating any kind of celebration. Kyle will be there, ready to load you up with all the alcohol you can handle, and you can bet your ass that he’ll be celebrating with you for sure. That’s just the kind of guy that he is.
12. Amanda – Northside Tavern
She may not bartend too many nights, but you’ll definitely want to be there when she does. Her Pineapple Upside Down Cakes are the bomb diggity, and she’s always so caring and sincere when you have a chat with her. She may be shy at first, but don’t be afraid to ask her opinion on something, because she’ll definitely tell you. Just don’t be that asshole when you come into her bar, because she knows what you’re up to.
Also, she loves Irish Whiskey, and we love her for it. Actually, we want to party with her more. Amanda, if you’re ever looking to knock back a few rounds of Jameson, you’d best be hitting us up! As for the rest of you people out there, wait until you meet her, and you’re going to be feeling the exact same way.
This is a growing list, and is going to be expanding as we go on! If you think your favorite bartender deserves a shout out, don’t be afraid to let us know, and we’ll give them a try!