Great bartenders do far more than pour drinks. They’re part psychic, part psychologist, part best friend, part bouncer—the people who turn a bar stool into a front-row seat, a cocktail into an experience and the annoying drunk next to you into the annoying drunk outside. From the Strip to the suburbs, Las Vegas is home to many great bartenders, so we asked Weekly readers to reveal their favorites and tell us just what makes them so damn cool. Hundreds of votes later, we present the 2012 Best Bartenders in Las Vegas.
Works at: Downtown Cocktail Room and Oscar’s Steakhouse
Years behind the bar: 2 1/2
Signature drink: Miss-cha-lotta, $9 (at Downtown Cocktail Room)
Why we love her: Raised in Las Vegas, this UNLV grad started bartending to raise money for an epic backpacking trip to Guatemala and Mexico. “It really inspired me,” she says of her travels. “Talk about fresh ingredients.” Today, Krystal puts that inspiration into cocktails like her Miss-cha-lotta, which elevates the traditional michelada with house-made mix, gin, Pacifico and lemon, garnished with a yellow chili, green olive and Cotija cheese. “It’s just about adding more flavor,” she says. “It’s like you’re having this full meal.” When Krystal isn’t whipping up aviations and highballs for the happy hour crowd, she also does mixed media art and commercial photography. In fact, she recently shot the fall cocktail menu at DCR—though we think she looks pretty good in front of the lens, too.
Works at: Huntridge Tavern
Years behind the bar: 23
Signature drink: Sweet Tart shot, $3.25
Why we love her: Voters in our poll sang Kate’s praises for her potent cocktails, great memory for a name and drink order, and ability to “throw out a drunken asshole faster than you can snap your fingers.” Kate says she learned that last skill at her first bartending gig at Bully’s, a bar near the Boulevard and St. Louis before the Strat broke the skyline. “It was a really bad neighborhood, and I had to deal with a lot of the unsavories,” she remembers. Not so at the historic Huntridge Tavern, where the bartender/manager says her regulars includes 80- and 22-year-olds, “and everyone seems to get along great” and drink a lot of Jameson. It’s probably got something to do with Kate. “I love people,” says the Vegas native. And clearly, people love her.
Works at: Bond at the Cosmopolitan
Years behind the bar: 14
Signature drink: Nikita, $12
Why we love him: It’s been 14 years since Jerry first stepped behind the bar in El Paso, Texas, and he still sounds in love with the gig. Perhaps it’s thanks to his current post at the Cosmopolitan’s danciest lounge. The Strip-side bar is a hurricane of bright lights and DJ-fed tunes, and from behind the stick Jerry serves up smart reinventions of overdone drinks to a crowd bursting onto the casino floor. “I always tell people, when I go to work I get paid to hang out with my friends,” he says. “You look down, make a drink, look up and three hours have flown by.” These days the veteran bartender enjoys introducing guests to his signature cocktail, the Nikita, made with Hangar One Chipotle vodka, lime, cilantro and caramelized pineapple puree. It almost always gets rave reviews, but Jerry says his drinks are never done. “It’s a work in progress, but it’s fun.”
Works at: Inn Zone, St. Rose
Years behind the bar: 20
Signature drink: Magic Jimmy Juice: Bacardi O, Midori, Chambord, Malibu, banana liquor, grenadine, cranberry juice and pineapple juice. “It tastes kind of like Hawaiian punch. It’s delicious.”
His fans say: “He has the best drink around: Jimmy Juice!” “Wherever he goes I would follow along with numerous other customers.”
Works at: Vesper at the Cosmopolitan
Years behind the bar: 6
Signature drink: The Players’ Club: Made with Nolet’s silver gin, St-Germain, Rothman & Winter Crème de Violette, lemon, lemongrass simple syrup, raspberries and egg whites. “An elegant but balanced cocktail inspired by a great classic.”
His fans say: “A veritable evil genius when it comes to modern takes on classic libations.” “He continually makes the best drinks off the cuff and off the menu.”
Works at: Freakin’ Frog
Years behind the bar: 3
Signature drink: Matching a person to a beer. “I ask them some questions and pick out a beer I think they’ll like.”
His fans say: “Chad is the best bartender at the best bar in Vegas. Hands down.”
Works at: Aces & Ales
Years behind the bar: 9
Signature drink: The Zane’s Monkey: “It’s XO Patron dropped into one of our porters. It’s a specialty drink here. It tastes like chocolate milk.”
Her fans say: “She rocks the drinks like nobody else.” “Wendy is absolutely beautiful inside and out! She always gets the party started.”
Works at: Beach House
Years behind the bar: 15
Signature drink: Salted chocolate caramel pretzel shot: After a customer requested this drink, Kory decided he could make it better. “Mine’s six ingredients, and I line the rim with the salt, sugar and caramel. It’s amazing.”
His fans say: “Funniest guy behind the bar I’ve met in a long time.” “He is the star of the show behind the bar yet very easy to talk to.”
Works at: Gilley’s at Treasure Island
Years behind the bar: 5
Signature drink: Pineapple Express: pineapple vodka with triple sec, lemonade, pineapple juice, a splash of Sprite and a squeeze of lemon.
His fans say: “Fastest bartender in town.” “Mike makes great special shots for me and my girlfriends!”
Works at: Fun Hog Ranch
Years behind the bar: 8
Signature drink: Sexy Alligator: a layered shot made with Midori, Chambord and Jäger.
His fans say: “Jason has my drink ready before I sit down.” “Simply put: great personality!”