Midnight Mixologists: Cricket Nelson and Her Top 10 Miami Hot Spots

As a bartender at a Miami art space, Cricket Nelson is a long way from the farm she grew up on. But the professional pourer has brought the principles she learned growing up—namely a dedication to fresh ingredients—to the mixology game. Here she is on the perfect setting to enjoy a cocktail, her ideal customer, and Miami at night. Also, see below for her top ten Miami hot spots.

How did you get into mixology? 
I grew up on a farm, and learned to cook at an early age. Being very creative, I’ve always enjoyed playing with flavors. It was a natural progression to carry my passion for food and fresh ingredients to mixology. I guess mixology came into my life in response to my guests. They’re always looking to try something new, so I ambitiously stepped up to the plate.
What’s your favorite part of the job? 
The beaming smile a guest makes when they take their first sip of a really great drink.
How do you name the drinks you create? 
It sort of just comes to me. The names are inspired by a guest, an ingredient, a brand’s history or story, the vibe of the establishment I’m designing for. But I always try to throw in a little humor or sexy suggestion. Sexy sells, let’s face it. 
What was your inspiration for the cocktail you created for Stoli®? 
Funny, I had a recipe all planned out, then I got an imagination curve ball! I belong to an organic produce co-op, and picked up my beautiful box of fresh summer fruits and veggies—plump, ripe, juicy strawberries, fragrant basil and lemons, all from Florida. It reminded me of my childhood summers on the farm and time spent with my family; fresh lemonade stands, and barbeques. I took the black pepper, basil, and balsamic vinegar from memories of my grandmother’s tomato salad, and mixed it with sugar, lemons, and strawberries. All reminiscent of the strawberry lemonade we used to make. Then I added the memory of the booze I used to pinch from her liquor cabinet when I was a young teenager, and bam! “Not yer Gran-Ma’s Lemonade” happened.
What’s your idea of the absolute perfect setting in which to enjoy a cocktail? 
Beachside, surrounded by friends.
What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received as a mixologist?
For me, actions speak louder than words. Referrals and repeat business are the best compliments. That tells me I did it right the first time. 
What does it take to be a great mixologist? Is it a god-given gift, or something you can learn? 
Passion is a key component. I think anyone can learn to do “mixology," and many can become really good at it with practice, but I think to be really great at anything you have to be born with a natural gift, and have the confidence and passion to indulge it.
What makes your venue special? 
In a city of DJ culture, we have great live music everyday of the week! 
What nightlife trend rubs you the wrong way? 
Arrogance. We are here to serve.
What’s the secret to running a great bar? 
Combining great service with delicious cocktails and offering up a welcoming, heartfelt smile. A lot of bartenders forget to smile. 
Who is your ideal customer? 
The one ordering drinks.
What do you love most about Miami at night? 
Balmy breezes.
What’s your go-to ingredient to make a great cocktail? 
I love a lot of ingredients, but I have to say that every time I drink a glass of Florida pink grapefruit juice I say to myself, God I love grapefruit juice. 
Nelson’s Top Ten Miami Hot Spots
  1. The Stage
  2. Hakkasan
  3. Sra. Martinez
  4. The Living Room at the W
  5. Florida Room
  6. Haven
  7. Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink
  8. Mercadito Midtown
  9. Sustain
  10. Clarke’s

Meet more Midnight Mixologists here.

Midnight Mixologists: Justin Anderson and His Top Ten Chicago Hot Spots

Justin Anderson takes pride not just in pouring and making quality drinks, but also in running a bar and making his customers feel welcome. The SoCal native can be found tending bar at a Chicago swank neighborhood watering hole. Here he is on his favorite part of the job, naming his drinks, and the perfect setting to enjoy a cocktail. Also, see below for his top ten Chicago hot spots.

How did get started with bartending and mixology?
In college I started doing bartending part-time, and I’ve kind of just been doing it ever since. And then about a year and a half ago—this was in San Diego, I grew up in Southern California—I decided that a move to Chicago might put me in a good market. I just kind of hooked up with a big group of people and restaurant groups. 
What’s your favorite part of the job?
My favorite part of the job is finding satisfaction on people’s faces, if it’s from a cocktail or just from their experience in my restaurant or bar. When I go to a restaurant or bar, the food might not be that great, the ambiance fantastic, but then, the service is kind of paramount. Just seeing the gratitude on some people’s faces, or someone coming in and asking specifically for me, or something that we’ve made them in the past. I think the other part of it is, when I first started bartending, you make a ton of vodka tonics, and you get taught a ton of drinks that are just really—you don’t really put a lot of appreciation into the cocktails, or know how they’re made or how they’re distilled, things of that nature. You get to a level where you really want to know what it is that you’re doing, and how things are produced, and how to make a quality product. And I think the longer you do this, you probably gain an appreciation for the things you’re actually doing. I think that it’s about using quality products, but also at the same time, providing a service to somebody.
How do you go about naming the drinks that you make?
For a lot of people, it seems like the most difficult thing, and the majority of people will tell you that it has to be clever. It’s funny because each one I use, you’re always working off of something clever. Today, for example, someone on their Facebook page said something about gin, and I actually took what they said, and just put it in my iPhone. So instead of writing things out on my notepad, I put it in my notepad on my iPhone, and I have a list of like 60 cocktails names. If I see something funny on a billboard, and it seems like a name that could be used for a cocktail, I’ll use it. I also try to reference things from my past that I think are relevant.
What was your inspiration for the drink you created for Stoli®?
It’s summertime, and I try to use simple ingredients, fresh produce. I like to go to a chef because they tend to know flavors better than anybody. I’ve been working with the chef since I first got here, and he used a lot of farm-to-table for his cooking, so I figured why not use that in the cocktail. So I used fresh blueberries with Stoli Blueberi®, which seemed kind of natural. So as far as the cocktail goes, what I did was I took fresh blueberries, and then I made house syrup, and made a tea out of rosemary. I incorporated that into the Stoli Blueberi® and used higher end tonic water based out of California. 
What is the perfect setting for you to enjoy a cocktail?
I’m a big fan of a dark room, lots of candles, and some music that I’d say fits that kind of ambience. I’m a big fan of rock and roll, but I’m also a big fan of some Latin jazz, some bossa nova, something that makes sense for the atmosphere. And if you’re at a gritty dive bar, then you like gritty, fun good music. If you’re at something sexy and dark and candlelit, then you don’t want crazy dive bar music. 
What do you like most about the Chicago nightlife scene?
In California, the bar scene is done at 1:30 or quarter to 2. But in Chicago, they have bars that are open pretty much until 4 or 5 in the morning. There is an opportunity to always get your taste of it no matter what time of night. The other cool aspect of it is the community; I’ve never seen anything like it. I know people that bartend in New York, and it doesn’t have that same camaraderie. I think everybody is closer here. Chicago is a big city, but everyone knows each other in the bar and restaurant industry here. And they take it very seriously, there’s a level of respect, where in other cities, it’s more or less a means to an end. Here it’s a career, and you don’t get looked down upon for being a bartender or a server. In California, I kind of felt like people were like, I’m just doing this to get through college.
Are there any nightlife trends that rub you the wrong way?
I think there’s a huge gap between a bartender and a mixologist. There’s a huge gap and there’s also a thin line. There are plenty of people now that are taking classes and they can make drinks at the bar. You might know how to make a drink, but you can’t tend a bar. That’s part of the gig. Mixology is an old-time term, but I think that people that are labeled true mixologists these days might have forgotten about what it is to actually tend a bar.
What makes your approach to mixing drinks different from everybody else’s?
I try to use the least amount of ingredients as possible, and I use things that are approachable and identifiable for the general public. And if they can’t, I try to educate people and just know as much as I can about certain products. To really tie it all together, it’s a matter of making a cocktail that’s approachable, that someone can identify with—you know, having something that’s made with bourbon, but not having something that has five or six things with that bourbon. What I try to do is that whatever the base is, I make sure that you can identify that. 
Anderson’s Top Ten Chicago Hot Spots
  1. The Whistler
  2. Bar DeVille
  3. Big Star
  4. Rainbo Club
  5. Matchbox
  6. Delilah’s
  7. Bluebird
  8. The Bar on Buena
  9. Bangers & Lace
  10. Rite Liquors

Meet more Midnight Mixologists here.

New York’s Sexiest Third Date Bars

The third date. You’ve made it. Now it’s totally acceptable for you to take your date back to your place and [fill in the blanks]. 

And in order to ensure that you’re both in the mood, we’ve compliled our list of the sexiest bars for that third date. Think of it as foreplay. Enjoy.