A mixologist who knows his or her way behind the bar can transform a watering hole into a discerning libation destination. Skip the shaker-slinging theatrics and consider one of the following ’tenders whose serious cocktail knowledge always shakes things up.
● Steamhouse Lounge (Midtown) – Oyster haven where Kitty Deal, a 17-year vet, helms the daytime shift. A lounge singer by night, Deal composes cocktails when the sun shines. Her signature is the Goombay Smash, a blend of coconut rum, orange, pineapple and lime juices. She tops it with a dark rum floater. ● Highland Tap (Virginia-Highland) – Venture down into this dimly lit cow palace for a choice hunk of cow and a masterfully prepared cocktail. With any luck you’ll catch Markie Kinsman behind the bar, who’s chalked up 7 years there. Both fellow service industry types and restaurant regulars frequently request Kinsman’s take on the Pink Lemonade in either shot or drink form.
● Trader Vic’s (Atlanta) – Contemplating one of the more than 70 cocktails on the Vic’s list? Try and make sure bar supervisor Joel Lindsey does the mixing. The award-winning barkeep is well-schooled in the Trader Vic’s cocktail philosophy. After all, namesake Victor Bergeron claimed to have invented the Mai Tai. Try the almond-tinged, slightly sour, and totally fruity Samoan Fog Cutter. Many drinks come in decorative glasses, a nod to prefab tiki culture. ● Holeman & Finch Public House (Buckhead) – While many patrons clamor for the burger at this purveyor of whole animal cuisine, others sidle up to the bar for a jolt from mixmaster, Lucas Godfrey. He brings imaginative libations to life like the Johnny Ryall. Cherry liqueur, grapefruit juice and bitters swim with Miller High Life. ● The Clermont Lounge (Poncey-Highland) – Owner Kathy Martin always manages a smile while pouring a Fuck in the Graveyard, a grape soda-like conglomeration of vodka, cranberry juice, blue curacao, and peach, apple and blueberry schnapps. A nightcap at this kitschy and seedy strip parlor should include an encounter with over-50 matriarch Blondie. After decades, she continues crushing beer cans between her boobs, reciting poetry and jacking the jaws of unsuspecting patrons with those mammoth mammaries. ● Repast (Midtown) – The kitchen t.l.c. at this high-ranking foodie retreat overflows into its bar. That’s where head mixologist Kysha Cyrus is known to pour her signature Gus Russet. The bourbon-laced creation features a spiced lemon tea with Thai basil and fresh lime muddled with simple syrup. Once shaken, it sports a reddish-brown color and arrives in a martini glass. ● The Palm (Buckhead) – General manager Willy Cellucci often sheds the corporate trappings and steps behind the bar to whip up Willy’s Pinky. It’s a drink he helped invent during the 1996 Olympics. He fuels it with orange Stoli and a splash of cranberry helps brighten things a bit. Cellucci remains the quintessential drinking buddy with his raspy delivery, quick draw witticisms and a blast of top-shelf booze. ● Whiskey Park (Midtown) – Wade through the throngs of beautiful people and hit the bar for a creation from acclaimed ’tender Dinah Peña. Peña’s partial to martinis, so pick one from the list. All of the ingredients are fresh (basil, mint, mangos and more) and everything, including the sour mix, is made from scratch. She bypasses purees by muddling fruit. ● Drinkshop (Downtown) – A product of international mixologist Sasha Petraske, the bar is overseen by local libation luminary, Eric Simpkins. Get Simpkins to create something using one of the homemade mixers including ginger ale or strawberry lemonade. Or opt for The Bees Knees, a gin-heavy potion teeming with clover honey. ● Bacchanalia (Westside) – As far as alcohol goes, one of Atlanta’s most celebrated restaurants is best known for its extensive wine list and oh-so-smart stewards. But its bartenders, including Jeff Hagley, pour ace champagne cocktails and other concoctions to compliment a dinner to remember.