Feb 2009

Bar Stars 2009

By: The Tasting Panel Editorial Team
Continuing our star-studded year, THE TASTING PANEL recognizes eight ascending Bar Stars from across the nation, selected for their passion, their creativity and their dedication to the job of keeping America’s cocktail culture burning bright. Join us as we say “Salut!”

Justin Janosko – Madison Bar & Grill, Hoboken, NJ
 Improv comedian Justin Janosko is equally talented at the bar.
Photo by Lana Bortolot

Stage Star
Justin Janosko moved to the New York metro area from Pittsburgh six years ago to pursue a career in comedy. After performing in a three-man band for a few years at famed venues such as Caroline’s and Gotham Comedy Club, the 29-year-old funny man decided to pursue standup and improv on his own, and currently takes workshops at the renowned Upright Citizens Brigade.

After five and half years at Madison Bar & Grill, Justin, known for his quick wit, has his own local star appeal. Though he’s comfortable on the big-city stage, his aspirations remain in Hoboken, which he likes because of its strong neighborhood character and great cast of local characters. “It’s a solid place, and this is a fun bar to work at because the regulars are so great,” he says, adding, “Everyone on the staff brings something new to the drink list.”
Cabo Wabo brings Jalisco to Hoboken in Janosko’s X on the Hudson cocktail.
Photo by Lana Bortolot

Jalisco to Hoboken
Justin’s contribution highlights tequila, a spirit he acquired a taste for while traveling in Mexico. His X on the Hudson signature cocktail combines equal parts Cabo Wabo tequila and X-Rated Fusion Liqueur—a blend of French vodka, Sicilian blood oranges and other exotic citrus flavors. He tops it off with a splash of grapefruit juice and a twist. Served in a Martini glass, Justin calls it a “sweet and sour Martini.”

“There aren’t too many Martinis made with tequila,” he says. “But girls definitely like this one because it’s a little sweeter.” Is it the Hoboken version of the Cosmo? “It’s pink, but it’s definitely its own drink,” says the Bar Star.
—Lana Bortolot

Jason Astephen ─ Buckhead Saloon, Charlotte, NC

The other Junior in Charlotte: Jason “Junior” Astephen.
Photo by Neil Isgett

Southern Star
Altering the recipe of a classic Mai Tai recipe for his female customers, Jason “Junior” Astephen of the Buckhead Saloon in Uptown Charlotte stumbled on the perfect ingredients for his Skyy Tai. His creative mix of Skyy Infusions Passion Fruit vodka with pineapple, grapefruit and orange juices and a splash of grenadine is not too strong, with just the right amount of natural sweetness, sans the taste of liquor.

It’s catching on at Buckhead in Charlotte’s Center City, where Junior tends bar and manages a staff of 35. “We go for a real interactive atmosphere,” says Junior of his bar that’s open from 8 p.m. until 2:30 a.m. and anytime there’s an event at nearby Time Warner Cable Arena.

Junior, 32, has tended bar and managed the Buckhead Saloon since he arrived in Charlotte five years ago from The Club in Vail, where he started bartending to finance skiing and snowboarding. In Charlotte, he enjoys golf and is popular in the community, well known for his own promotion company that organizes events for other area bartenders.

The Skyy Tai has just the right amount of sweetness, thanks to Skyy Infusions Passion Fruit vodka.

Star-Crossed Fame
A popular nearby bar is Whiskey River, owned by NASCAR icon Dale Earnhardt Jr., long known as Junior. Increasingly in Charlotte, drinkers mention Junior and specify whether they’re referring to the racing star or the bar star.

Lauren Nguyen, Sales Manager for Republic National Distributing Company, claims Junior Astephen deserves Bar Star status for his inventiveness: “Give him any flavor and he can make a good drink with it!” —Ellison Clary
Jacqueline Frazer – Mix Ultra Lounge in Hollywood, FL
Jacqueline Frazer shakes a sassy cocktail, with help from X-Rated Fusion Liqueur.
Photo by Linda Suarez
Evening Star
Mix Ultra Lounge is the most “Hollywood” hot spot in Hollywood, Florida. It’s frequented by Miami Dolphins football legend O.J. McDuffie and his celebrity friends, and the place “attracts some of the most fun clientele in Hollywood,” according to one regular. This longstanding jazz and blues club has been revamped for the increasingly urban-chic Hollywood crowd, and while there are no stars on the sidewalk on this (East Coast) Hollywood Boulevard, we did manage to spot a bar star at Mix Ultra Lounge.

By day, Jacqueline Marie Elizabeth Frazer is a 23-year-old mass communications student at Florida Atlantic University in Ft. Lauderdale. But by night (and well into the morning: Mix Ultra Lounge is open until 5:30 a.m.) she happens to be one of South Florida’s hottest mixologists.
The Mix Ultra Rockstar and its X-Rated spirit.
Photos by Linda Suarez

Stellar Energy
Jacqueline’s upbeat energy is contagious. She whips up her signature drink, the Mix Ultra Rockstar, as quickly as customers can order it. This mix of X-Rated Fusion Liqueur, vodka and splashes of cranberry and Cointreau, garnished with a sassy glow stick, is smooth and delicious every time.

What makes this shy girl from North Georgia a bar star? After seeing Jacqueline in action it is clear. This girl can work a bar even bearing a corset and three-inch platform boots. Not only does she make a mean cocktail, but Jacqueline’s fun and vivacious energy keeps the party going until the sun comes up. Jacqueline thrives in the fast-paced bar. What keeps her going? “The adrenaline rush when you’re five-deep at the bar!” —Lauren Asarnow

Lexi Latham – Wise Guys, San Antonio, TX

Lexi Latham has a reputation as a fast and furious mixologist.
Photo by Kirk Weddle

Wild Star
When Lexi Latham mans the bar at San Antonio’s popular Wise Guys sports bar, her customers know they’re in for a treat. The sexy 28-year-old not only slings some of the best cocktails south of the Mason-Dixon, but also strives to give her customers a drink—and a drinking experience—they’re not likely to get anywhere else.
“I have a very creative and wild personality, and I give that to people 100 percent, whether they like it or not,” says Lexi confidently. “When a customer asks for a creative or new drink, I run with it. The only question I ask is, ‘What are you allergic to?’”
The Cucumber Mojito at Wise Guys gets its vibrant color and intriguing flavor from Midori liqueur.
Photo by Kirk Weddle

Starburst of Confidence
Lexi’s reputation as a fast and furious mixologist has made her a local favorite. But for Lexi, popularity, confidence and accolades are only part of the fun. “People from all over the world come into my bar, and I’m learning new shots, new local traditions from them every night,” she says. Although Lexi is undeniably passionate about the art of crafting the perfect cocktail, her talent and confidence allow her to face each day and customer like an adventure. “No night is ever a repeat,” she says with a smile.

Lexi’s customers have no complaints about the drinks coming their way, including Lexi’s bar star signature cocktail, the Cucumber Mojito. In October of 2008, Lexi’s star quality shone through at the Iron Bartender of San Antonio competition, where she was chosen the winner based on her take on a classic Mojito, served in a hollowed-out cucumber and inspired by the vibrant green color of one of the cocktail’s ingredients, Midori liqueur. “Before I knew it, people started asking for it at Wise Guys,” laughs Lexi. — Rachel Burkons

Traci Helton – Péché/Cedar Street, Austin, TX

Traci Helton prepares a cocktail with characteristic energy.
Photo by Kirk Weddle

Lone Star Star
Mixologists across the country spend hours adjusting recipes in the hope of creating cocktails that could be called “well-balanced,” “thoughtful” or “complex.” But at Austin’s Péché/Cedar Street, Bar Star Traci Helton has garnered such high praise for her hit concoction, the Mo-Tai, that Bar Manager Donnie Walker can only describe the drink in one way: “Fun in a glass.”

Traci, a self-professed health nut and “Texas girl through and through,” has spent the past seven years as a bartender and bar manager. Today, she looks back on her stint as a social worker as “doing time.” For Traci, success as a mixologist has come easy, thanks to equal parts passion and talent.

“Fun in a glass.” The Mo-Tai showcases Flor de Caña 7 Year Grand Reserve from Nicaragua.
Photo by Kirk Weddle

Star Imagination
 “I love everything about my job; it’s my niche, people like watching me do it, I take pride in it,” says Traci, 37. “Sometimes you think, ‘Oh, maybe this job is for younger people,’ or ‘Maybe I should do something else.’ But if it’s something you’re good at and love to do, you should do it.” With talent and imagination to spare, we can’t wait to see what strikes this Bar Star’s fancy next.

A master mixer with a creative energy hard to top, Traci was inspired to create the Mo-Tai by her two favorite cocktails (the Mojito and the Mai Tai, of course), as well as the dark and smooth sweetness of Flor de Caña 7 Year Grand Reserve from Nicaragua. “Everyone likes it because it is a combination of two classics, and they can’t get it anywhere else,” says Traci. “I like it because it’s sweet and pretty and tastes like dessert. Right now, that’s kind of my thing.” —Rachel Burkons
James Bobby – Bardot, Los Angeles, CA
James Bobby behind the bar at Bardot.
Photo by David Gadd
Star Appeal
James Bobby is accustomed to the spotlight. His position as Assistant GM at Bardot, Hollywood’s hottest celebrity lounge, has him fielding custom cocktail orders nightly from the club’s A-list clientele. Among others, Liv Tyler and Kate Hudson are regulars at the hideaway, just upstairs from legendary music venue The Avalon. A recent Oscar nominee (who must remain nameless here) DJs frequently. Prince has been known to jam with the house band on Tuesday nights.

“One thing I’m very good at is knowing this clientele,” says Bobby, “knowing their palates and how spirits fit into that profile.” Make that top-shelf spirits, like Campari generously rationed in Bardot’s signature Negroni (aka the Joan Holloway, for the character on AMC’s Mad Men.)
The house Negroni at Bardot combines gin, classic Italian aperitif Campari and sweet vermouth for a cocktail that fits the club’s neo-retro vibe.
Photo by David Gadd
Hand-Picked Star
“Our cocktails have clean, upfront flavors,” says the practiced mixologist, who notes that mixed drinks with food (from chef Jared Simons) are a natural match at Bardot.

Bobby was working a few blocks away at sibling club Green Door when he was hand-picked by partner Jason Scoppa as part of the high-amperage team that keeps Bardot on top. But as part of the club’s visionary management, Bobby likes to keep it down to earth—just the way his clientele likes it: “We decided that rather than try to be anything in particular, we were just going to be us. That’s a pretty easy thing to do.” —David Gadd

Ethan Woodill – Amber India, San Francisco, CA

Ethan Woodill: “San Francisco is a cocktail mecca, and we all benefit from working in such a creative and competitive environment.”
Photo by Deborah Parker Wong

Star of India
In the months since Amber India opened its chic San Francisco operation on Yerba Buena Lane, Wine and Spirits Specialist Ethan Woodill has established a boutique bar scene that taps his clientele’s interest in luxury spirits and year-round taste for Southeast Asian flavors. Woodill’s passion for cuisine-based cocktails has resulted in a beverage program that works seamlessly with the well-integrated spices and often smoky Indian dishes.
For the Dhamaka, Woodill begins with the “true and correct” natural flavors of Skyy Infusions Passion Fruit vodka.
Photo by Deborah Parker Wong

Star Surprise
San Franciscans who made Amber India’s South Bay locations in Mountain View and Santana Row a destination for years now have cocktails like Woodill’s Dhamaka (from a Hindi word for a “blast” of passion)—a base of luscious Skyy Infusions Passion Fruit vodka enhanced with muddled ginger and a syrup of pink peppercorn, green cardamom and white pepper—to expand their horizons. Indian cuisine lends itself well to small plates and with a lighter menu available in the bar, guests truly enjoy pairing Woodill’s balanced and cooling cocktails with less-familiar dishes.

“Cocktails are a blend of history, culture and socio-economics served up in a glass,” offers Woodill. “The first thing I want to do is make a connection with my audience, and then surprise them.” —Deborah Parker Wong

James Zachodni – Amber, Seattle, WA
James Zachodni caught in action at Amber.
Photo by Matt Boyer

Action Star
James Zachodni moved to Washington State from Hawaii to attend school for music and arts. While he still dabbles on the keyboards, his connection to the hospitality industry in Seattle is firmed up through his role as Editor-in-Chief of D-List, a four-color monthly magazine that reports on the city’s best picks for dressing, dining, drinking and dancing.

As if it’s not enough that Zachodni is an editor and a mixologist, the 30-year-old entrepreneur also runs Flairbourne, an elite bartending training and service company. “It’s how the bartenders in the area connect,” he says.
Made with Skyy Infusions Passion Fruit vodka, the Amber Passion Press channels the tropics.
Photo by Matt Boyer

Passion for Passion Fruit
It may be his Hawaiian roots that caused Zachodni to choose Skyy Infusions Passion Fruit vodka as the main ingredient for his signature cocktail at Amber, but he claims it’s the connection to the Presbyterian Highball. The original drink was not an alcoholic beverage at all, just soda. It goes back about 50 years, when non-drinkers, or “Presbyters,” who were invited to parties would merely ask for soda. Some clever bartender devised a mix of ginger ale and club soda that looked like a rye and soda.
Nowadays, the Press will contain any number of spirits. Zachodni’s Amber Passion Press channels the tropics with Skyy Infusions Passion Fruit, fresh lemon, simple syrup and a drop of grenadine. “It’s easy to make,” he points out. “The bar at Amber is super busy, so this is one delicious drink that can be made quickly and efficiently serve a crowd. You'll find that most people that order one will simply say, ‘I'll have a Press.’” —Meridith May


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