This year The Atlanta Food & Wine Festival taking place May 31- June 3, is highlighting bartenders who have creatively made a name for themselves in the food & beverage industry. The roster includes a few renegades who, whether it be designing a unique bar program or opening concept spaces, are setting a new standard. And while bartenders haven’t always received the respect they deserve, these craftsmen are taking what’s theirs to show the world how The South does cocktails. From the trending scene in Atlanta to the punches of New Orleans, the southern beverage industry has cultivated a variety of talent that is changing the face behind the bar.
Meet Greg Best, Tokiwa Sears, Tiffanie Barriere, Phoebe Esmon and Adrienne Miller. These mixologists are 100 percent proof that Southern hospitality is the base for a great cocktail and a good time.
Ticonderoga Club, Atlanta
One of the original founders of Atlanta Food & Wine Festival, Best is known for his work as a founding partner of Holeman & Finch Public House. There he served up cocktails to round out the menu. He’s proud of the contributions he and his team made to the Atlanta cocktail scene.
“I think we have healthy, robust cocktail scene and positive culture,” Best says. “I think we have leagues to go, but I’m happy with our scene and happy and excited to see where it’s going to continue to go.”
Now he’s heading up Ticonderoga Club at Krog Street Market. It’s his way of bringing a bit of New England to Atlanta where the cocktail scene is bubbling up.
“We wanted to get back to an independent one property bar with great food and atmosphere,” Best says. “Paul Calvert, Bart Sasso, Regan Smith and David Bies decided to come together and create a really fun tongue and cheek place. We’re all damn yankees in hiding and wanted to bring a little bit of where we’re from down here.”
His love for the Atlanta bar scene comes from that same kind of familial hospitality, where Best says “You can go to a bar and talk to someone for 15 minutes and they’re your best friend.”
Best will be presenting a class titled “Cocktail Kings: No Recipe Needed” with cocktail historian David Wondrich, and Paul Calvert, former bar manager at The Sound Table. During the class the three gentlemen are discussing different ways the cocktail blueprint can be manipulated. Wondrich is going to talk about how recipes have changed throughout time, Calvert will discuss how situations change recipes, and Best will explain how recipes can be altered according to personal preference.
Bar Margot, Four Season Hotel Atlanta
Sears who was formerly the assistant bar lead at Holeman & Finch Public House, and is now at Bar Margot at the Four Seasons Hotel was ”shocked and honored” when she was invited to be on the AF&WF advisory board. Sears who is a member of Drinking with The Girls, an all Black-female bartender’s collective says it’s extremely exciting that many of the women on the advisory board are of color.
“I think it says that Black women are definitely starting to get the recognition we deserve. Black women have been cooking and making drinks for centuries,” Sears says.”Especially in the bartending community it has been quite an interesting evolvement seeing Black women who are professionals behind the bar and in kitchens taken seriously as professionals.”
Sears has fun creating cocktails that pay homage to the the film “The Royal Tenenbaums” which makes curating a cocktail program at Bar Margot interesting. However, Sears says she never forgets who comes first, and credits consistency as the secret to her success.
“It’s always about service, nothing is above me in that sense,” Sears says. “I’m always willing to provide what my patrons want versus what I think they should have.”
She says the vibrant Atlanta cocktail scene is a reflection of the changing cityscape and appreciation for local ingredients. “I think the rising chefs are having bartenders mirror the chefs and mirror what’s going on in the kitchen,” Sears says.”So there are cocktails that are incorporating a lot of culinary aspects”
Currently, Sears is remixing drinks to make healthy cocktails easy and accessible by incorporating herbs, berries and vegetables. You can find Sears during the AF& WF Saturday classes “Stirred Up:Maximize Your Cupboard” and “Connoisseur Cocktails:Stirred Up” with Tiffanie Barriere, Miles Macquarrie and Stacie Stewart.
Drinking with the Girls, Atlanta
Known for her work at One Flew South in Atlanta, Barriere is switching lanes with her agency Drinking with the Girls. Barriere who goes by The Drinking Coach, helps brands put their bottles in the hands of the right influencers. She also demonstrates how to create culinary combinations that connect chefs to bartenders which is her favorite part of the process. Barriere’s Drinking with The Girls crew consists of Tokiwa Sears of Bar Margot, Keyatta Mincey of 5 Church, Kysha Cyrus at Joystick Gamebar, Shannon Evans of Studio No. 7, Thandi Walton the creative force at Gypsy Kitchen bar and Sadiyyah Iddeen bartender at Escorpion. Drinking with The Girls is Barriere’s way of displaying what she calls “Black Magic,” by shining a spotlight on Black women making noise. She says the idea came to her after receiving so much press at One Flew South
“They were making me feel like a unicorn like I was the only one.These girls are my friends. I knew these girls and I know these girls kick butt,” she says. “I wanted to showcase what’s happening in a classy, brown, beautiful way.”
Barriere is excited about all the women who have been appointed to the advisory board and says it’s about time that women in the food and beverage industry are recognized.
“Everything is so race and gender sensitive it was only cool to showcase all the bad women in The South,” Barriere says. “I was elated. It’s like being with your mom, sister and best friends. And we’re different cultures so we can go there…we can completely go there.”
You can find Barriere on Saturday presenting two classes “Stirred Up: Drinking Iberian Style” with Phoebe Esmon and “Connoisseur Cocktails: Stirred Up” with Tokiwa Sears, Miles Macquarrie and Stacie Stewart.
Nightbell and Curate, Asheville, N.C.
Phoebe Esmon’s passion for academia spills over behind the bar where she’s made a name for herself as the founding President of the United States Bartending Guild in Philadelphia. Esmon who comes from a family of academics says she views bartending as a craft.
“I think that any craft done to its highest possibility becomes art and the amount of history that is attached to this particular craft gives you grounding to know where you’re going if you know where it’s already been.”
Esmon who is considered a trailblazer pulls on her past to create a cocktail program at Nightbell in Asheville, N.C. Growing up she canned fruit and vegetables with her mom and grandmother to make preserves. Esmon brings that knowledge to Nightbell to help cut down on waste.
“It caused me to think about what seasonality means. What people used to do, in a more agrarian society, is use everything and preserve everything else so they had it all year,” she says. “You eat the watermelon, but you can pickle the rind and eat it all year. That’s become the way I think about the bar program.”
Esmon also works closely with the kitchen at Curate, a Spanish tapas restaurant, where she designs cocktails to complement the aesthetic of the food.
At Curate, Esmon manages a Vermuteria, or a vermouth and sherry bar. She puts simple twists on old classics like a Manhattan where she replaces sweet vermouth with sherry as the fortified wine. On Saturday Esmon is presenting during “Stirred Up: Drinking Iberian Style” and on Saturday night she’s serving a punch a “Beat The Heat: Hot,Fried and Saucy” presented by The Local Palate.
St. Roch Market, New Orleans
Adrienne Miller loves food and incorporates it into the cocktail program at St. Roch Market in New Orleans. Miller’s heritage is a mix of Black and Mexican and she uses spices like Tajín and mole poblano to take the classics to another level. Miller tops off cocktails such as an the El Diablo with Tajínand puts a twist on the Negroni with mole poblano. Her version of the Sazerac includes juice from red beans and rice, rye infused chorizo and a little pork fat that she describes as delicious.
“You do whiskey pairings and cocktail pairings with food, why not just put it all together and call it a day,” she says.
Miller recalls being baptized by fire when working to be become a bartender.
“The bar manager believed women make good cocktail waitresses and are too emotional to be bartenders,” she says.
Now she takes every chance to prove herself. Miller admires bartenders like the legendary New York City based bartender Franky Marshall for her unapologetic attitude.
“I think it’s really cool to see women behind the bar who act like me and look like me,” she says. “Some women are polite about kicking your butt, but I’m not. I’m going to kick your butt and talk crap too,” Miller says.
She redesigned the entire cocktail program at St. Roch Market where she makes classics like they’ve never been done before. But she loves having at least one drink that catches people off guard, like a “garbage cocktail” made fancy. (a skill she learned while bartending at a casino in New Mexico) You can find Miller at the Summer Fridays: House Party serving up one of her famous “garbage cocktails” and on Saturday at “Ingredients of Taste” presented by ADAC.