Who needs a drink? We’re guessing anyone in Austin who’s persevered the past year (and counting). But don’t fret and get that tear in your beer. Austin’s seven best bartenders — innovative cocktail gurus all — are here to help you wash away those pandemic blues with some truly spectacular boozy libations.
From classic cocktail champs to visionary liquor slingers, these seven mixologists represent the best of Austin’s bar scene in 2021. That’s why we’re celebrating these Bartender of the Year nominees at our annual CultureMap Tastemaker Awards.
Learn more about them below, hit the bar and sample their drink specialties, then join us August 5 at Fair Market for the Tastemaker Awards, when we’ll raise a drink to their success. Tickets are on sale now.
Erin Ashford, Olamaie
Olamaie bartender and beverage director Erin Ashford has been setting a high bar at this charming contemporary Southern restaurant since 2016 (and many other well-loved Austin establishments before that), so you know she uses a deft hand to craft drinks like the pro she is. Wet your whistle with one of her curated cocktails at Olamaie or pop over to new sister concept Little Ola’s Biscuits for one of her frozen boozy concoctions.
Amanda Carto, Nickel City
With a brilliant smile that could only be outshined by her cocktail creativity and commitment to community, Amanda Carto, a bartender and the general manager at East Austin watering hole Nickel City, is serving up stout drinks with a side of neighborly charm. The brains behind Nickel City’s super popular pop-ups and bartender charity events, she’s shaking things up in Austin’s bartending community, one shot at a time.
When a drink slinger is named a Tastemaker Bartender of the Year nominee four years running, like the immensely creative Ricky Cobia, it’s a pretty good sign he’s a bartending crack shot. So gifted no one bar can hold him down, he’s brought his whimsical style and Texas chic to an array of local saloons, including Watertrade, Oseyo, and The Hollow. His latest venture, a mysteriously shrouded enterprise called My Guy Cocktail Club, promises a tiki social club pop-up soon. We’ll drink to that!
Sarah Rahl, Proper Hospitality
The lead bartender for Proper Hospitality, aka the elegant Austin Proper Hotel, Sarah Rahl may hail from Maine, but her cocktail style is straight-up Texas sophistication. Earning accolades wherever she tends — be it the Four Seasons Hotel Austin, chic downtown spot Ellis Bar, or the Proper’s own Goldie’s Sunken Bar and The Peacock — this mixologist is a dedicated scholar of the cocktail craft. And take it from us when we say she prepares one of the best Old Fashioned cocktails around.
Robert Bjorn Taylor
Graphic designer, artist, and craft cocktail creator Robert Bjorn Taylor is nothing if not a booze visionary. He’s elevated the bar programs at several Capital City establishments — Freedmen’s, Qui, Emmer & Rye, Otoko, The Eleanor, and Arrive Austin among them — and is equally impressive at creating spectacular zero-proof mixed drinks. His recent work with Sourced Craft Cocktails delivery service most certainly helped a few folks survive pandemic shutdowns in style.
Travis Tober, Old Pal, Nickel City
Travis Tober has a keen talent for crafting perfectly weird Austin cocktails. (Anyone else remember the spectacular yet laboriously made Tom Selleck’s Mustache cocktail from Tober’s stint at now shuttered VOX Table?) These days, the innovative barkeep is also a bar owner, calling the shots at lovable east side dive bar Nickel City and the newly opened Old Pal Texas Tavern in Lockhart.
Sharon Yeung, Half Step
Moody Rainey Street bar Half Step is the ideal hip spot for Sharon Yeung’s quirky and meticulous cocktail creations, served up from her Daijoubu bus pop-up at Half Step, which promises you’ll “drink super Asian cocktails,” like the whimsically dubbed Sticky Icky Icky with Kikori rice whisky, the Dope Ass Midori Sour, and the Thai-Grr Mami scotch sipper. Having gained a wealth of fans during her five years tending bar at The Roosevelt Room, we’re pretty sure her loyal patrons would follow her to the ends of the earth — so long as she brings the drinks.