Behind The Bar: 'Tender-Hearted Folks
Anybody can pour alcohol into a glass in exchange for your money. But the people you’ll meet after this paragraph aren’t just anybody. For starters, each of their minds holds knowledge exceeding what most imagine to be knowable about this thing called “drink.” But among the cream of Sarasota’s barkeep crop, mixology comes second to service. In fact, please don’t call them mixologists—in this crowd it’s a word that suggests elitism and condescension, and that they don’t tolerate. It doesn’t matter whether your drink is a Vieux Carré or a vodka tonic; these bartenders’ vocation is to meet you at your level and improve your day. Forget infuse, shake, and muddle; they know how to lighten the weight of your world, starting with a smile of welcome and six sweet words: “What can I make for you?”
Candice Marie – Jack Dusty
Candice Marie came to Sarasota from the food-and-beverage hotbed of Dallas, Texas, a place where, as Candice says, “we brunch like it’s our business.” By comparison, Sarasota’s brunch beverage landscape languishes in monotony; the mimosa can only undergo so many twists until it’s wrung into pulp, and a Bloody Mary by any other name is—well, not Mary, but you get the point. Candice is here to do something about it, praise be to the powers of pre-noon. Her recipes dominate Jack Dusty’s spring menu drop. They not only reflect her personal mission to make Jack Dusty’s cocktail program the most diverse and comprehensive in town; Candice also gives a nod to something she’s noticed in Sarasota: a maturing taste and appreciation for the more aggressive, aromatic, and playful sides of spirits. Enjoy every sip—you earned it.
Jack Dusty: 1111 Ritz Carlton Dr, Sarasota; 941-309-2266; ritzcarlton.com
Tommy Whiteley – Social Eatery & Bar
At 23, Tommy Whiteley stands out in this lineup as the bartender of the tenderest age. But don’t let that fool you into thinking he’s out of his league. Well before he got into the service industry, Tommy worked with ice in a totally different arena: hockey. He briefly played pro after graduating from the juniors, and now he skates for a cause with the Florida Ghostriders inline hockey team, fundraising for cancer research and patient care as part of the Hockey Mom Foundation. Tommy views bartending as a spectator sport in its own right. When the pressure’s on, watch Tommy rise to peak performance. He’s possessed of a sportsman’s spirit that rejoices to meet a challenge and intends to excel on any playing field.
Social Eatery and Bar: 1219 1st St, Sarasota; 941-444-7072; socialonfirst.com
Matthew Serrano – The Table Creekside
Life in Manhattan surrounded Matthew Serrano with career bartenders. While he absorbed their passion for the craft, the atmosphere sapped any audacity to throw his hat into the ring. Well, that’s Manhattan’s loss. After Matthew landed in Sarasota, Phillippi Creek Oyster Bar snapped him up, made him general manager, and then decided he could handle managing The Table to boot. His responsibilities just kept expanding, and soon he took charge of The Table’s bar, a happy hour hot spot noted for its singular drink ingredients. Suddenly Matthew found himself with a platform. At first he worked conservatively, but the new environment encouraged experimentation and brought Matthew’s innate aptitude to light. To savor his Ol’ Smokey—apple-infused bourbon with aromas of black walnut and torched applewood—you’d never suspect that Matthew once doubted his prowess.
The Table Creekside: 5365 S Tamiami Trl, Sarasota; 941-921-9465; tablesrq.com
Adam Stoneking – LBar
Adam Stoneking sticks to the spotlight’s fringes. He prefers people to see him as just another friendly face behind the bar, instead of the beverage director for all five of Tableseide Restaurant Group’s refined dining venues. His responsibilities keep him moving at an athletic pace during the day, but you’ll still find him up to five nights a week at LBar, where Adam excels at extending that “you’re family here” brand of hospitality that has embodied Tableseide operations for eight-and-a-half years. Adam’s been there since day one, and while his bread and butter is managing costs to keep the business healthy, he refuses to skimp on bar tools. Top-notch equipment is Adam’s secret to ensuring his team members take pride in their work and treat their duty to patrons with gravitas.
Libby’s Café and Bar: 1917 S Osprey Ave, Sarasota; 941-487-7300; tableseide.com
Topher Nalefski – State Street Eating House + Cocktails
Plenty of bartenders cry a little on the inside when someone saunters up to the bar and says, “Surprise me.” Not Topher Nalefski. While he’s a key contributor to State Street’s renown for doing justice to classic drinks, his personal heaven is a bar stocked with seasonal ingredients, small-batch bottles, and no cocktail menu. Topher thinks like an apothecary, compounding potions that capture (and ultimately enhance) an imbiber’s emotional state. Rough day at work? Topher will invoke sympathy from smoky scotch or herbaceous bitters. Your bestie’s getting married tomorrow? He’ll toast the occasion with sparkles and an obscure, flowery gin. While he’s only 30, his peers recognize Topher as a true professional who’s leading the charge to lift craft cocktails ever higher in the popular conscious.
State Street Eating House + Cocktails: 1533 State St, Sarasota; 941-951-1533; statestreetsrq.com
Christian Lykiardopoulos – Office Bar SRQ
February 12, 2017, marked a clash of tipsy titans in the Sarasota Network of Bartenders’ (yep, that spells SNOB) inaugural cocktail competition. Contenders plied their reserves of experience, education, and wits in an “Iron Chef”–style showdown held at Office Bar SRQ. No one, the winner least of all, expected the rhinestone-encrusted trophy to remain at Office Bar that night. Christian says he hadn’t even planned on entering the contest, but a combination of peer pressure and Christian’s knack for making improbable ingredients palatable (hello, soy sauce and Sour Patch Kids) clinched his championship. Those who’ve worked with Christian commend his unflagging drive to elevate his bar skills to artistry, and tend to agree with the author that Christian is probably the poorest example of a snob you’ll find behind a bar anywhere.
Office Bar Srq: 1989 Ringling Blvd, Sarasota; 941-266-5085; eviesonline.com
Brad Coburn – Pangea Alchemy Lab
In Sarasota, the name Brad Coburn is virtually synonymous with craft cocktail culture. When other bars and restaurants started dumping the bottled sour mix, Brad was experimenting with culinary chemistry—foams, flavor spheres, aromatherapy in a glass—and presenting awesomely novel creations to the patrons of Pangea Lounge. Over six years, Sarasota’s first dedicated craft cocktail venue has become downtown’s worst-kept secret. Today Brad admits that “lounge” was an imperfect term for his temple of libation; recently he rebranded the former speakeasy as the Pangea Alchemy Lab, from which cocktail connoisseurs can expect greater intricacies and deepening sensory layers as Pangea’s passionate team of innovators work to create utterly engrossing, horizon-expanding experiences in each drink.
Pangea Alchemy Lab: 1564 Main St, Sarasota; 941-953-7111
Rob Boyland – Cask & Ale
With biceps like cans of Foster’s and a beard that’d make Paul Bunyan downright insecure, Rob Boyland at first glance looks more “ready to rumble” than “make me a Bramble.” But the man has made his mark as an expert behind the bar: Cask & Ale scouts cherry-picked Rob for the bar manager position during an intensive headhunt for talent to carry the celebrated cocktail and tapas house’s expansion to Sarasota. Bartending is only Rob’s third love, though. He’s also created a line of hot sauces now featured in Cask & Ale Bloody Marys and dips, as well as MADE’s award-winning fried chicken. And perhaps what defines Rob best is a devotion to his 3-year-old son, Wyatt, an epicure-in-training whose favorite father-son pastime is visiting Rob’s network of colleagues at Sarasota’s finest eateries and cafés.
Cask & Ale: 1548 Main St, Sarasota; 941-316-0500
Nick Vaccaro – MADE Restaurant
If you’ve ever had a great cocktail handed to you across a Sarasota bar, there’s a fair chance Nick Vaccaro was on the other end of it. The gypsy of local bartenders, Nick’s proficiency and loyal fan base work like WD-40 when he’s on board opening a new spot. For a little bit there, Nick was somewhat scarce while he helped several hip watering holes get off the ground in downtown St. Petersburg. But it looks like our cocktail scene’s prodigal son has returned and may put down roots at last, now that he’s taking over the bar program at MADE. Nick is tasked with garnering the same attention for MADE’s cocktails that the restaurant has earned for its cuisine. Expect to spot him at the downtown farmers’ market, sourcing fresh ingredients for your next Main Street excursion.
MADE Restaurant: 1990Main St #112, Sarasota; 941-953-2900; maderestaurant.com
Christopher Galdámez – The Doctor’s Office Duck into The Doctor’s Office to find a cure for what’s ailing you, and you’re greeted by two things: First is that new bar smell, all fresh paint and squeaky leather. Second is Christopher Galdámez, standing behind the bar like Tall, Dark, and Handsome walked out of the dictionary and met up for happy hour. He’ll begin treatment with a snack of potato crisps and a teacup brimming with the doc’s potent punch of the day. In the early 2000s, Christopher was an up-and-comer, bartending on the cutting edge in New York City as it became a major epicenter of the cocktail’s contemporary renaissance. He dove in and has surfed that wave since, riding it all the way here to the beaches of Anna Maria Island. When Christopher fills your prescription, rest easy knowing you’re in very capable hands.
The Doctor’s Office: 5312 Holmes Blvd #B, Holmes Beach; 941-213-9926; doctorsofficeami.com