Mike Kwiatkowski of J. Alexander's
It's no secret that the tastiest food in town can often be found at the least appealing spots. The same holds true for many gratifying libations. While big-name bars like Nacional 27, Violet Hour and Le Passage certainly live up to their reputations, there are also a few smaller spots making the map. Much like the guy manning the stove in any great kitchen, it's the mixologists behind these bars that keep the palate pleased and the patrons returning. Check out these bartenders' favorite summer drinks and you just might have a new one of your own.
Sharlene Newman’s El Frescete at Holiday Club
Holiday Club is laid-back swank at its best. The drink menu lists a number of classic drinks like the Manhattan, gin martini and the gimlet. But don't be fooled by this bar's affinity toward history, the mixologists here are all about liquid innovation. Especially Newman, who makes an electric blueberry-fueled martini, dubbed El Frescata ($8). Along with the main ingredient, Newman uses lemonade, blue curacao, a squeeze of lime and a splash of soda. You're most likely to catch this spunky short-haired lady during Holiday Club's Sunday brunch, when you can pair the popsicle-esque drink with her favorite item on the menu: the breakfast burrito.
Mike Kwiatkowski's Citrus-jito at J. Alexander's
When I asked Kwiatkowski to shake up his favorite drink, there was no hesitation. A simple "you got it," and the man was off gathering ingredients from each end of the bar. A few minutes later he placed a tall glass filled with an orange-y concoction in front of me. One taste turned into about five more before I finally pulled my mouth away to ask Kwiatkowski what made this thing so damn tasty, aside from the obvious mint I could see floating about in my glass. It was much more basic than I anticipated: vodka, fresh lime, grapefruit juice and a splash of soda for texture. This drink could easily compete with the best of them, and at $8.50 it's cheaper than most of them. He recommends pairing the fruity drink with the restaurant's grilled chicken salad, whitefish or salmon—though Kwiatkowski is really more of a rib man. You can find Kwiatkowski Tuesday and Thursday nights as well as Sunday mornings.
Cathy Wertz's Sno-Cone at Nick's on Wilson
Wertz has been tending bar at Nick's for a little over a year, and while most of her regulars are the beer-guzzling and Jager-bombing type, Wertz has a few tricks to turn them on to the mixed stuff. Her snow-cone creation is fruity and refreshing without the overt mouth-puckering sensation caused by some sweet drinks. This blend of raspberry vodka, triple sec and lemonade is strong enough to sway those beer-minded men. When Wertz isn't busy shaking up summery libations and pouring out heart-palpitating shots, chances are she's tuning in to the latest Cubs game.
Emirano Eperiam of Hidden Shamrock
Emirano Eperiam's Hawaiian Punch at Hidden Shamrock
Eperiam hails from Pohnpei and his favorite summertime drink is just as tropical as his roots. He calls it "Hawaiian Punch," and yes, it tastes just like the fruity canned beverage—but this one's strictly for adults. So, how does he replicate that nostalgic youthful flavor? After a bit of prodding, Eperiam finally revealed his list of ingredients: black cherry, blueberry and raspberry vodkas, Malibu, grenadine, pineapple and cranberry juices, topped with soda water. And here's the kicker: he only charges $6. Check him out at the Hidden Shamrock Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays or catch him at NV Penthouse Lounge downtown, where he also shakes up some serious libations for a heftier price.