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Mixing It Up: Atlanta's Top Bartenders

A tasty cocktail can take the edge off a sour day and set the stage for a sweet night. Here, a toast to six bartenders we love, and where you can find them.

Their job is to shake and stir by our orders. No wonder we love bartenders. A tasty sip can take the edge off a sour day and set the stage for a sweet night. Here's where to find great mixology in action in Atlanta:

Bartender: GREG BEST
Where he pours: Holeman & Finch Public House, H&F Bottle Shop and Restaurant Eugene
The skills: This self-described “mad scientist” is dedicated to freshness. Greg Best’s preference for homemade and from-scratch ingredients over shortcuts and ready-made mixers has gained him notoriety—including a recent nomination for “Outstanding Bar Program” from the James Beard Foundation. People are what he most enjoys about being a bartender. “I love talking to people and helping people change their psychological state—not get hammered, but there’s a great medicinal property to the bar and it’s a very valuable social construct.” Like Best, his creations are intelligent yet playful. Try anything featuring his favorite ingredients, including sorghum syrup, gin, fortified wines and seasonal, sustainable produce.
Drink there:
Holeman & Finch: 2277 Peachtree Rd., 404-948-1175, www.holeman-finch.com/
H&F Bottle Shop: 2357 Peachtree Rd., 404-841-4070, www.hfbottleshop.com
Restaurant Eugene: 2277 Peachtree Rd., 404-335-0321, www.restauranteugene.com

Bartender: NATE SHUMAN
Where he pours: Proof & Provision
The skills: “Bartending resonated with me,” says Nate Shuman, who worked as a server before a manager asked him to help pour beer in a pinch. “I like the hours, the social aspect of it. I enjoy the whole thing—eating, food, flavors, being innovative.” Inspired by the chefs in the kitchen at Proof & Provision, Shuman’s bar menu is forward-thinking and interesting yet approachable. “I don’t want to bring silly or unnecessary preparations to the bar,” he says. “I’m not into crazy.” Seasonal and hand-made are mantras here—not “over-hyped brands,” he promises. A fan of bold flavors, he particularly likes rye whiskey, smoky mescals and dark rums. Old Fashioned, Sazerac and Manhattan cocktails are perennial favorites, but the barrel-aged cocktails draw consistent raves. “We were one of the first in the city to come out with barrel-aged cocktails; we’ve been doing them for a couple of years now and have it nailed down,” he says. “They sell like wildfire.”
Drink there:
659 Peachtree St. NE, 404-897-5045, www.proofandprovision.com

Bartender: ARIANNE FIELDER
Where she pours: Seven Lamps
The skills: Arianne Fielder adores the classics: “They’re cocktails that have been around hundreds of years and are still being enjoyed because those classic combinations work,” she says. “Even if I’m using new techniques or technologies, I go back to the classics.” That’s something to keep in mind when ordering a cocktail that she shakes through a carbonator to add fizz to an otherwise flat drink or a cocktail that she’s cooked for two days at low temperature in a vacuum-sealed bag to concentrate flavors. The methods may at first seem mad, but the flavorful, balanced results make believers out of skeptics. Her goal for the bar menu at Seven Lamps is “to be approachable,” she says. Great service, inventiveness and freshness are also priorities. Cozy up to her signature drink, “Going back to Cali,” a creative spin on a Paloma that blends jalapeño-infused tequila, Shrub & Co. grapefruit shrub, fresh lime juice and a West Coast-style IPA.
Drink there:
3400 Around Lenox Rd., 404-467-8950, sevenlampsatl.com

Bartender: VAJRA STRATIGOS
Where he pours: Fifth Group Restaurants
The skills: As beverage director and corporate sommelier for Fifth Group Restaurants, Vajra Stratigos oversees a team of beverage managers. First put to work at age 10 by his family of Greco-Italian restaurateurs, he’s now responsible for ensuring that each restaurant in the group (there are seven in all) has its own identity. Creating a bar menu “starts with the restaurant concept and demographic,” he says. So, for example, a cognac-based cocktail may be on the menu at Ecco but you won’t see it at El Taco. What drives decisions is creating “synergy between the cuisine and the bar menu,” he says. “You want cocktails to make sense with what you eat.” And although menus may vary, one goal is static: “Consistent execution,” says Stratigos. “We are committed to producing cocktails the same every time.”
Drink there:
Ecco: 40 7th St. NE, 404-347-9555
The Original El Taco: 1186 N. Highland Ave. NE, 678-942-6467
Alma Cocina: 191 Peachtree St., 404-947-1188
Lure: 1106 Crescent Ave. NE, 404-817-3650, www.fifthgroup.com

Bartender: CLAY LIVINGSTON
Where he pours: Bourbon Bar
The skills: “I just wanted to get out of the kitchen,” says Clay Livingston, a former line cook who discovered he felt most at home behind the bar. “I enjoy creating new stuff and getting to talk to people. I missed the human interaction.” As a mixologist at Sourthern Art & Bourbon Bar in the InterContinental Buckhead, Livingston’s goal is “first and foremost to always make yummy drinks,” he says. Bourbon and bourbon-based cocktails are perennial draws, but gin, vodka, tequila, mescal and a host of other spirits are also poured. Rum and gin rank as personal favorites, evident in his classic approach to a daiquiri and mai tai. But he’s best known for his award-winning Sparkling Sapphire, a gin-based concoction with ginger, lemon, lychee and cucumber that’s topped with champagne. But, he says, don’t skip straight-up sippers. “We always have some real gems.”
Drink there:
3315 Peachtree Rd., 404-946-9070, www.southernart.com