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San Diego's Top Bartenders

20 of the best bartenders in SD


Bartenders Jen Queen, Ryan Fisher, Nate Howell
From left: Jen Queen, Ryan Fisher, Nate Howell

For most of them, it was a singular moment that lead down the rabbit hole. It was that perfect Old Fashioned, a research trip to New York, an encounter with a zealous elder statesman of booze.

Whatever the reason, they went from bartenders to something more. The term “mixologist” hurts to say, so we won’t use it. But that bad word was invented for good reason. At some point, the term “bartender” became associated with a harried, uncaring employee who simply pours vodka and cranberry over Big Gulp ice. “Mixologist” was coined to describe a new breed of bartender (actually, a return to old form)—a person who obsessively studies the history, science and art of cocktails. They’re the sommeliers of mixed drinks, ad hoc booze historians—y’know, that jazz.

This new obsessiveness, of course, ostracized more than a few Jack-and-Coke bargoers. Now when people hear the term “mixologist,” they think of insufferable, mustached snobs giving longwinded diatribes against vodka. An exclusionary society of hip.

But in talking with the men and women of “San Diego’s Top 20 Bartenders,” we didn’t get an elitist vibe. They’re fully aware they’re in the hospitality industry. “I strive to make the best drink for the person sitting in front of me,” says Anthony Schmitt of Noble Experiment.

To make our list, food/drink editor Troy Johnson wrote down 10 or 12 of his favorites, I added a few of my own and then we pestered top industry professionals and fatty-livered friends for the remainder.

These are 20 of San Diego’s best cocktail minds. They’re dusting off pre-Prohibition style cocktail books. They’re carbonating and bottling their cocktails. More than a few are investigating the medicinal side of cocktails through the use of tree barks and nifty herbs.

It’s not the end-all, be-all list. But it’s well-researched. We drink a lot, as do our sources. Feel free to add your own.

These 20 make our list because they honor the rules of good cocktailing. They’re also here for breaking the right rules. It may look like they’re listed in order. But don’t pay attention to that nonsense. We’re just proving we can count.



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Restaurant reviews, food trends, top cocktails, wine, beer and generally the best eats and drinks in San Diego, by Food Editor and general good guy Troy Johnson.

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