top row: Bartenders from The Wheel mix things up; The Granola Bar team, including Julie Mountain and Dana Noorily, this year’s judges; a sold-out crowd down at Harbor Point bottom row: Sign of the Whale’s winning drink; live music on the waterfront patio; more drinks for the crowd; good company and good vibes
Photography by Kyle Norton
The most talented bartenders in Stamford went shaker-to-shaker at Stamford’s Best Bartender Contest—which drew a sold-out crowd to the Harbor Point waterfront for an evening of libations and celebration. The event showcased a good mix of creative drinks and food from top local watering holes. Bartenders, chefs and establishments showcased their talents by creating unique summer-inspired cocktails with seasonal ingredients like fresh peaches, ripe pineapple and shaved coconut.
The founders of THE GRANOLA BAR, Julie Mountain and Dana Noorily, were this year’s guest judges. Ultimately, the Granola gals chose FLINDERS LANE’s Peach Fuzz Dove as their Judge’s Pick. One of the standout participants of the evening was SIGN OF THE WHALE, which impressed the crowd with an incredible strawberry lemonade sorbet—earning that team the title of Voter’s Choice for Best Bartender & Cocktail.
A community sponsor of the event was CISCO BREWERS AT THE VILLAGE, which not only spread good cheer with participating bartenders, but celebrated its own triumph as well. Cisco and Stamford Events Founder Isis Rae broke a record for most rum punches sold in a single day and all season—and that was in support of Heart & Purpose. This nonprofit has a mission to transform the lives and paths of low-income youths through education and financial aid.
The event was also supported by media sponsors HEY STAMFORD and restaurant experience app GRUBTOK.
Like much of the hospitality industry itself, this event welcomed hundreds of guests, who were able to sip back, relax and raise a glass to the people and businesses that make the city great. Read on to learn more about the winners and their craft, as well as how they get into the creative “spirit” during the holidays. We’ve selected a few good party pics too, which no one could regret the next morning.
OUR BEST BARTENDER WINNERS SHARE WHAT THEY STOCK ON THEIR HOME BAR CARTS, WHAT DRINKS THEY’RE SERVING THIS HOLIDAY SEASON, AND MORE
Winner: Flinders Lane
Bartender: Ross Silver
Stamford’s best bar from Down Under, Flinders Lane, served up a sweet-and-spicy winner at this year’s competition, earning praise from Julie Mountain and Dana Noorily of Granola Bar, who awarded it Judge’s Pick. “It’s always great to be a part of such a fun event for both contestants and the Stamford public. These residents know how to have fun!,” said Chris McPherson, owner of Flinders Lane. Taking home the trophy for Flinders Lane was Bar Manager Ross Silver, whose commitment to crafty cocktails paid off with his drink, Peach Fuzz Dove. “It was great to see Ross get recognition on a larger scale for all his efforts with our drinks program,” said McPherson.
What is your specialty?
Making people feel at home. Drinks wise, I like doing things against the grain, blending ingredients you traditionally would not, with the result being excellence.
What is your creative passion?
I don’t draw inspiration from any one place in particular. Instead, I like to get a feel for what people want, mostly through talking with them and getting constructive feedback that I can then work from.
If you could have a dream artist collaboration, what would it look like?
I am a sportsaholic. My idol growing up was Kobe Bryant because of his intense dedication to his art. I loved who he was and continue to love the legacy he left behind. I would like to work with a sporting venue to create signature cocktails based on their current roster.
What is your favorite thing about working in the city of Stamford?
I commute to Stamford and love working here because of our guests. The cocktail program we’ve built at Flinders Lane has been well-received and changes seasonally. Without feedback from people, we would just be another old cocktail bar.
What type of cocktails do you like most and serve to friends and family this time of year?
I enjoy a good rum with winter spices that’s heated up, or a nice scotch from Islay. I also like a good ol’ classic daiquiri at any time of year. As for serving to family and friends, I do my best to not work at home. But in dire situations, my go-to is an Old Fashioned or Boulevardier.
What does your bar cart at home look like?
It looks a lot like a whiskey shelf in a liquor store—no mixers and everything is brown. Once my beautiful fiancé Dana gives birth to our first child [daughter] we’ll put the tequilas and gins back on the cart. Dana absolutely loves a good margarita.
The Peach Fuzz Dove
El Toro Blanco tequila, grapefruit, jalapeño, peach puree
Winner: Sign of the Whale
Bartender: Christine Gomez and Michelle Jazzo
Take it as a “sign” of a good time that four-time Best Bartender Contest winner Sign of the Whale took home the trophy again—this year securing the Voter’s Choice award. Bartenders Christine Gomez and Michelle Jazzo delivered a true crowd-pleaser, a strawberry lemonade sorbet cocktail.
“I love this event. I’ve watched it grow from a small contest to one that sells out,” says Sign of the Whale’s longtime champ bartender Erik Zeiss, who was responsible for creating the Erik’s Rule, a former Judge’s Pick.
“People look forward to this competition every year and we are proud to be a part of it,” says Zeiss. “And I know the girls look forward to defending their titles next year.”
What is your specialty?
CG: Mixing drinks. I love to make fun cocktails using a variety of flavors that make you feel like you are on vacation.
What type of cocktails do you serve to friends and family at this time of year?
MJ: When I make drinks for my friends and family, I first pour everyone a shot. Then, I usually make red sangria and espresso martinis.
When you’re not bartending, where do you “wine” down in Stamford?
CG: My favorite places to eat and drink are Fish, Bar Taco, Taco Project and, of course, Sign of the Whale. I love to dance, but Stamford doesn’t have too many places to do that. Fortunately, the nightlife scene is growing and maybe there will be more options soon.
MJ: My favorite places to eat and drink are Cafe Silvium, Tutti Pazzi, Mecha, Kashi, Prime, Crab Shell and The Beer Garden at Shippan Landing. Besides going out for food and drinks, I enjoy walking along the water at Kosciuszko Park.
What does your bar cart at home look like?
CG: My bar supply at home is always stocked with great tequila, coconut rum and delicious mixers. After a long day at work, I love a flavored margarita.
MJ: My bar cart at home always has Jameson, Fernet, Casamigo’s Reposado and some wine. Sometimes, when scrolling on Instagram, I’ll come across different drink recipes that look fun and interesting to try.
The Strawberry Lemonade Sorbet Cocktail
Strawberry and Lemongrass Grey Goose Essences vodka, lemonade, lemon juice, and strawberry purée poured over a scoop of lemon Italian ice and garnished with a lemon wheel
As temperatures begin to drop, we could all use a dose of sunny nostalgia. Here are more party photographs from this year’s BEST BARTENDER CONTEST to raise your spirits, all the way up. For more snaps from this year’s event, visit our Instagram feed (@stamfordmag) and website at bestbartenderstamford.com.