Meet the bartenders competing in Highball, Tampa Bay’s biggest craft cocktail competition

It happens on Jan. 31 in St. Petersburg.

click to enlarge Anchor and Brine | Nikole Calvo
Anchor and Brine | Nikole Calvo

Find out who makes the best cocktails in Tampa Bay during Creative Loafing Tampa Bay’s fourth annual Highball competition on January 31, where local bars battle to figure out who is the champion of mixology. Attendees will vote and choose the winners of HighBall, but only after dutifully trying all 16 cocktails built with whiskey, vodka, gin and rum.

SaltBlock Hospitality and The Bricks will be dishing out small plates, along with wine by PRP Wine and kratom by Southeast Botanicals. Participating bars include Datz, Sonder Social Club, World of Beer, First Chance Last Chance and Gigglewaters—and you can get to know some of the competitors, based on which spirit they’re using in the competition, below.

HighBall 2020 is at Nova 535 at 535 Dr. M.L.K. Jr. St. N. in St. Petersburg. Tickets are available now vis tampabayeventtickets.com, and save $10 with advanced pricing.

A portion of proceeds go to Current Initiatives of Tampa Bay, a Florida-based nonprofit that gets people involved in social justice endeavors.

GIN

Anchor and Brine | Nikole Calvo
Violet Spritz: Beefeater Gin, crème de violet, Luxardo liqueur, fresh lemon, prosecco

How long have you been bartending?
7 years.

What is your favorite part about the industry?
Meeting new people and creating cocktails.

What is your favorite trend right now?
Gin cocktails.

What is your go-to cocktail to make when you’re trying to impress someone?
Tepache Daiquiri.

What’s your favorite drink to make?
Old Fashioned.

Where do you go locally for a good cocktail?
CW’s Gin Joint.

If you had to use a song to sum up your bartending style, what would it be?
“Coconut” by Harry Nilsson.

Fill in the blank. If I wasn’t a bartender, I would be…
A teacher.

click to enlarge Bulla Gastrobar | Iliana Rivera
Bulla Gastrobar | Iliana Rivera

Bulla Gastrobar | Iliana Rivera
Lemongrass Collins: Beefeater Gin, fresh squeezed lemon juice, housemade lemongrass syrup, St. Elder, cucumber, rosemary sprig 

How long have you been bartending?
3 years.

What is your favorite part about the industry?
Giving guests a great experience.

What is your favorite trend right now?
Rooftop bars.

What is your go-to cocktail to make when you’re trying to impress someone?
Strawberry Margarita and Lemongrass Collins.

What’s your favorite drink to make?
Flavored mojitos.

Where do you go locally for a good cocktail?
Hotel Bar.

If you had to use a song to sum up your bartending style, what would it be?
“Hot Girl Summer” by Megan Thee Stallion.

Fill in the blank. If I wasn’t a bartender, I would be…
A therapist.

click to enlarge Fresco’s Waterfront Bistro | Erin Weber
Fresco’s Waterfront Bistro | Erin Weber

Fresco’s Waterfront Bistro | Erin Weber
Bucha Blisstini: Beefeater Gin, St-Germain, lemon, pink grapefruit juice, Mother Kombucha’s The Trop

How long have you been bartending?
18 years.

What is your favorite part about the industry?
Both the freedom and the stability.

What is your favorite trend right now?
Can I say the 90s? Not a cocktail, but I really wish I still had my high school wardrobe.

What is your go-to cocktail to make when you’re trying to impress someone?
That person’s favorite—exactly the way they like it. It’s always a small challenge to make it just a little better than they remember.

What’s your favorite drink to make?
We have an Old Fashioned made with Fresco’s Patron Barrel Select Anejo. It’s unique to Fresco’s and delicious. Classic, with a twist.

Where do you go locally for a good cocktail?
La V, Copper Shaker, or Red Mesa.

If you had to use a song to sum up your bartending style, what would it be?

“Gin and Juice” by Snoop Dogg.

Fill in the blank. If I wasn’t a bartender, I would be…
Working in my own garden center as a florist.

Is there anything else you would like to add?
Come and visit, we really have the best views downtown!

click to enlarge The Bricks | Caroline Lease
The Bricks | Caroline Lease

The Bricks | Caroline Lease
Here to Mars: Beefeater Gin, cranberry-rosemary compound, fresh lemon juice, handmade almond orgeat, handmade falernum, topped with fresh ginger soda 

How long have you been bartending?
10 beautiful years, and counting!

What is your favorite part about the industry?
Our supportive and loving worldwide community!

What is your favorite trend right now?
Dangly earrings on men. Oh, in bars? The return to hospitality and experience as a main focus.

What is your go-to cocktail to make when you’re trying to impress someone?
Anything blue, usually on fire.

What’s your favorite drink to make?
Something that makes the guest excited!

Where do you go locally for a good cocktail?
My best friend Sean’s house. Or really any of our many creative and capable bartenders. We have so much talent in Tampa. Usually my family over at Ciro’s and CW’s Gin Joint, to name a few names.

If you had to use a song to sum up your bartending style, what would it be?
Currently, I have been living my life to “Be More Kind” by Frank Turner.

Fill in the blank. If I wasn’t a bartender, I would be…
Trying to become one! Or working in some other form of hospitality.

click to enlarge Casa Tina | Samuel Vinson
Casa Tina | Samuel Vinson


RUM

Casa Tina | Samuel Vinson
Plantain: Malibu Rum, Yellow Chartreuse, fresh lime juice, muddled plantains with a jalepeño sweet corn foam. 

How long have you been bartending?
10 years.

What is your favorite part about the industry?
The amazing people.

What is your favorite trend right now?
Baby Yoda memes and drinks.

What is your go-to cocktail to make when you’re trying to impress someone?
A Clover Club.

What’s your favorite drink to make?
A Negroni.

Where do you go locally for a good cocktail?
CW’s Gin Joint.

If you had to use a song to sum up your bartending style, what would it be?

“Spirit in the Sky” by Norman Greenbaum.

Fill in the blank. If I wasn’t a bartender, I would be…
An astronaut.

click to enlarge Datz | Eva Al-gharaballi
Datz | Eva Al-gharaballi

Datz | Eva Al-gharaballi
Kiwi Be Friends: Malibu Black, coconut water, lime juice, kiwi Monin, ginger-lime foam.

How long have you been bartending?
6 years.

What is your favorite part about the industry?
Creating beautiful and unique drinks to give guests a memorable experience.

What is your favorite trend right now?
The use of edible flowers for garnishes.

What is your go-to cocktail to make when you’re trying to impress someone?
An espresso martini with the perfect foamy head.

What’s your favorite drink to make?
A spicy mezcal margarita.

Where do you go locally for a good cocktail?
Copper Shaker.

If you had to use a song to sum up your bartending style, what would it be?
Anything by Rihanna.

Fill in the blank. If I wasn’t a bartender, I would be…
An esthetician.

click to enlarge Paul's Landing | Crystal Williams
Paul's Landing | Crystal Williams

Paul's Landing | Crystal Williams
Stress Reliever: Malibu Rum, pineapple, orange juice, cream of coconut, topped with Myers.

How long have you been bartending?
12-plus years.

What is your favorite part about the industry?
The people.

What is your favorite trend right now?
Flavored seltzers.

What is your go-to cocktail to make when you’re trying to impress someone?
Cucumber Gimlet

What’s your favorite drink to make?
“Absolut Pearfection” (a specialty drink at Paul’s)

Where do you go locally for a good cocktail?
Mandarin Hide

If you had to use a song to sum up your bartending style, what would it be?
“Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” by Cyndi Lauper.

Fill in the blank. If I wasn’t a bartender, I would be…
A nurse.

click to enlarge Sonder Social Club | Mike Linden
Sonder Social Club | Mike Linden

Sonder Social Club | Mike Linden
Tropic Thunder: Malibu-braised pineapple, rum, banana Angostura foam, black lime, Dope Salt, coconut snow. 

How long have you been bartending?
5 years.

What is your favorite part about the industry?
The community.

What is your favorite trend right now?
Creative takes on classic drinks.

What is your go-to cocktail to make when you’re trying to impress someone?
Naked and Famous.

What’s your favorite drink to make?
Negronis.

Where do you go locally for a good cocktail?
No Vacancy.

If you had to use a song to sum up your bartending style, what would it be?
“Trap Star” by Young Jeezy.

Fill in the blank. If I wasn’t a bartender, I would be…
Traveling the world, taking pictures. 

click to enlarge Council Oak | Lorenzo Cardei
Council Oak | Lorenzo Cardei

VODKA

Council Oak | Lorenzo Cardei
Lady in Red: Absolut Vodka, prickly pear vodka, sour mix, prickly pear puree, ginger beer, garnished with a dragon fruit slice and a rose.

How long have you been bartending?
20-plus years.

What is your favorite part about the industry?
Working with people.

What is your favorite trend right now?
Classic cocktails reinvented/improved.

What is your go-to cocktail to make when you’re trying to impress someone?
Tiki-style cocktails.

What’s your favorite drink to make?
Old Fashioned.

Where do you go locally for a good cocktail?
Rez Grill or Cipresso

If you had to use a song to sum up your bartending style, what would it be?
“Big Poppa” - Notorious B.I.G.

Fill in the blank. If I wasn’t a bartender, I would be…
A DJ.

click to enlarge Ichicoro Ane | Cody Capobianco
Ichicoro Ane | Cody Capobianco

Ichicoro Ane | Cody Capobianco

Uncle Iroh's Milk Tea: Oolong-infused Absolut Vodka, Umepon Soju, lemon, honey, clarified milk.

How long have you been bartending?
One year.

What is your favorite part about the industry?
Interacting with new people.

What is your favorite trend right now?
Gin becoming more popular.

What is your go-to cocktail to make when you’re trying to impress someone?
Vieux Carre.

What’s your favorite drink to make?
The very complex vodka soda.

Where do you go locally for a good cocktail?
Mandarin Hide.

If you had to use a song to sum up your bartending style, what would it be?
“Let’s Get It On” by Marvin Gaye.

Fill in the blank. If I wasn’t a bartender, I would be…
A brain surgeon.

click to enlarge Perspective at Art Ovation | Rob Boyland
Perspective at Art Ovation | Rob Boyland

Perspective at Art Ovation | Rob Boyland
Åhus Me?!: Cream-washed Absolut Vodka, chocolate waffle cone soda, chocolate bitters, waffle cone rim.

How long have you been bartending?
10 years

What is your favorite part about the industry?
Building trust and creating regulars.

What is your favorite trend right now?
Hospitality over mixology.

What is your go-to cocktail to make when you’re trying to impress someone?
Old-Fashioned.

What’s your favorite drink to make?
Nauti Rob’s Secret Swizzle.

Where do you go locally for a good cocktail?
Sage.

If you had to use a song to sum up your bartending style, what would it be?
“Weapon of Choice” by Fatboy Slim.

Fill in the blank. If I wasn’t a bartender, I would be…
Snake oil salesman or an ethics professor.

click to enlarge World of Beer | Courtney Booth
World of Beer | Courtney Booth

World of Beer | Courtney Booth
Garden Party: Absolut Vodka, St-Germain, lemon juice, mint, agave nectar, strawberry.

How long have you been bartending?
2 years.

What is your favorite part about the industry?
Constantly meeting new people.

What is your favorite trend right now?
Baby Yoday memes.

What is your go-to cocktail to make when you’re trying to impress someone?
Hot Buttered Rum.

What’s your favorite drink to make?
Cosmopolitan.

Where do you go locally for a good cocktail?
The Local.

If you had to use a song to sum up your bartending style, what would it be?
“Shots” by LMFAO & Lil Jon.

Fill in the blank. If I wasn’t a bartender, I would be…
An interior designer.

Is there anything else you would like to add?
I am super excited to be participating in HighBall. It will be my first time!

click to enlarge Meet the bartenders competing in Highball, Tampa Bay’s biggest craft cocktail competition
First Chance Last Chance | Mo Pickering

WHISKEY

First Chance Last Chance | Mo Pickering
Copay: Jameson Stout Edition, Absolut Juice Apple, fresh lemon juice, simple syrup, one slightly aggressive dash of Angostura bitters.

How long have you been bartending?
15 years, on and off.

What is your favorite part about the industry?
Creating drinks and helping customers let all their stress go and have fun with life.

What is your favorite trend right now?
White Claws! Just kidding, it’s that speakeasies and traditional cocktails are making a comeback.

What is your go-to cocktail to make when you’re trying to impress someone?
An Old Fashioned… I’ve never had one sent back. I keep my build traditional. I try not to recreate the wheel, just perfect it.

What’s your favorite drink to make?
Any drink that makes the customer smile.

Where do you go locally for a good cocktail?
Hotel Bar… it’s one of my favorite spots.

If you had to use a song to sum up your bartending style, what would it be?
“Shining” by DJ Khaled, Beyoncé & Jay-Z.

Fill in the blank. If I wasn’t a bartender, I would be…
A mixologist, lol!

Is there anything else you would like to add?
My favorite thing about this industry is that we get to sling drinks and entertain people for a living. Our industry is one of a kind. We entertain, and there’s nothing quite like bartending that can make both the bartender and the customer smile.

click to enlarge Gigglewaters | Brennen Brainard
Gigglewaters | Brennen Brainard


Gigglewaters | Brennen Brainard
Black Magic: Jameson, Meletti Amaro syrup with toasted walnut and chicory, vanilla-infused Allspice Dram topped with a spiced black cherry (a take on a Black Manhattan!).

How long have you been bartending?
2 years

What is your favorite part about the industry?
Creativity and socializing.

What is your favorite trend right now?
1920s prohibition cocktail revival.

What is your go-to cocktail to make when you’re trying to impress someone?
Fancy Free.

What’s your favorite drink to make?
Singapore Sling.

Where do you go locally for a good cocktail?
Craft Street Kitchen or Sonder Social Club.

If you had to use a song to sum up your bartending style, what would it be?
“Moment of Truth” by Gang Starr.

Fill in the blank. If I wasn’t a bartender, I would be…
A brewer at a microbrewery.

click to enlarge Strandhill Public | Rory Martin
Strandhill Public | Rory Martin

Strandhill Public | Rory Martin
Sine Metu: Jameson, cognac, sweet vermouth, Benedictine D.O.M., Angostura bitters, Peychaud’s bitters.

How long have you been bartending?
Since I was knee-high to a grasshopper.

What is your favorite part about the industry?
Taking guests on a journey.

What is your favorite trend right now?
Irish whiskey.

What is your go-to cocktail to make when you’re trying to impress someone?
Vieux Carre

What’s your favorite drink to make?
Corpse Reviver no. 2.

Where do you go locally for a good cocktail?
So many great places these days!

If you had to use a song to sum up your bartending style, what would it be?
Personable and fun.

Fill in the blank. If I wasn’t a bartender, I would be…
Teaching my boys to surf.

click to enlarge TASTE Downtown Tampa | Kylie Bellows
TASTE Downtown Tampa | Kylie Bellows

TASTE Downtown Tampa | Kylie Bellows
The Vixen: Jameson, Campari, Triple Sec, plum bitters, fresh lemon juice, sugar water, black tea, Fee Foam, orange rind, thyme.

How long have you been bartending?
6 years.

What is your favorite part about the industry?
Creating custom drinks for my guests.

What is your favorite trend right now?
Foamed drinks (Ex. White Lady).

What is your go-to cocktail to make when you’re trying to impress someone?
N-17.

What’s your favorite drink to make?
S&S Sunset.

Where do you go locally for a good cocktail?
Hotel Bar.

If you had to use a song to sum up your bartending style, what would it be?
“I Got You” by James Brown.

Fill in the blank. If I wasn’t a bartender, I would be…
A pathologist.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

When creating drinks, I like to get a verbal idea of what my guests like. When they don't know what they want to drink, I simply ask three questions. 1. On a scale 1-10, 10 being spirit-forward and 1 being super sweet, where does your taste palate fall? 2. What spirit base do you favor? (Ex: bourbon, vodka, gin...) 3. Is there anything you don't like when it comes to mixers and/or add-ins? (Ex: pineapple, grapefruit, basil, mint ...) Then, from there, that's where the magic begins. I have a 99% success rate. When my guests express to me that they love the drink, I have them name it, and it goes into the blue bar book we keep. For I am great at making drinks, but bad at naming them.

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