It's been a rough winter, Chicago. You know who was there for you? Your bartenders. They kept the cocktails flowing and listened while you whined about unshoveled sidewalks and Uber surge pricing. It's time to show them a little love in return. After sorting through more than 200 nominations, spending hours interviewing candidates and yes, a little liquid research, we've narrowed the field to our Top 8 contenders for the title of RedEye's Best Bartender 2014.They represent the best in up-and-coming cocktail talent, and it's up to you to crown the winner. Read up on this diverse set of drink slingers, visit their bars, sip their signature drinks and cast your vote here for your favorite by Feb. 10. The Top 4 vote-getters will throw down at a live mix-off at RedEye's 10th anniversary Best Bartender Bash on Feb. 26 (get your tickets here). Cheers! --Kate Bernot
It's a blast being a female bartender in the "unique magical snow globe" that is Boystown, Heather said. She loves the party-all-night atmosphere of the neighborhood, but also takes her cocktails seriously at this newly opened bar and restaurant, where drinks have a molecular bent.
Catch her: Fridays through Tuesdays at Meat, 3339 N. Halsted St.
Signature drink: A molecular twist on a daiquiri, 86 & Sunny ($14) begins with a base of 12-year aged rum, pineapple and coconut simple syrups, plus lime juice and a topping of rum-mint whip.
CLICK HERE TO VOTE FOR HEATHER — Lenny Gilmore / RedEye, Jan. 20, 2014
Twitter: @brian_sturges; Instagram: @sturges_brian
Though he's racked up a few cocktail competition wins and works at one of the top cocktail bars in the city, Drumbar in the Gold Coast, Brian introduces a fair amount of playfulness to the menu. Exhibit A: His Cinnamon Toast Crunch-infused rum, which Brian uses as the base of his Saturday Morning Cartoons cocktail.
Catch him: Wednesdays through Saturdays at Drumbar, 201 E. Delaware Place
Signature drink: The Juvenile Delinquent ($12) combines spices, fruit and herbs in a vodka-based creation that also includes green chartreuse, spiced pear liqueur, lime juice, rosemary and Creole bitters.
CLICK HERE TO VOTE FOR BRIAN — Lenny Gilmore / RedEye, Jan. 20, 2014
Twitter: @puralaura; Instagram: @sandb1lc
Though she grew up in Grand Rapids, Mich. and lived for a few years in the Bahamas, Laura said she's completely fallen for Chicago in the 10 months she's lived here. At Gold Coast restaurant Jellyfish, she can indulge her passion for aesthetically beautiful cocktails made with Asian ingredients and spirits.
Catch her: Wednesdays during the day and Thursday through Saturday nights at Jellyfish, 1009 N. Rush St.
Signature drink: Laura puts an Asian spin on sangria with her Umami Punch ($14), a blend of plum wine topped with honey-cardamom foam, almond cookie crumble and a hibiscus syrup drizzle.
CLICK HERE TO VOTE FOR LAURA — Lenny Gilmore / RedEye, Jan. 20, 2014
Girl & The Goat
Twitter and Instagram: @amesly_p
Thanks to her first bartending gig at The Cheesecake Factory, Amy can whip up some bad-ass girly drinks. Of course, she's also capable of some serious whiskey-based creations at one of the West Loop's most popular restaurants, Girl & The Goat. In her free time, she teaches ballet to stay quick on her toes.
Catch her: Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays at Girl & The Goat, 809 W. Randolph St.
Signature drink: Paying homage to her favorite Italian ballerina, Marie Taglioni, Amy's The Taglioni cocktail ($13) reminds us of warmer weather with light rum, amaro, Aperol, almond syrup and lemon and lime juices.
CLICK HERE TO VOTE FOR AMY — Lenny Gilmore / RedEye, Jan. 20, 2014
Jacyara de Oliveira
Sportsman's Club,Nico Osteria
Twitter: @jdeoliveira; Instagram: @jacyaramargaret
Her first bar job at The Drawing Room provided Jacyara great role models in the form of Charles Joly (now of The Aviary) and Cristiana DeLucca (now of Bangers & Lace). Since then, she has traveled to Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans and Portland Cocktail Week for inspiration, which she puts to good use at recently opened Sportsman's Club in Humboldt Park and new Gold Coast stunner Nico Osteria.
Catch her: Mondays and Wednesdays at Sportsman's Club (948 N. Western Ave.); Thursdays and Fridays at Nico Osteria (1015 N. Rush St.)
Signature drink: The Silurian Smokehouse ($10) -- named for "Doctor Who" character Vastra -- is a smoky, citrusy and bubbly combination of mezcal, tequila, amaro, chocolate bitters, lime juice and simple syrup, topped with sparkling wine.
CLICK HERE TO VOTE FOR JACY — Lenny Gilmore / RedEye, Jan. 20, 2014
Carlos Matias III
Instagram: @mrvelvetj (and yes, that's his butt as his avatar)
Though he began as a server at Acadia in the South Loop, Carlos had an undeniable itch to experiment behind the bar. Gradually transitioning to the cocktail side of the restaurant, he even won a girl over with one of his drinks. (Now that's smooth.) At four-month-old Pilsen bar Punch House, he keeps the basement party rocking with a range of balanced punches and cocktails.
Catch him: Wednesdays and Saturdays at Dusek's, Thursdays and Fridays at Punch House, both 1227 W. 18th St.
Signature drink: An homage to swing musician Louis Prima, the Prima's Signorina ($8) is a spicy-sweet blend of Cajun-spiced rum, amaro, elderflower liqueur, lime juice and bitters.
CLICK HERE TO VOTE FOR CARLOS — Lenny Gilmore / RedEye, Jan. 20, 2014
The Berkshire Room
Twitter: @smlobianco; Instagram: @mothershucker
Scott first began tending bar at seafood hot spot GT Fish & Oyster, then left to help open River North cocktail bar The Berkshire Room inside the Acme Hotel. The bar's "dealer's choice" cocktails -- guests choose a spirit, a flavor profile and a specific glass -- keeps him on his toes, as do the diverse guests the bar draws.
Catch him: Friday through Monday at The Berkshire Room, 15 E. Ohio St.
Signature drink: Fear and Loathing ($12) combines sweet and bitter flavors courtesy of reposado tequila, two types of amaro, sweet sherry, chocolate bitters and grapefruit oil.
CLICK HERE TO VOTE FOR SCOTT — Lenny Gilmore / RedEye, Jan. 20, 2014
After years as a touring musician with Chicago Afrobeat Project and as Squair Blaq, Antar settled into bartending as a way to, well, stay in one city for a while. Following gigs at The Radler, Crimson Lounge and The Owl, he now is behind the drinks at golf-themed Lincoln Park bar Fairways -- but don't ask him to improve your putting game.
Catch him: Saturdays through Mondays at Fairways, 1141 W. Armitage Ave.
Signature drink: The Gopher Creek ($13) is a refreshing spin on a winter bourbon cocktail made with smoked maple bourbon, amaro, lemon juice and rosemary simple syrup.
CLICK HERE TO VOTE FOR ANTAR — Lenny Gilmore / RedEye, Jan. 20, 2014