Mix Masters

Six local mixologists expanding our collective cocktail consciousness

 

In years past, bartenders were at the bottom of the culinary pecking order, relegated to pulling beers and reconstituting pre-made drink mixes, their pre-Prohibition glory days all but forgotten. But in recent years, the art of mixology has seen a resurgence, and bartenders—better yet, skilled mixologists—are once again being recognized for their artistry and expertise. Just in time for the nightlife issue, ALIVE caught up with six area mix masters who are doing their part to keep the St. Louis cocktail scene tastefully relevant.

CHAD GEORGE
33, DeMun Oyster Bar 

Burnt out in his previous career in the financial world, Chad Michael George parlayed his love and knowledge of wine to start a new life behind the bar. He made his mark on the wine and cocktail programs at Monarch, Pi, Eclipse and Sasha’s Wine Bar before taking on his current gig at DeMun Oyster Bar. Though he still loves vino, Chad has also developed a soft spot for mixology and the “personal aspect” of mixing a cocktail especially for the customer, as opposed to simply telling them about a certain vintage. Patrons who pull up a stool in his friendly bar space get his undivided attention as he delves in to find out just what it takes to please their palates. There’s no doubt Chad is well-rounded in the beverage arena, and the training he’s had blind-tasting wine is especially valuable in his mixology forays, helping him turn out fan favorites, like his multiple versions of the French 75, featuring lavender, jasmine and hibiscus flavors.

Signature Concoction: Crispin’s Manuscript (Rye whiskey, cherry liqueur, lemon, Crispin Brut cider)
Favorite Spirits to Mix: Gin, followed closely by rye.
Personal Drink of Choice: The Negroni.
Favorite Ingredient: Wine, without a doubt.
Biggest Bar Peeve: Closed-minded people stuck in old habits.

T.J. VYTLACIL
29, DeMun Oyster Bar

Well-known mixologist T.J. Vytlacil isn’t out to change people’s minds about what they drink, because after all, “people like what they like.” But he has been known to show his patrons what’s possible, and perhaps even lure them out of their comfort zones (he’s featured in Gary Regan’s upcoming book, “101 Best New Cocktails”). “Good drinks” is the simple credo that’s served T.J. so well throughout his nine years in the biz. After getting his start bartending at J. Buck’s, T.J. answered a Craigslist ad that led to a job behind the bar at Monarch working with Ted Kilgore. He read all he could about mixology and began evolving his own style—equal parts tradition and innovation. In addition to his fondness for fine spirits, what really keeps T.J. in the game are the relationships he’s forged along the way.

Signature Concoction: Silver and Sand (Scotch, Lillet Rouge, lemon juice, Cherry Heering, egg white)
Favorite Spirit to Mix: Rye whiskey.
Personal Drink of Choice: The makings of Negronis are often the only items in his personal liquor cabinet.
Biggest Bar Peeve: Bartenders who try to change people’s minds.

CHRIS MUETHER
25, Danno’s American Pub 

A firm believer that “you have to know where it came from to reinvent it,” Chris Muether gives a nod to cocktail times past each time he steps behind the bar. Whether it’s variations on classics, like Manhattans and Negronis, or staying true to the old-school penchant for creating an approachable drink menu for the novice and cocktail pro alike, Chris leans on these timeless tenets as a guide to making his own cocktail mark in a bar atmosphere where everyone feels like a regular. A self-professed “beer nerd,” Chris and his family have been in the restaurant-nightlife biz in St. Louis for years (most notably as the former owners of George’s, which occupied the space Danno’s now owns). But it wasn’t until an eye-opening trip to NYC in 2009—and his introduction to local mixologists T.J. Vytlacil and Ted Kilgore—that Chris was officially hooked.

Signature Concoction: Gateway to the Zest (Hendrick’s gin, Fernet Branca, absinthe, blackberries, lemongrass, lemon juice, mint)
Favorite Spirits to Mix: Gins and whiskeys.
Personal Drink of Choice: Classic cocktails and Guinness Foreign Extra do the trick.
Biggest Bar Peeve: Bars that have “classic” cocktails on the menu as an afterthought, made with cheap ingredients and weak technique.

ADAM FRAGER
34, Pi, Central West End

Adam Frager picked up the bartending bug after college while working at a “volume bar,” slinging beers and Jack and Cokes in Colorado. It wasn’t until he returned to St. Louis that he got into serious mixology with the help of some local mixologists, who challenged him to develop his discerning palate and explore all the unexpected ingredients available for creating cocktails. His main focus now is on flavors, not just creating a “mindless drink,” and making a connection with customers—a trait he’s known for, no matter which bar he’s behind. What fires his creative juices most? Finding great places to drink (be it a dive bar or an old-style speakeasy), exposing himself to mixology styles (classic to cutting-edge) and learning all he can about the craft.

Signature Concoction: Spice of Life (Jalapeño tequila, cucumber, mint, lime juice)
Favorite Spirit to Mix: Though he avoids staying too long on any one thing, right now he’s enamored with rums.
Personal Drink of Choice: For something easy, the Manhattan and variations on it. If he’s feeling ambitious, a rum daiquiri.
Biggest Bar Peeve: People who disrespect other guests.

TED KILGORE
44, Taste

Ted Kilgore, one of St. Louis’ true cocktail pioneers, has an unmistakable style that harkens back to a time when bartenders paid special attention to the customer, gave a listen to what they liked and created an experience—in addition to a fine libation. Ted took up mixology later in life, but soon tired of serving appletinis to college kids and junior execs. So he began searching out classic bar tomes to glean the secrets of how early bartenders (in the glory days before Prohibition) worked their magic. A New York excursion to sample the wares of bartenders leading the old-school charge sealed the deal on his conversion to the traditional ways of tending bar—where mixing classic cocktails (like The Last Word) and providing old-style service go hand in hand.

Signature Concoction: The Purgatory (Rittenhouse rye whiskey, Green Chartreuse, Benedictine)
Favorite Spirits to Mix: American whiskeys.
Personal Drink of Choice: It changes a lot; at home, whiskey, straight, or maybe with a little Campari. When going out, a nice, wet martini does the job.
Biggest Bar Peeve: Drinks that aren’t stirred or shaken correctly.

Matt Seiter
32, Sanctuaria

When tasting one of Matt Seiter’s delectable drinks, you’d never guess he’s spent more time behind the stove than behind the bar. He attended the St. Louis Community College culinary program and worked in restaurants for years, from busboy to waiter to sous chef. A stint in Chicago about four years ago got him interested in the world of mixology, but he still takes a cook’s perspective when playing with flavors for his custom compositions, often venturing out to the restaurant’s herb garden for ingredients, which he incorporates into a bevy of homemade bitters, tinctures, infusions and other concoctions. Matt tends to eschew most labels, preferring “bartender” over “mixologist” and other such lofty titles. His cocktail philosophy: Make the best drinks possible—without pretense. The many customers who spread the word do the rest.

Signature Concoction: Prince of Jalisco (Reposado tequila, creme de cacao, orange juice, lemon juice, espresso beans)
Favorite Spirits to Mix: Partial to gins and whiskeys.
Personal Drink of Choice: Jim Beam with a Budweiser back, or Corpse Reviver #2.
Biggest Bar Peeve: The term “barkeep” and customers snapping their fingers to get attention.

 

1534_573.jpgSt. Louis area Mix Masters

1540_573.jpgChad George of DeMun Oyster Bar

1538_573.jpgT.J. Vytlacil of DeMun Oyster Bar

1539_573.jpgChad George of DeMun Oyster Bar

1541_573.jpgT.J. Vytlacil’s signature concoction: Silver and Sand

1542_573.jpgChris Muether of Danno’s American Pub

1543_573.jpgChris Muether’s signature concoction: Gateway to the Zest

1544_573.jpgAdam Frager of Pi, Central West End

1545_573.jpgAdam Frager’s signature drink: Spice of Life

1546_573.jpgTed Kilgore’s signature concoction: The Purgatory

1547_573.jpgMatt Seiter signature concoction: Prince of Jalisco

1548_573.jpgTed Kilgore’s signature concoction: The Purgatory

1549_573.jpgMatt Seiter signature concoction: Prince of Jalisco

 

Photo credit: By Attilio D’Agostino

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