2014 is already shaping up to be another banner year for cocktail lovers, with a slew of pedigreed bars—as well as restaurants with serious booze programs—continuing to open at a rapid clip. But while the markers of fancy-pants drinking continue to proliferate—obscure bitters, antique glassware, small-batch bourbons—it’s important to remember that it’s the barkeeps, not the smoked ice, that make these places what they are. After all, they’re the ones who you might find yourself sitting across from when you belly up to the bar in need of some liquid salvation.

So who’s making moves that you need to know about this year? We’ve got eight drink-slingers to keep on your radar, as well as intel on their recently unveiled or soon-to-open cocktail bars around the country. Seek out these bartenders and you’ll be in good hands.

Marshall Altier (Las Vegas, NV)


Bar: Rose. Rabbit. Lie. (The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas; 877-667-0585, roserabbitlie.com)
Status: Open

Why you need to know him: When blackjack breaks demand a finely wrought drink, Altier—a New York vet who did time at places like JBird Cocktails and Tailor—ensures that you’ll find what you’re looking for at the Cosmopolitan’s elegantly lavish social club. Fittingly, entertainment and flair are at the heart of his operation. For patrons taking in one of the thrice-nightly variety shows (kinky and bizarre in the best way), he has flasks filled with Boulevardiers on deck. Those who enter the clandestine Study can settle in with global-inspired concoctions, like the Goa Way with Monkey Shoulder Scotch, apple brandy, curried apple chutney, and a cardamom-Islay spritz. This imaginative attention to detail—as well as vintage albums spinning on a record player—is a welcome rarity on the fast-paced Strip. (Photo courtesy Marshall Altier)

Chris Bostick (Austin, TX)


Bar: Half Step (75 ½ Rainey St; 512-391-1877, halfstepbar.com)
Status: Open

Why you need to know him: Bostick left his longstanding post at downtown L.A.’s Varnish to return to Austin—his old stomping grounds—and open this booze-driven Rainey Street bungalow. At Half Step—backed by the Varnish’s hit-churning 213 Nightlife group—Bostick’s meticulous drink-making skills are matched by a bespoke ice program. Spears and cubes crafted on a Clinebell machine out back find their way into revamped classics like the Floradora, built with gin, lime, ginger, and raspberry syrup. Austinites love to drink outdoors, and Bostick will soon deliver with a new patio space—a perfect spot for swilling Prescription Juleps with cognac, rye, mint, and sugar. (Photo courtesy Chris Bostwick)

Tim Cooper (New York, NY)

Bar: Sweetwater Social (643 Broadway)
Status: Opening late February

Why you need to know him: At GoldBar, Tim Cooper proved that thoughtfully made cocktails were indeed a possibility in a nightclub setting. Later this month, when he opens Sweetwater Social in Noho, he’ll make the case that delicious drinks are also fine partners for shuffleboard, foosball, and televisions streaming (muted) sports coverage. The menu, dreamed up with Justin Noel of 1534 fame, pays homage to New York neighborhoods via the city’s subway map. Spring Street yields the Little Italy (Dimmi Italian Liquore di Milano, Punt e Mes vermouth, Aperol, dry vermouth, orange oil), while a highball with toasted sesame-infused bourbon, cucumber, lemon juice, and salt channels Delancey Street on the Lower East Side.

Nick Crutchfield (Washington, D.C.)

Bar: Barrel (613 Pennsylvania Ave SE, barreldc.com)
Status: Opening early March

Why you need to know him: Come 5:30pm, political junkies are sure to swarm this Southern-accented Capitol Hill hangout when it opens next month. Beer and whiskey fans will be busy with the 16 taps and deep brown spirits collection, but Crutchfield has inventive cocktails up his sleeve, too. At Elixir Bar at Barrel, the fancier basement bar within a bar, he’ll make drinks like the Rose Hip Sip (Fords Gin, rose iced tea, lemon juice, cardamom syrup, Port City Brewing Company’s Optimal Wit beer) and the playful Crackle-back, in which a shot of Redemption Rye gets chased with a seasoned pork crackling. (Photo courtesy Nick Crutchfield)

Matty Eggleston (Chicago, IL)

Bar: Nico Osteria (1015 N Rush St; 312-994-7100, nicoosteria.com)
Status: Open

Why you need to know him: With James beard Award-winning chef Paul Kahan behind the menu, it’s no surprise that the food at this Gold Coast newcomer Nico Osteria is a hit. But the place’s secret weapon is Eggleston’s culinary-minded cocktails. For the Chestnut, he infuses Buffalo Trace bourbon with the drink’s namesake ingredient and pairs it with chestnut honey and fresh lemon juice. Meanwhile, the bright, nutty Massimo melds grappa with pistachio orgeat and citrus. Those who want to skip the pasta and go straight for the nightcap can while the evening away in the restaurant’s sexy lounge, Salone Nico. (Photo: Derek Richmond)

Patrick Gaggiano (Boston, MA)


Bar: Fairsted Kitchen (1704 Beacon St; 617-396-8752, fairstedkitchen.com)
Status: Open

Why you need to know him: Cumin-dusted lamb ribs and a pig’s-head lettuce wrap are among the reasons this restaurant lures Bostonians to slightly-out-of-the-way Brookline. So are the cocktails. Although former Trina’s Starlite Lounge alum Gaggiano—quirkily dubbed Master of Ceremonies here—has long been honing his hospitality and bartending skills, Fairsted Kitchen’s bar operates on a clever groupthink model, with Will Isaza, Danielle Burman, and Alex Homans rounding out the collective. Together, they hatch ideas for cocktails like the Valley of Ashes (blanco Tequila, celery, Chartreuse, Bénédictine, cinnamon) and the Tiny Avvio (Plantation dark rum, Rittenhouse rye, Cynar, Dolin sweet vermouth), nitro-poured from an old soda keg and topped off with a cherry. (Photo: Jacki Morisi)

Ted Kilgore (St. Louis, MO)

Bar: Planter’s House (1000 Mississippi Ave; 314-696-2603, plantershousestl.com)
Status: Open

Why you need to know him: Kilgore, often credited with setting a new standard for well-made cocktails in the Gateway City, was a fixture at Taste by Niche until he left to open this glam Lafayette Square bar and restaurant. Here, he infuses La Puritita Verda mezcal with chipotle and pairs it with byrrh, mulberry syrup, lime, and Dale’s Pimento Bitters for the Bramble On. For an old-timey spin on bottle service, he serves large-format versions of classics like the Vieux Carre, that rye- and Cognac-charged New Orleans favorite. (Photo courtesy Ted Kilgore)

Jeff Lyon (San Francisco, CA)

Bar: Third Rail (628 20th St; 415-252-7966, thirdrailbarsf.com)
Status: Open

Why you need to know him: Beloved Mission restaurant Range—where Lyon held court as bar manager—recently spawned sibling Third Rail in the on-the-rise Dogpatch neighborhood, creating a collaborative platform for Lyon and Range chef/owner Phil West. On the cocktail menu, which spans the categories of apéritif, seasonal, spirituous, and citrus, Lyon has created drinks like the Fireside Sour (mezcal, blood orange, lemon, agave, egg white, orange bitters) and Double Date, in which Tennessee whiskey, sweet vermouth, amaro, and cinnamon bitters unite with Medjool date-infused rye. Lest the booze get to one’s head, West’s jerky bar features nine different versions of the cured snack, including pork Salami Styx with garlic and fennel seed. (Photo courtesy Jeff Lyon)