Meet seven of the best bartenders in the Triangle | Food Feature | Indy Week
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Meet seven of the best bartenders in the Triangle 

When the sun is cooking your head and your mouth feels like the Mojave desert, it's time to retreat to the cool confines of a watering hole with your favorite drinkslinger shaking and stirring behind the bar.

Here are some of the most inventive and friendly barkeeps we've encountered. Stop by, have a cocktail and say hello. Don't forget to leave a tip.

Olivia Gray

Lives in: Durham

Find her at: Revolution

Number of years on the job: 10

Previous bartending: Il Palio, Lantern, West End Wine Bar

Signature drink: Pink Salt and Pepper Martini—pink peppercorn-infused gin, sake, cucumber, rimmed with volcanic salt

A bartender's key skill: Invent something on the fly. "That's how the Agave in Bloom came about. A regular came in and wanted something with elderflower. She's a hairdresser in town and she was telling all her customers, so I ended up having to name it and put it on the list."

Favorite part of her job: "How the art of pairing through wine applies to cocktails as well."

Where she goes, off the clock: Lantern

Bonus fact: How do they make that Cuban Dark and Stormy so damn good? Infuse Gosling's rum with "one cinnamon stick 3-4 inches long, eight black peppercorns, one star anise pod, three to four green cardamom pods, one Thai chili, sliced lengthwise, and store for one or more days."

Shelby Bacchus

Lives in: Raleigh

Find her at: Landmark Tavern

Number of years on the job: 23

Previous bartending: in New York

Specialty or signature drink: Pear Kamikaze (Absolut Pears, triple sec, fresh lime, splash of Sprite)

A bartender's key skill: "Knowing all the recipes isn't what makes a good bartender; service is what makes a good bartender. Anticipating customers' needs, being friendly—but you know what? (laughs) I don't even care if [my staff is] not too friendly because I don't want them to get stuck talking to people."

Favorite part of her job: "I love how the Landmark draws in really creative people. Certainly, definitely, musicians as well. I don't think that Ricky [guitarist husband Richard Bacchus] had everything to do with that, I know he didn't, but it's definitely become a great place to hang out and meet other creative people."

Bonus fact: "The day before [a certain actress] went on Oprah and told Oprah how she was clean and sober, she sat at my bar for seven hours doing cocaine and locking herself in the bathroom."

Willie Ennis

Lives in: Durham

Find him at: Bull McCabe's

Number of years on the job: 16

Previous bartending: in Dublin and New York

Signature drink: Mother Earth Dark Cloud; 21st Amendment Back in Black IPA

A bartender's key skill: "Learning to read the crowd. Some people when they come in, they want to chat. Some people want to be left alone and have a quiet drink and don't want their bartenders yakkin' to them. You can tell in the first minute or two."

Favorite part of his job: "I find my job very sociable ... You go in there on a Saturday night and 75 percent of the people know 75 percent of the people there."

Where he goes, off the clock: "Well, I've got a 3-year-old at home so I haven't been out in a while. I like to go to Whiskey and see Scott Ritchie—he's a good guy—and to the Fed."

Bonus fact: Ennis keeps the soundtrack non-Irish. "I really don't like U2 much myself."

Ben Hunter

Lives in: Raleigh

Find him at: Rockford and Brooklyn Heights

Number of years on the job: 4

Previous bartending: Cantina 18, Foster's

Signature drink: Cardinal Gin Hot Toddy; Midnight Moon jalapeño mojito

A bartender's key skill: Diplomatically refusing service. "Some people are really angry when you cut 'em off."

Favorite part of his job: "I get asked to Dougie a lot, which I'm kind of known for. Girls will pull their shirts off ... [and] not even for a free drink!"

Most valuable bar tool: "To be honest, ice and a shaker. Not the muddler. I can muddle with the back of a spoon."

Bonus fact: "I sell a lot of Fireball whisky with ButterShots schnapps. It tastes like Cinnamon Toast Crunch."

Stephen Murtaugh

Lives in: Chapel Hill

Find him at: Acme

Number of years on the job: 8

Previous bartending: Hell, Orange County Social Club

Signature drink: The Rosemary Street—gin, rosemary syrup, lemon juice, splash of tonic

A bartender's key skill: "Satisfy different needs. If you're looking for a beer and a burger, we can give you the best of both of those things you can get in a 30-minute drive. But if you want a fancy three-course meal with a bottle of French wine that only you and your friends have ever heard of, we can get that too."

Favorite part of his job: "You're forced into interaction with people on a daily basis, which is a very healthy thing. A good bartender is able to bring the guests sitting at the bar into each others' worlds. If you can make that happen, that's the essence of really good bartending."

Bonus fact: "There is a person who goes around town and gets six different tastes of six different wines and then leaves. Acme at one point had on our menu a tasting flight of three wines for a price, and we more or less put that on the menu to get this person."

Abe Quinn

Lives in: Raleigh

Find him at: Slim's Downtown

Number of years on the job: 11

Specialty or signature drink: Evan Williams and ginger

A bartender's key skill: "You must be fast. You might chat a little bit, but once they start piling in there, you move on down the trough as quick as you can. You don't want your boss seeing you slacking on your ass."

Most challenging part of his job: Juggling the bands and the bar. "The bands come, I set up the microphones, give a final sound check, in between that serve drinks and work the sound board at the same time. When you get busy you've got to do two jobs at once, but that's how it is."

Where he goes, off the clock: "I go around the corner to the Landmark or The Goat right by my house, or I like to roll up to Raleigh Times as well."

Bonus fact: Abe sings for a band called the Royal Knights and plays bass for Man Will Destroy Himself.

Bobby Covais

Lives in: Raleigh

Find him at: The Raleigh Times Bar

Number of years on the job: 4

Signature drink: "Working here, you have to know your beer." He also invents shots, like the Disco Stick (pear purée, guava and black cherry rums, cranberry, soda) and the Friendship Shot (Stoli O, Stoli Razberi, cranberry and orange juices, Sprite).

Hardest crowd: "On Saturday nights, they all come in at once, they don't all know each other, but they all think that I should wait on them first!"

A bartender's key skill: "Speed. They're like, 'I don't need a smile, I want my drink fast.' The good bartender, he's not taking any down time."

Bonus fact: He loves inventing a shot and then having a new customer come in and ask for it.

This article appeared in print with the headline "Top shelf."

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