While Pittsburgh's cocktail scene is growing in fame and sophistication, its bartenders aren't household names. At least not yet: The new cocktail-focused Tender Bar + Kitchen suggests things might be changing.
When he wanted to compile a list of innovative cocktails for his new Lawrenceville establishment, owner Jeff Catalina assembled a crack team of six bartenders: Fredrick Arnold, Sarah Clarke, Nathan Lutchansky, Craig Mrusek, Marie Perriello and Sean Rosenkrans.
"We'd get together once a week," says Mrusek. "We'd bring our own recipes in, try them out and critique them. Basically, through that process we winnowed them down" to the current list of 15.
"You start to learn a person's style. You can really start to see who made what," adds Clarke.
Each of the bartenders — dressed in speakeasy-themed garb that reflects the stunning décor of the historic bank building — has a distinct pedigree.
Clarke, Lutchansky and Mrusek all spent time behind the bar at Verde, which Catalina also owns. Perriello has recently been honing her craft at Acacia; Rosenkrans quietly toiled away as the city's most under-the-radar craft-cocktail bartender at Silk Elephant. Arnold, new to Pittsburgh, bartended in Kansas City and New York.
"This group of people is a bartending dream team," says Arnold. "I adore their dedication and passion for creating layered and complicated tastes in cocktails."
His "The Van Buren" cocktail is a particular standout. The mix of Wigle Ginever, green Chartreuse, Benedictine, dry vermouth, rhubarb bitters and rose water is a balanced, herbaceous delight.
In addition to the original libations, there's also the "Banker's List," a collection of 30 classic cocktails. The Navy grog is potent and spicy, and Mrusek, the city's resident tiki expert, has a couple pleasing South Pacific powerhouses.
The initials of the bartender responsible for developing each cocktail are stamped underneath the drink's description. So although you might not yet be familiar with each bartender's passion, Tender is banking that you will be soon.