Food & Drink

What are Charlotte’s best cocktails? We asked the experts: CLT bartenders

What do bartenders drink when they're not working?

DiSean Burns, bar manager at Stoke Bar at the Marriott City Center, talks about his cocktail preferences.
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DiSean Burns, bar manager at Stoke Bar at the Marriott City Center, talks about his cocktail preferences.

When bartenders get a night off, they’re not going to waste it on a place with pre-mixed margaritas.

So we called five of the hottest names behind Charlotte’s bars right now and asked them: Where do you go and what do you order?

Bob Peters

Creative director of bar operations for The Punch Room and Kinship Lounge at the Ritz-Carlton in Charlotte.

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Bob Peters, head mixologist at the The Punch Room, likes a beer and a good tequila at Smokey Joe’s Cafe. Robert Lahser

Where he goes: “I love a good dive bar. I love, love, love Smokey Joe’s Cafe. It is amazing. They probably have close to 100 different bottles of beer, six or eight taps they devote to local beers. I’m a disciple for Smokey Joe’s. I worked there 100 years ago. “

His order: “I get really good tequila and cheap beer. I sip on a nice reposado (barrel-rested tequila) – they’ve got a solid tequila selection – and then have a PBR (Pabst Blue Ribbon) in a can. And I’m completely happy with that.”

Stefan Huebner

Currently working on the drinks menu for Dot Dot Dot, the new speakeasy-style place opening at the back of Park Road Shopping Center in about a month.

Stefan Heist is setting a whole drinks menu for the new Dot Dot Dot. ADAM JENNINGS ADAM JENNINGS

Where he goes: “I usually am more of a beer/shot guy. But if I go out for cocktails, I love Colleen Hughes at Haberdish, Brian Lorusso at Dogwood, Kel (Minton) and Marshall (Moore) at Soul Gastrolounge. I go to see Bob (Peters) about once a month, just to kind of catch up.

“At the end of the day, if I’m going out for hospitality, the guys at Sanctuary (in NoDa) and the ladies at Thirsty Beaver are amazing. Both those bars are kind of like ‘Cheers.’ I can walk in, they know what I’m drinking.”

His order: “Kel has a cocktail at Soul (called a James Ryan). It’s Johnny Walker and smoked tobacco syrup. Really, really good.”

DiSean Burns

“Manager of drink” at Stoke Bar at the Marriott City Center.

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DiSean Burns at work at Stoke; he’s partial to Tilt on Trade. Molly Mathis

Where he goes: “Completely honest, one of my most frequent watering holes would be Tilt on Trade. Literally right across the street. They have this phenomonal whiskey selection, as well as some pretty solid tequilas.”

His order: “At Tilt, I’m ordering whiskey on the rocks. Recently, Angel’s Envy rye has been a solid choice. Generally two or three ice cubes, not too much, just enough to open it up a bit.”

Colleen Hughes

Bar manager at Haberdish.

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Colleen Hughes likes to head to Dogwood when she has the chance. Charlotte

Where she goes: “If I really get a chance to go out, we go to Dogwood and see Brian (Lorusso). And I just let him make me whatever he wants. My standard option would be an Old Fashioned, but you’re not going to get an option with Brian anyway. He just makes something and puts it in front of you.”

Her order: Old Fashioneds, gin gimlets “and I really like a good Corpse Reviver No. 2 (gin, Cointreau, Lillet Blanc, lemon juice and absinthe).

“Those are my go-tos. My thing is, a lot of times, I’ll order a gimlet or one of those as a holding drink while I look over your menu. And if you do a good job, I’ll try one of your more complicated drinks.”

Brian Lorusso

Bar manager at Dogwood Southern Table & Bar.

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When Brian Lorusso isn’t making drinks at Dogwood, he’s enjoying the service and new discoveries at the Fig Tree in Elizabeth. Peter Taylor Peter Taylor

Where he goes: “My personal favorite . . . is the bar at The Fig Tree. The service is amazing. They don’t have crazy egg-white cocktails that are on fire with an umbrella. We just want to go and be taken care of for the night.”

What he orders: Classics, like a Negroni or Manhattan. “I’ve found neat things at Fig Tree before I’ve found them anywhere. (It’s) the first place I saw Cardamaro (a wine-based amaro). With carrot cake, it’s crazy delicious. Now it’s everywhere. They set trends without realizing it.”

Kathleen Purvis: 704-358-5236, @kathleenpurvis