Not only does Donny Sizemore have the gift of gab, but he can turn that gab into a drink.
“I’m a ‘bespoke bartender,’” he said. “You speak what you want; I find out your palate, and I make that. I love the challenge.”
With 27 years’ experience under his belt, he is a fount of boozy knowledge.
Within the first five minutes of speaking to him, Sizemore had rattled off the history of the Sazerac, America’s first cocktail; explained why Peychaud’s Bitters is bright cherry red; and educated me on the French phylloxera plague that wiped out the country’s grapes in the late 1880s. My head spun, and I hadn’t had even a sip.
Sizemore tends bar at WSKY Lounge, 228 NE Second St., in Deep Deuce, where he is part of the team effort that creates the seasonal cocktail menu. Their original drinks include Remember the Maine, which Sizemore said was “an effort to make a drink taste like a cigar,” and Hearth and Home, made with Bowmore 15 Darkest Scotch, Berentzen Apple, ceylon cinnamon-sorghum syrup, Jerry Thomas’ Own Decanter Bitters and a toasted cinnamon stick.
The latter has all the flavors of fall — cinnamon, fire, apples — and even the Scotch calls the season’s changing leaves to mind.
You can find Scott Glidewell bartending at two places in the city:
The Other Room, 3009 Paseo St., in Paseo on Sundays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and WSKY Lounge on Fridays and Saturdays.
“I like all facets of bartending,” he said, “from making high-end drinks at WSKY to slamming out Red- Headed Sluts and two-dollar beers at The Other Room.”
In concert with Sizemore and a few other local bartenders, Glidewell hopes to open the first Oklahoma chapter of the U.S. Bartenders Guild.
“If we have 50 active members,” he said, “and a few of us know about a new rye whiskey, we can go to a distributor and say, ‘Here are 10 restaurants or bars that will stock it.’” Besides being able to influence liquors on hand in local bars and restaurants, Glidewell, who also runs his own catering company, said the guild will help change the way people look at bartenders and the service industry.
“This is a career,” he said. “We’re not all screw-ups, and we’re not all partying all of the time.”
His favorite drink? An Old Pal: rye whiskey, dry vermouth and campari.
“It’s floral, dry, bitter and wellbalanced,” he said. “It’s a sipper.”
Short for Jodaniel, Jodan Johnson is “more into technique than anything else” when it comes to tending bar.
“Stirring, muddling, shaking — I try to do everything the correct way, the way each drink was intended to be made,” he said.
Three of the seasonal cocktails on the drink list at The Lobby Bar, 4322 N. Western Ave., were created by him.
Manager Christopher Angel said, “I try to get everyone as involved as possible on the menu. Jodan has lent a lot his own personal stamp and experience to this season’s collaboration.”
Johnson’s update of the Mezcal Mule includes the usual mezcal, lime and ginger beer but adds Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur, which is shaken with roasted jalapeño and then doublestrained. The result is a warm, woody, spicy, smoky concoction cut by the tang of the lime and sweet of the ginger beer.
He also tries to make most drinks in the Japanese style of formal flare bartending.
To do this, Johnson will place every bottle he’s going to use in front of patrons so they can see the quality and variety of spirits going into the drink.
“It’s all about presentation,” he said.
Sarah Ventris knows her patrons well. Bartending three nights a week at Ranch Steakhouse, 3000 W. Britton Rd., while finishing up an English literature degree at the University of Central Oklahoma, she said the stories are her favorite part about the job.
“When people come into the bar, they’re looking for someone to talk to,” she said. “And I think part of the reason our regulars come back is because we know them by name.”
Ventris says the Ranch is also popular with out-of-towners because its decor captures the city’s cowboy history. She is proud of its scotch-and-whiskey list, which includes 58 varieties and complements the heavy drapes, dark wood and high-quality steaks.
“I love to do Old Fashioneds and Manhattans up. And pouring Laphroaig. Every time I open the bottle, the whole room smells like that distinct flavor,” Ventris said, adding that bluecheese dirty martinis are also popular.
“People love them. And we stuff the olives with blue cheese ourselves.”
Earlier this year, Chris Barrett had eight minutes to make three drinks, without recipes, in front of a judge at an advanced BarSmarts class at the Tales of the Cocktail festival in New Orleans. Class members were given a list of 25 cocktails, and the three they were assigned on-the-spot were a surprise.
When asked if he passed, he wrinkled his nose, smiled and said, “Oh, yeah.”
Barrett, who likes to study and update classic cocktails, has a foot-anda-half-high stack of spirits history books, old cocktail books and bartenders’ guides.
He mixes these updated cocktails — like the Bee Smash Knee Cap, made with dry gin, lemon, honey and fresh lavender — at Ludivine, 805 N. Hudson Ave., four to five nights a week.
“Take out the lavender and it’s a classic called Bee’s Knees,” he said.
A Martinez is another of his favorites. It includes blood orange bitters (made in-house), Carpano Antica sweet vermouth, Luxardo maraschino liqueur and Old Tom Gin. Looking at it, one would never know it was a gin drink. According to Barrett, that is part of the point.
“We try to enhance the flavor of the main spirit. This is about importance of taste,” he said. “A drink is more than a means to an end.”
In his 13th year of bartending, Christopher Bridges does flare bartending of a different kind. Instead of placing bottles in front of his guests, he flips them in the air, juggles them and generally makes a show out of the cocktail. Last year, he was runner-up in the national Zero Gravity Flair Bartending Championship and three years ago was its winner.
At Club One 15, 115 E. Sheridan Ave., where you can find him Saturday nights, most of his work is geared for speed. The club is busy, which Bridges attributes to the impressiveness of the place — its decor, DJs and dancing.
“It’s been put together so well, and that makes my job easier,” he said. “The trimmings, lighting and sound system — all of the details are well-done.”
When he has time to slow down, he enjoys making a good Old Fashioned or a margarita.
“They’re simple but difficult to master,” he said. “But there’s a drink for every situation. Nine times out of 10, people say our Thunderade — made with Malibu rum, Bacardi O, Blue Curacao, limeade and lemonade — is perfect.”