Best Bartender - 2004
As Alice Waters is to a bushel of organic produce, the Orbit Room's quirky Alberta Straub is to a shelf of top-notch booze. Part of being a great bartender -- next to a Sam Malone-ish sympathetic ear and some seen-it-all, commonsensical advice -- is, well, knowing your way around a cocktail. "I just like to make people happy," says Straub. And she does. Not only does she use her very own homemade brandied cherries, tarragon- and lemongrass-infused vodkas, old-fashioned glass seltzer bottles, and specially sifted salts (to rim one of the finest Bloody Marys in town), but she also employs her improvisational skills to help her devise astounding concoctions. (With a few simple questions, she came up with a nameless, slightly sweet yet savory, gin-and-cucumber drink that, by our fourth round, had become a new favorite.) She also draws from the past to bring back old cocktails without coming off as nostalgic: Straub skips the corny outbursts of tiny umbrellas and huge chunks of pineapple one might find at, say, Trader Vic's.