Top Tenders

Who are the best bartenders in Dallas?

Phil Natale, Steel, Dallas. Both Sheets and Natale work bars based in and dominated by restaurants. "It's different because while people do come in just to drink, really the bar complements the restaurant," says Natale. "You can't let the bar detract from the people having dinner." Still, Natale excels at creating a vibrant atmosphere, greeting customers, engaging newcomers, pulling everyone into the scene. "Really you are onstage and you want to set an upbeat image," he explains. He learned bartending from his father, a restaurateur, and started serving at the tender age of 18 as a way to pay for college and remained behind the bar ever since--15 years in a temporary job. "It's easy to stay in," he points out. "It's fun, and there's the money."

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, bartenders earn a meager $6.25 an hour, median wage. That amounts to roughly $14,000 a year. But bartenders live on tips, and the top bartenders pull in between $600 and $1,500 a week. "And that's in cash," says Michael Tolley, director of operations for ShowTenders, a bartender and drink menu service based in Orlando, Florida. Few report tip earnings accurately at tax time (the average tip is 4 percent, if you believe IRS returns). "They get into bartending, start making $40,000 or $50,000, graduate, look around, and those $26,000 entry-level offers don't look so appealing," Tolley adds.

Julie Hinojosa, The Bone, Dallas. Despite the ready wads of hard cash, Hinojosa plans to retire from bartending in August when she graduates from the University of Texas-Arlington with a bachelor's in chemistry and biology. Yet she still considers her work fun after 10 years (she works the rooftop bar). "You have to enjoy it, or it shows, and people leave," she says. Her forte is high-speed visual entertainment--opening five beer bottles in rapid succession, flipping empties blindly into containers and other little amusements for the short-attention-span crowd.

Location Info


The Londoner Pub

5454 Main St.
Frisco, TX 75034-3599

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Frisco

Champps Americana

855 W. John Carpenter Freeway
Irving, TX 75039

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Irving & Las Colinas

Whisky Bar

1930 Greenville Ave.
Dallas, TX 75206

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: East Dallas & Lakewood

The Dubliner

2818 Greenville Ave.
Dallas, TX 75206

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: East Dallas & Lakewood

Sevy's Grill

8201 Preston Road, #100
Dallas, TX 75225

Category: Restaurant > New American

Region: Park Cities

Mark Trzupek, Ziziki's, Dallas. Few things are more entertaining over a short period of time than saying "Trzupek, Ziziki's" over and over, rapidly, after four or five drinks. We're pretty certain the slurred combination translates into some Russian phrase used to arrange a secret drop. It's difficult to annoy Trzupek, by the way. He smiles constantly, focuses on the customer, and pretty soon you stop blurting out Russian names for female body parts and just enjoy the evening. But creativity sets him apart from the average bartender. "What I really like is when people say, 'I want a drink that's sort of fruity and cold,' or something like that," he says. "It gives me a chance to use my talents."

Lenny, The Dubliner, Dallas. Less-experienced bartenders, and those from other cultures, often struggle to recognize subtle differences in customers--whether they prefer a drink strong or weak, whether they want to chat or not and so forth. Lenny is a relative rookie after working in a small-town pub in the old country and the Greenville Avenue equivalent for just over four years. But he knows his stuff. "You get an idea in the first few minutes what type of person is walking through the door," he says. For customers trying whiskey for the first time, he generally suggests a lowland scotch. "You have different regions," he points out. "If you go with a lowland, you'll get a light, easy drinking whiskey."

James Pintello, Sevy's Grill, Dallas. Unlike the others, Pintello works the day shift. He's also much older, a veteran of 27 years in the Navy and 13 behind a bar. Few can match his knowledge of the world. "I'm relatively intelligent, semi-literate and somewhat well-traveled," Pintello remarks. "I've seen a lot, and because of that I have a chance to read people better. It gives me an edge." There is something invigorating about sitting at a bar in the middle of the afternoon listening to stories set in old Hong Kong or recommendations for bringing out the flavor of sake. Bartenders should occasionally challenge our imaginations as well as our livers, and Pintello manages both.

Sure, there are several other great bartenders in the Dallas area--Matthew at Samba Room in Dallas and Julie at Joe's Crab Shack in Grapevine, for example. When we manage to crawl back to the office, we'll try to convince the editors to allow a follow-up article. Anyway, bartenders know it's impossible to please everybody. "You're dealing with the public, and sometimes you can't win," Green comments. "But if you can make them laugh..."

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