Big Brain Awards 2014: Meet the Finalists and Our First Urban Legend Winners

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Teslar came to Phoenix to head Blue Hound's bar in September 2012 after running Criollo, a tequila and mezcal bar in Flagstaff, and immediately began experimenting with flavor and accessibility in craft cocktails.

"Working in a hotel is a new challenge because I have had to modify my personal techniques for high volume without losing integrity," she says. "I want people that aren't well-versed to find the cocktails approachable, but still be unique enough for the aficionados."

In terms of flavor, Teslar loves using bold, bright local citrus and herbs from local farmers markets, and she's recently developed a love of aromatized wines. Her use of local ingredients shines in components like a McClendon's Select blood orange syrup and her in-house infused gin, which features locally grown botanicals like white sage, sorrel, creosote, ribena, and juniper.

Although Teslar isn't an Arizona native, she says the community of bartenders in town has become her family. She looks forward to the next five years of cocktail culture in downtown Phoenix, which she sees as a future hub with recent and upcoming additions like The Local and Bitter & Twisted.

"I see the cocktail culture in Phoenix growing exponentially in the future," she says. "The more bars we have opening up, the more Phoenix will be a destination."

Though she admits that Phoenix can't be like New York, with its über-specialized cocktail lounges, she says Phoenix's cocktail culture forces local bartenders to be more creative and versatile. That, in turn, allows her to experiment with tiki cocktails, foreign spirits, and modernizing classics.

However, what really sets Teslar apart is her commitment to making customers feel welcomed and not judged for anything they might say or order. Her hospitality extends equally to everyone, friends or strangers, as if they were guests in her home — even if they order a shaken martini, which is one of her least favorite drinks to make.

"I want everyone to know when they're coming into my bar they're coming into my home," she says. And that means there's no such thing as a bad drink, especially if it makes someone happy, she says. — Heather Hoch

Alexandra Bowers | Visual Art
Alexandra Bowers stands on the back balcony of the north Scottsdale house she grew up in, a house she moved back into after graduating from ASU with an art degree in 2012. The house now serves as her studio and command station for her clothing and art brand Iron Root. She points out to the neighboring housing development behind the yard's fence.

"This all used to be expansive desert land when I was growing up, and it's been paved over," she says. "It's kind of sad."

If you saw them at Eye Lounge last summer, you probably never would have guessed that Bowers' intricate works of wood-burning were driven by her family and childhood. Drawing inspiration from hiking, that empty desert behind her childhood home, and a coyote skull her boyfriend found in the desert, Bowers' work is an exploration of the bits of desert beauty that disappear with every new subdivision.

Back in her studio space, which she says her mother graciously lets her use, it's clear that family has a lot to do with her work. The professional wood-burning kit she uses was jointly gifted to her by her mother and father, but she started wood-burning with a soldering iron bought on a trip with her dad to Home Depot (one of her favorite places).

Since then, Bowers has grown and experimented. Now, she works primarily with birchwood boxes assembled by local artist Tony Zeh. Her early pieces are beautiful, but it's obvious that she's progressed immensely in the six years she's been working with wood. With works commissioned by friends, art lovers, and boutique Frances, Bowers enjoys tailoring pieces to reflect someone's passion in nature — be it a sparrow or a sunflower — always in stunning detail.

Though Bowers reluctantly has done her fair share of dog portraits, it's clear she's more interested in creating works that showcase the raw and sometimes macabre beauty of the Sonoran desert. She also makes plenty of small pieces priced at $50 and less, because she loves the idea of art being affordable enough for anyone to own a piece that makes them happy.

With just three tools, which achieve finer or thicker lines like different brushes for a painter, Bowers has taught herself techniques that employ use of negative space and texture. She says pieces typically take "hours and hours and hours and days and days," and she usually loses track of time in podcasts and audiobooks like her most recent listen, Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch.

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