After a Side Gig Became a Passion, This Valley Bartender Rose to the Top

Delena Humble-Fischer, bar manager for Sin Muerte, is 2023's Last Slinger Standing.
Delena Humble-Fischer, bar manager for Sin Muerte, is 2023's Last Slinger Standing. Sara Crocker
Delena Humble-Fischer considers herself a lifelong learner. After completing her master’s degree in narrative studies at Arizona State University, she decided to take a gap year before pursuing a doctoral degree. She channeled the same energy she put toward her studies into bartending – work that until then had been her side gig.

That year off proved pivotal and put Humble-Fischer on a path that has established her as a mixologist to watch. On Monday, March 13, the Sin Muerte bar manager took home the Last Slinger Standing trophy – beating out 15 other bartenders in a head-to-head competition that tests their skills, speed, and creativity – and capped off Arizona Cocktail Weekend.

Humble-Fischer, who had only competed in one other bartending competition before, was still letting the win sink in.

“This is an honor and something that I am going to carry with extreme pride and responsibility and really use my platform to do something,” she said on a recent afternoon, sitting on the other side of her bar at the newly opened downtown Phoenix restaurant Sin Muerte. “I showed up and showed people that I deserve to be here, and women deserve to be here, and Mexican women deserve to be here, and women of color deserve to be here.”
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Though she prepared for Last Slinger Standing, Delena Humble-Fischer said her nerves were running high. After she was announced the winner, "I literally sat on the floor and I hugged that trophy and gave it a kiss," she says.
Courtesy of Delena Humble-Fischer

Humble-Fischer says it’s important to talk more about the small number of women, and even smaller number of women of color, in the industry. Her academic studies centered on nonfiction, focusing on race and identity. She shared challenges she’s faced and that she’s seen others face in a male-dominated industry, including tip prejudice and harassment.

“If I deny someone’s sexual advances, I don’t get a tip. If I cut somebody off, I’m a raging bitch,” she says. “I know my male counterparts definitely get shit, but it’s really nothing in comparison to what we as women have to deal with in this industry.”

But, despite those challenges, Humble-Fischer says she’s doing work she loves in a place brimming with talent.

“It is booming,” she said of Phoenix’s craft cocktail scene. “There are so many incredibly talented people in this community.”

Humble-Fischer cut her teeth slinging drinks while working on her undergrad degree in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. When she and her fiance relocated to Arizona to start her master’s degree, she again picked up a bartending gig, but things changed for her the first time they visited The Golden Pineapple Craft Lounge in Tempe.

“We fell in love with the place. From the cocktails to the service to the food, it was an experience we really hadn’t had in Arizona yet, and it just felt like home,” she says, adding that they became regulars very quickly, mesmerized by the bar team.

Humble-Fischer submitted an application to join them. The Golden Pineapple beverage director Adam Fought noted that she didn’t have enough experience yet, but offered her a serving job to start. With an eagerness to learn and ask questions, Humble-Fischer moved her way up to bar manager.

“I always saw in her that innate ability,” Fought says, complimenting her palate and ability to find balance between unusual ingredients. He took her under his wing and encouraged her to continue to grow through experiences like Tales of the Cocktail Foundation’s Cocktail Apprentice Program, an exclusive industry mentorship opportunity.

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Sin Muerte, which means "without death" in Spanish, sits in a mission-style building just south of Roosevelt Row and was once a funeral home.
Sara Crocker
Humble-Fischer left The Golden Pineapple last year to run the bar at Sin Muerte, a vegetarian restaurant near Roosevelt Row created by Instrumental Hospitality, the same team behind Belly Kitchen & Bar and the forthcoming cocktail bar Quartz.

“It was a really exciting moment for me to come in and be the bar manager of a place that didn’t have an identity yet and start building out its story,” she says.

Humble-Fischer dove in, studying the areas along the 33rd parallel that inspired Sin Muerte, from Arizona to Morocco, and the flavors that define the food and drinks there.

“There was a lot of passion, love, and time that went into developing this program,” she says, noting that there are narratives woven into every drink.

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Sin Muerte's cocktails like I Beg Your Garden and Sin-Dori Sour draw on flavors of the 33rd parallel, stretching from Arizona to the Mediterranean and Morocco.
Sara Crocker
Take Sin Muerte’s spicy margarita. While it’s pretty true to the classic, Humble-Fischer uses a triple-chile agave, made with the same three chiles her family uses when making tamales during Christmas.

“I paid an homage to all the women in my family,” she says. “Every cocktail on my menu has an identity and has a story… that’s something that is really powerful.”

When asked what she wants to see more of in the Valley’s burgeoning bar scene, her answer flowed back to concerns she’d raised about the industry as a whole.

“I want to see less sexism, I want to see less tip prejudice and less sexual harassment. Everyone deserves to come to work and have a great time and have a safe environment and not worry about having to deal with that crap,” she says. “I will continue to push behind my bar and make sure that everyone feels safe.”

She’s also excited to see how the growing scene continues to bring more creativity to the fore.

“It’s all about trying to push the boundaries and give people unique flavors and give people a really incredible experience that goes beyond the glass,” she says.

Others may be watching her. Though Humble-Fischer entered Last Slinger Standing "just for fun," with hopes of just getting past the first round, she admits she studied for it, making flashcards for different spirits.

The competition is akin to cooking competitions like Food Network's Chopped, with challenges based on secret ingredients, and there's an application process before the big event to select the top 16 bartenders. Past Last Slinger winners include mixologists from celebrated Valley bars, most recently Lauren Azevedo of Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour, Colton Brock of Liar's Club and other downtown bars, and Chanel Godwin-McMaken of Little Rituals.

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Behind the bar, Delena Humble-Fischer is “very competitive," says mentor Adam Fought. She took that drive to Last Slinger Standing and walked away as its 2023 champion on March 13.
Arizona Cocktail Weekend
For Humble-Fischer's last round in Last Slinger Standing, she had to go against Highball’s Mitch Lyons, a celebrated Valley bartender, cocktail consultant, and bar owner. She won with a riff on a Vieux Carré, a classic New Orleans tipple traditionally made with cognac, rye, and sweet vermouth.

“It’s an amazing accomplishment,” Fought says of Humble-Fischer’s win. “Seeing how far she’s come within two or three years is really mindblowing.”

Right now, Humble-Fischer is eyeing where she’ll place her trophy and picking up a pen along with a cocktail shaker. She's focusing on figuring out a way to blend her passions for storytelling and bartending.

“I’m really trying to find a fusion between writing about my experiences," she says, "not only as a woman, not only as a Mexican-American woman, but as somebody in this industry navigating it.”
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Sara Crocker is a food writer for Phoenix New Times. She has called Phoenix home since 2020, getting to know the Valley through every restaurant, brewery and bar she can. Her work has also appeared in Phoenix Magazine, Phoenix Home & Garden and The Denver Post.
Contact: Sara Crocker

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