Three Female Bartenders and Mixologists in Greater Phoenix

Three Female Bartenders and Mixologists in Greater Phoenix
Lisa Olson
Three women who are making history in Phoenix’s cocktail culture. In addition to slangin’ carefully crafted mixed drinks at some of the most renowned bars and lounges in the Valley, they are walking away with winning titles at bartending competitions, have customers swooning over their customized cocktails, and are encouraging all women interested in the mixology field to hop aboard the bartendress train.

These are their stories (dun dun).

click to enlarge Tracy Chavez is one of four bartenders designing craft cocktails for the ever-changing list at Melinda's Alley. - SARAH RALL
Tracy Chavez is one of four bartenders designing craft cocktails for the ever-changing list at Melinda's Alley.
Sarah Rall
Tracy Chavez of Melinda's Alley
50 East Adams Street
Melinda’s Alley does not do man-off-the-street hires — you must have proper experience to whip up drinks behind this bar. Tracy Chavez checked all those boxes, and was hired in December 2018. Before Melinda’s, Chavez bartended through college and graduate school and attained a level-two certification through the Court of Masters Sommelier. After living in the world of wine for a handful of years, she began working at Sidebar, where craft cocktails became her main squeeze. She’s since worked at Chico Malo, Blue Hound Kitchen & Cocktails, The Henry, and several other spots.

Claiming a spot at Melinda’s is not only a tremendous achievement for Chavez, but it lends itself as a creative opportunity that not every other cocktail bar offers. They rotate the list's responsibilities every weekend. When it’s Chavez’s turn, she's designing unheard of drinks (hence why mixology skills must be topnotch). For her weekend in March, she served up a mix of vodka, yellow chartreuse, lemon, red pepper, and turmeric.

“We are breaking people out their mold and expanding their comfort zone,” she says. “We put a lot of time and energy into making inventive drinks you can’t try elsewhere.”

Chavez takes about two weeks to create her list and prep ingredients before her turn. When it comes to crafting unique cocktails, she plays around with flavor profiles that intrigue her. One of her more recent drinks was a mango horchata cocktail — inspired by Vero Mango Chili lollipops. It’s also vital to understand how one flavor or spirit will react with another. “It’s a science project,” she says.

Chavez is in the craft industry for the long haul. It’s not just her weekend job, but also where she's established her community and found a lifestyle that fits her character. That doesn’t mean it’s strife-free, though. “It can be frustrating at times to be a woman in the craft and wine industry,” she says. “It’s not coming so much internally from craft, but rather craft trying to meet the public’s expectations of who should be serving them, which is generally males.”

She recalls her experiences at Kazimierz Wine Bar and Cowboy Ciao in Old Town Scottsdale when customers would get confused that she was the sommelier — and not one of the male employees. “We need to keep an open mind,” she says.

But Chavez does not want to dissuade any women who are wanting to dive into this field. "There is an incredible amount of support from men and women within this realm," she says. "Find yourself a mentor and just go for it."

click to enlarge Samantha Hickman was one of two females competing in the 2019 Devour Bartending Competition. - COURTESY OF UPWARD PROJECTS
Samantha Hickman was one of two females competing in the 2019 Devour Bartending Competition.
Courtesy of Upward Projects
Samantha Hickman of Windsor
5223 North Central Avenue
Samantha Hickman became the first female to win the Devour Bartending Competition on February 17. Her specialty cocktail included Adventurous Stills Camelback Gin, homemade pink peppercorn syrup, pomelo and lemon juice, creme de cacao and pamplemousse, chocolate bitters, a dash of Patron XO cafe, and a chocolate-dipped Cutie for garnish. She called it The No. 93.

For two weeks leading up to the competition, Hickman put in nearly 20 hours of off-the-clock time to perfect her cocktail with the help of her closest friends and co-workers. She had been bartending at Windsor for nearly three years when her manager asked if she would represent them at the challenge. She did not want to disappoint.

The No. 93 secured her a spot in the final round, and then she had to make one more drink on the spot. The required ingredients were 3 Amigos Blanco Tequila and a mesquite date syrup. Hickman paired it with muddled orange, chocolate bitters, orange blossom honey, spiced honey, a salt and ground coffee rim, and pineapple to top it off. “When they announced my name, I felt like I blacked out,” she says. “Winning the competition made me fall back in love with bartending all over again.”

Behind the bar, life at Windsor lends itself to a high volume of fast-paced moments, like making 10 drinks in 15 minutes. Slower hours allow for actual conversation and tailoring cocktails for customers. "It’s also a performance", she says. Guests get a kick out of watching her plow through several drinks at once, as well as perfecting one at a time. The busy times have taught Hickman how to stay composed in the midst of chaos — a skill she can apply to all aspects of life.

Before Windsor, Hickman worked at Whole Foods, serving beer and wine, as well as at Half Moon Sports Bar and Grill. She enjoyed serving more than just beer and wine at the sports bar, but the scene itself did not suit her. She applied at several other bars, including Windsor, and about three months later, she was brought on board. She bar-backed for six months before becoming a mixologist.

Having worked with craft cocktails for just a few years, Hickman feels like she has only scratched the surface. She wants to continue competing and evolving, and doesn’t see herself making a career change anytime soon. For anyone drawn to working in the cocktail culture, Hickman says to find a bar with people who will support your growth — not feel threatened by it.

Chanel Godwin-McMaken wins the 2019 Last Slinger Standing bartending competition. - LISA OLSON
Chanel Godwin-McMaken wins the 2019 Last Slinger Standing bartending competition.
Lisa Olson
Chanel Godwin-McMaken of Little Rituals
132 South Central Avenue
Chanel Godwin-McMaken walked away in first place at the 2019 Last Slinger Standing competition in February.  “I am a very goal-oriented person,” she says. “If I want something, I’m going to get it. This is how I approach all areas of my life.” She defeated 15 fellow mixologists.

A year prior, at the 2018 competition, she was resistant to even enter the preliminary round. She recalls being nervous and unfamiliar with the environment, but her mentors wouldn’t let her stand on the sidelines. Despite her initial hesitation, she got runners-up. “I was floored,” she says. So, come 2019, Godwin-McMaken knew this cocktail throw-down was hers.

Her habitual, winning mindset, and skill of course, is also how she landed her position at Little Rituals — a recently opened downtown cocktail lounge. During a cocktail course hosted by the United States Bartenders Guild, Godwin-McMaken approached Aaron DeFeo, one of two owners at Little Rituals, and expressed her interest in bartending for the business. After some conversations and an interview, she was on the team. After winning the competition, customers frequently request one of her tasty works of art. She says she is constantly exercising her creative muscles.

Previously, Godwin-McMaken bartended at several eateries owned by Fox Restaurant Concepts. Before that, she played the gamut of hospitality roles like hosting, serving, bar-backing, managing — the works. Bartending always felt like an uncomfortable stretch for her, but once she settled into the flow of cocktails, it felt like home.

“It’s a balance of hard work and creativity,” she says. “And I am able to meet different people from all walks of life and have various conversations within a multitude of hours. It’s incredible.”

Parallel to mixing drinks and competing, Godwin-McMaken hosts a podcast with fellow bartendress Megan Northcutt called Barbeez. The two launched the podcast in November 2018 with the intention of having raw and real conversations about uncomfortable situations in the craft industry, like being a woman in the world of bartending. The platform is bringing immense value to their listeners, she says.

Down the road, Godwin-McMaken aspires to open up her own cocktail bar. “I love Phoenix more than life itself and I would love to contribute to its community, especially as a female bar owner,” she says. “I think it’s something Phoenix needs more of, and I want to be a part of that movement.”
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