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The ABSOLUT Best Bartenders in Town

There are good bartenders and great bartenders. And then there are the ABSOLUT best bartenders in town. Here at AV, we’ve teamed up with our friends at ABSOLUT to create a contest to determine who’s the best barkeep in Western New York. We combed the region’s lounges and nightclubs with one simple request: Mix us the best cocktail you know, using any one of ABSOLUT’s fine flavored vodkas.

We’ve narrowed it down to 11 contenders and 11 delicious concoctions. And now we’re turning to you, our readers, to make the call. Read about the men and women who make the drinks, stop in the joints where they work and sample their wares. Then vote, using our Best of Buffalo ballot that appears in print in this issue and online at, for your ABSOLUT Best Bartender. And may the best cocktail win!

Photographs by Nancy J. Parisi.

Visit the Best of Buffalo Ballots if you'd like to sign up to vote, or to bring up your existing ballot and cast your choice for Best ABSOLUT Bartender!

Sam Arno


79 W. Chippewa St., Buffalo

Arno says her drink—ABSOLUT Citron, triple sec, sour mix, and a splash of 7 Up—was inspired by Sabres winger Patrick Kaleta. “I heard of it from Pat Kaleta,” she says, “and that’s what we decided to call it.”

She’s new to bartending, having started at Bayou last May. She always wanted to try it, she says, and one night at Bayou she asked the manager for a shot at it. You’ll find her at Bayou Thursdays and Saturdays, and occasionally making a guest appearance at Papaya. The self-described country girl is studying for her nursing boards—she just graduated from Trocaire—and likes to go four-wheeling, fishing, hunting, and snowboarding.


647 Ridge Rd., Lackawanna

Czechowski has been working at Curly’s, that gem of a restaurant in Lackwanna, for more than five years, and he’s been in the food and drink business for 18. First job, the Olive Garden; notable past job, chef and general manager of the late Brownstone Bistro. He says that his drink recipe—ABSOLUT Currant Nectar, St. Germain, emulsified currant nectar, and crystalized currants for garnish—came to him as soon as the bottle of ABSOLUT was delivered to the restaurant. “I love the St. Germain story,” he says. “Six gentlemen on the mountainside picking the elderflowers by hand and taking it to the factory.”

When he’s not behind the bar at Curly’s, you’ll find Czechowski cooking at home with his dog, Oscar.

Chris Czechowski

Josh Lewis


118 W. Chippewa St., Buffalo

When Lewis first stepped behind the bar at Papaya four years ago, the Asian Kiss—made with regular vodka—was a staple on the cocktail menu. “When the ABSOLUT Mango came out, we modified it a bit,” Lewis says.

The new concoction—ABSOLUT Mango, pineapple juice, raspberry liqueur, and a float of champagne—is called the Vietnamese Kiss.

Papaya, an upscale Asian fusion restaurant on the Chippewa strip, is Lewis’s first restaurant gig. On his days off, you’ll find Lewis playing golf or hanging out with his dog, Jameson.

Toro! Tapas Bar

492 Elmwood Ave., Buffalo

McLaughlin landed her first bartending gig by hanging out at Mickey Rat’s a lot one summer. Next thing she knew, she’d been offered a job. She’s been at Toro, the tapas bar on Elmwood, for about two years.

Her Ruby Red Mojito was inspired by the ABSOLUT flavor of the same name. “I love fresh grapefruit, and we make a lot of mojitos at Toro, so I just combined the two,” she says. The recipe is simple: ABSOLUT Ruby Red, mint leaves, brown sugar cubes, and muddled fresh pink grapefruit. The drink is shaken, then topped with soda water.

When she’s not tending bar, McLaughlin likes to paint. She’s also finishing a nursing degree.

Brandy McLaughlin

Connor White

Pearl Street Grill & Brewery

76 Pearl St., Buffalo

Even a beer palace like Pearl Street can generate great mixologists. Connor White has been tending bar for about eight years, and in that time he’s had plenty of occasion to experiment with cocktail recipes. “I have two lunch regulars who are willing test subjects,” White says. His favorite ABSOLUT recipe, the Off-White Russian—made of ABSOLUT Vanilla, Frangelico, Kahlua, and milk—may also be his simplest.

But that’s not nearly his only vodka concoction; visit him Thursday through Saturday nights and ask him for an ABSOLUT Citron Arnold Palmer.


64 W. Chippewa St., Buffalo

“I love the new Acaì Berry, and I wanted to make a cocktail that is sweet to the palate, while staying true to the Acaì flavor,” says Mecozzi, who has been proudly tending bar at Soho for nine years. At first bartending was a way to pay for college, she says, but soon she fell in love with the creative and social opportunities that attend the job. When she’s not behind the bar, which is seldom, she says, “I love Netflix, cooking organic, playing the cello, spending time with my man and my chihuahua Zoe, and taking full advantage of Buffalo’s rich and diverse tradition of music, friends, beer, wine, and spirits.”

The Berry Cherry: The Berry Cherry: muddled maraschino cherries in tumbler packed with ice, Absolut Berry Acaì Berry vodka, strained over ice into a Collins glass, a splash of lemon/lime soda, and a maraschino cherry for garnish.

Lyndsey Mecozzi

Gabe Foley


33 Virginia Pl., Buffalo

The Peeptini was invented by Buffalo Spree editor Elizabeth Licata, but Gabe Foley has mastered it: ABSOLUT Citron, PAMA liqueur, St. Germain, a splash of sour mix, a splash of cranberry juice, a dash of bitters, and a squeeze of lemon and lime, all shaken and strained into a martini glass and garnished with a marshmallow Peep. Perfect for the Easter season.

Foley has been mixing drinks for 17 years, having started in the business as a busboy. When he’s not at work? “I play some pretty bad golf,” he says, “but I love it.”

Buffalo Chophouse

282 Franklin St., Buffalo

Knight’s Mango Essence Martini is the result of scrupulous research into ingredients that would accentuate the fruit flavor of ABSOLUT Mango. His findings: ABSOLUT Mango, Sour Apple Pucker, simple syrup, and sour mix, shaken vigorously, poured into chilled martini glass, and finished with a float of champagne and a twist of orange.

When he’s not behind the bar, Knight runs a company called Cater Tots, a catering service that provides healthy lunches to children, primarily at daycare centers. He’s been at the Chophouse for three years and bartending for about 10. “When I was in college, I noticed that bartenders always seemed to have a lot of fun, make a lot of money, and meet a lot of girls,” he says, “and I wanted that to be me. Its the best part-time job in the world, I get paid to talk to people. I’m like Dr. Phil without the horrible hair.”

Curtis Knight

Jamie Rudd

Mulligan's Brick Bar

229 Allen St., Buffalo

Jamie Rudd never planned to become a bartender. “I kind of got pushed into it,” he says. “A bartender didn’t show up a Brennan’s one night. They told me just to wing it: ‘Know how to make a vodka iced tea? Know how to pour a beer?’” That was 20 years ago. The inspiration for Rudd’s Leapin’ Leprechaun can be found in the name of the establishment in which he works: Mulligan’s Brick Bar. “We’re an Irish joint,” he says. “We wanted something green.”

And, it turns out, something delicious: ABSOLUT Citron, melon liqueur, sour mix, and 7 Up. On his off-days, which are few—he works six days a week—Rudd spends time with family and likes to attend sporting events.

Snooty Fox

445 Delaware Ave., Buffalo

The first day that Snooty Fox opened, there was a reception for family only, followed by an opening for the general public. Zdybowicz—known to regulars as Z, for the obvious reason—says they hadn’t put out a martini menu yet, but the owner’s nieces asked for Raspberry Flirtinis. They proved popular. “We must have made 200 of them that night,” he says. You start a martini glass with muddled raspberries, then shake together ABSOLUT Raspberry, triple sec, cranberry juice, pineapple juice, and lime. That gets strained into the martini glass and topped with a float of champagne.

Zdybowicz has been in and out of bartending for years, reaching way back to No Names. In his down time, he hangs with his 10-year-old son and enjoys running and golf. And taking car of his lawn. “I’m a lawn freak,” he says.

Randy 'Z' Zdybowicz

Shannon MacFarlane

JP Bullfeather's

1010 Elmwood Ave., Buffalo

MacFarlane’s Bloody Mary is nothing less than inspired: a healthy shot of ABSOLUT Peppar, Frank’s hot sauce, A1 steak sauce, Worcestershire sauce, horseradish, cerlery salt, garlic powder, two green olives (one in the drink, one for garnish) plus a little of the brine, lemon and lime wedges, tomato juice, fresh basil, a stalk of celery, and a pickle.

She’s been bartending for three years at Bullfeather’s, where she started as a server. In that time, she’s finished two bachelor’s degrees at UB (appropriately, for a bartender, in psychology and sociology) and is currently enrolled in graduate school.