Pure vivaciousness in a glitter-strewn glass, Christine Wiseman embodies the modern American cocktail spirit. Emma Janzen meets the North America’s 50 Best Bars peer-voted Altos Bartenders’ Bartender for 2023 to discover how she went from flipping steaks in a chain restaurant to becoming one of the finest mentors of her generation
There aren’t enough shiny, sparkly words to describe the energy Christine Wiseman brings to the cocktail world. The Miami bartender has been called ‘delightfully flamboyant’, with a fearless attitude and ‘overflowing joie de vivre’ by press and her peers. With a shimmering glow that radiates in full technicolour, she is a mover, a shaker, a friend, mentor and leader with an electric personality that makes everyone in her orbit just a little bit brighter just for catching her vibes. “I am over-the-top,” she says. “I always have glitter on my face and my hair in different colours and styles, my clothes are always bright colours and patterns. I don’t like to take myself too seriously.”
Her approach to making cocktails is similarly fresh and fun. “I like to make delicious cocktails that you’re going to want more than one of, and you can’t decide which one to have because they all sound good and they’re all pretty too,” says Wiseman. Take the Carrot Colada for example: the bright orange update on the classic Piña Colada made with carrot juice, amaro, gin, marjoram, pink peppercorn and coconut is one of her all-time favourite inventions. The Papaya Salad Daiquri – inspired by the fruit salads served in LA’s Thai Town, made with Guatemalan rum, aloe liqueur, papaya salad cordial and lime, dusted with edible glitter – is a close second.
Today, Wiseman oversees 20 venues across the US, including four Broken Shaker outposts, driving each with her infectious positivity and boundless creative energy
Beyond her dynamic and playful attitude, Wiseman’s contributions to the North America bar scene run deep. Respected for the way she leads with heart and uplifts those around her, she is an integral part of the bartending community and now also the recipient of the Altos Bartenders’ Bartender Award for 2023: an honour bestowed upon her from votes from the head bartenders on the list of North America’s 50 Best Bars this year. “I don’t want to be the best, I want to help make that happen for other people, so I guess that’s what being a good bartenders’ bartender is about – it’s not about me, this award is about all the people I’m mentoring right now or who have looked up to me,” she says.
Carving ice, forging a path
Wiseman’s journey in hospitality started in her home state of West Virginia, where as a kid she’d help her mother out during food service shifts, pottering around in the kitchen and manning the cash register. In college, she played volleyball and studied Spanish and mathematics before working at a local Chinese restaurant, where she had the first vision of her future. Next, she took a job at a chain steakhouse and worked her way up through the ranks over the course of a decade. “I started in a kitchen manager position there, I didn’t know how to do anything,” she laughs. “I’ll never forget how I had to cut the blooming onions – they said I had to cut the bottom off and I’m looking at this round onion wondering how to figure out what the top is and what the bottom is.”
By 2011, she landed in Washington, D.C. at Virtue Feed & Grain – at the time run by Todd Thrasher, now known for Potomac Distilling – where she learned how to make classics she’d never previously heard of, like the Old Fashioned, Sazerac and Manhattan. Later, a move to Los Angeles layered fresh inspiration: “My eyes were just constantly full of wonder about the different cuisines and markets, and all of the fresh produce everywhere – all of these things were so unfamiliar to me, so I was super inspired by everything,” she says.
Wiseman continued to dabble in both management and bartending while working at Ink in Los Angeles (the now-shuttered restaurant by chef Michael Voltaggio of Top Chef fame), but the tides quickly shifted towards cocktails as soon as she started to immerse in the local scene, which was beginning to take off at the time. “The LA cocktail community was a tight-knit group and they really opened their arms to me,” she recalls. The moment she landed her first drink on the menu – and it was well received by her peers – was a game-changer. “I said, well, that’s it, I’m a bartender now!”
Wiseman found her home as Beverage Director at the Broken Shaker in Miami, No.32 in North America's 50 Best Bars 2022 ranking
After arriving at the Broken Shaker in L.A., she quickly realised she’d found a more permanent home with Bar Lab, the Miami-based hospitality company founded by Elad Zvi and Gabe Orta. “I was moving through this world figuring out where to fit in, working in nightclubs, at a rum bar, a high-volume bar, an 80s-themed karaoke bar, and I knew when we opened the Broken Shaker that I was fully settling into my persona. These guys believed in me from the first second. They allowed me to be me.”
In mid-2021, when Broken Shaker was back on its feet after post-pandemic closures and re-openings, Wiseman made the move to Miami to step into the position of Beverage Director for Bar Lab. In the last two years, she has helped open ten different bar programmes with the organisation, with several in the pipeline to launch later this year. In total, she oversees 20 outlets between Miami, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, with themes running the gamut from a neighbourhood taqueria to a natural wine and aperitivo bar, to a rooftop pool bar and a brasserie.
“I am always talking, always moving, always trying to be creative; my brain is going a bazillion miles a minute in every direction,” she says, admitting how she doesn’t have a quick or tidy answer for how she manages to juggle it all. When asked about the parts of her work that bring her the most pride, however, the answer is immediate: “I am an advocate for giving opportunities to people who are often overlooked,” Wiseman explains. “I want to give someone a chance to be a bartender when someone else might not be giving them that chance because they are too green. We have an open-door policy.”
Wiseman is not only empowering and supporting those in her community, she’s also changing the cocktail world by infusing it with unbridled joy. “I’ve been working hard on my inner self this last year, because that bleeds into being a better mentor, better leader, better friend and having this award voted on by my peers means what I’ve been doing is starting to make an impact out in the world. I am beyond excited about this,” she exclaims. “At the end of the day, I work really hard, I play hard and I give people attention and make them feel welcome. That is what matters – it’s how I can help shine a light on other people.”
Want to know more of her story? Watch the video now:North America’s 50 Best Bars 2023, sponsored by Perrier, will be revealed at an event in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico on 4th May at 8.30pm local time. The ceremony will be livestreamed on 50 Best Bars TV YouTube channel and 50 Best Bars Facebook page. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube to stay up to date with all the news and announcements.