ATL bartender wins citywide cocktail competition
Just as Hartsfield-Jackson has helped upend the notion that airport food is always unhealthy or uninspired, ATL’s bartenders are, well, raising the bar for airport cocktails – and now Tokiwa Sears, mixologist at Concourse E’s celebrated 1 Flew South, can claim to be among the city’s very best.
At Taste of Atlanta, an annual food expo held recently at Tech Square in Midtown, Sears – known as “Toki” to friends - beat out a number of other notable drink-slingers from Atlanta and Birmingham, Ala., to take top honors in the Taste of Atlanta Barcraft Competition.
After making it through the early rounds of the contest, Sears found herself pitted against Ian Cox of The Wrecking Bar in Little 5 Points, and engaged in a sudden-death mix-off in front of a live audience.
The two finalists were given a few minutes to choose from a selection of potential ingredients that had been kept secret until then, including whiskeys, tequilas and other spirits; various fruits, vegetables and herbs; and a number of sugars, juices and syrups. Both contestants also were obligated to use an infusion they’d been asked to make blindly beforehand, as well as Fernet-Branca, an aggressive Italian aromatic bitter digestiv.
After choosing her ingredients, Sears mixed up a slightly reddish long drink, which was subsequently declared the winner by a panel of judges. While her victory didn’t earn her a large cash prize, she did take home a new bicycle and the bragging rights conferred to only a small number of previous winners.
“The Taste of Atlanta Barcraft Competition is, I think, the most comprehensive contest between bartenders in the Atlanta area,” Sears says. “Winning it still hasn’t sunk in yet. It’s very humbling and a true honor.”
Although Sears’ family is African American, her father, a fan of Japanese culture, named her Tokiwa, which means “eternally constant.” The 31-year-old Atlanta native worked for a while as a fashion stylist before discovering her love of mixing drinks. After a stint at the now-closed Sambuca in Buckhead, she joined 1 Flew South two years ago.
“It’s great to be able to craft wonderful cocktails at the world’s busiest airport,” she says. “We have a lot of regulars and, I think, when people come, they expect great drinks.
Sears’ own favorite? The Negroni, a simple blend of gin, sweat vermouth and Campari. “It’s complex, bitter and herbaceous,” she says, “with flavors that complement each other and stimulate the appetite.”
If you want to stop in to 1 Flew South to congratulate Sears – or perhaps, to order one of her own signature cocktails – she’s typically behind the bar Saturday through Tuesday.