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Where the Bartenders Drink: Gunshow’s Mercedes O’Brien

Ever wonder where your favorite local bartenders love to drink off the clock? Us, too. Thus Eater Atlanta gives you its Boozin’ Go-To Guide — your barkeep’s guide to Atlanta, the Southeast, and beyond.

Mercedes O’Brien and her cocktail cart at Gunshow.
Mercedes O’Brien.
Beth McKibben is the editor and staff reporter for Eater Atlanta and has been covering food and cocktails locally and regionally for 12 years.

Procuring a seat at Gunshow can be challenging even for the most seasoned reservation stalker. Top Chef alum Kevin Gillespie's reputation for taking culinary risks (i.e. Southern dim sum) has helped to make the restaurant a hot commodity. This boundary-pushing and tableside service extends to the bar — or rather a rolling metal cart lead by its cocktail conductor Mercedes O’Brien. Decked out in vintage duds paired with a charming smile, O’Brien, the rolling bar, and her avant-garde approach to creating drinks have become Gunshow mainstays.

O’Brien has been working in restaurants since she was old enough to hold a job. It was all part of her plan to one day become a chef. Her focus shifted, however, when she began attending college, opting instead to pursue a degree in photojournalism. O’Brien continued working restaurants shifts in between classes to make ends meet. But it was when she landed a serving gig at cocktail bar H. Harper Station (RIP) that O’Brien’s focus shifted again, this time to cocktails. H. Harper owner and longtime barman Jerry Slater’s penchant for churning out bartending superstars like Julian Goglia and Tiffanie Barriere was a well-known fact in the industry. Eager to learn from Slater, O’Brien began working a few shifts behind the bar under the guidance of her mentor. She was hooked.

Three years and hundreds of cocktails later, Gillespie tapped O’Brien in 2014 to develop a rolling beverage program for his fledgling Glenwood Park restaurant. Today, her blend of classically composed, culinary-inspired cocktails at Gunshow work in concert with chef Joey Ward’s dishes. It’s a feat few bartenders have mastered as skillfully and with as much passion as O’Brien.

Late-night spot
Octopus Bar to make me human again and Marcel to celebrate a week well done.

Dive bar
I prefer my dive bars with less smoke and more drag queens, so Burkhart’s or Blake’s for Sunday night shows with a Campari and soda.

Happy hour bar or lounge
You can find me on any given Monday brainstorming at The Mercury or Highland Tap. Classics and prime rib specials are my muse.

Sarah Dodge and Daniel Rooker of 8 Arm are my brunch heroes, but El Mexicano and the Chinatown Mall Food Court are my Sunday morning go-tos.

Place for drinking and dining
Ticonderoga Club is the complete package, plus I always know I’m in for a good night if I land the “captain’s chair.”

Bar where you're a regular
The Independent: where everyone knows your name and your max consumption of mozzarella sticks.

Top three bars not mentioned above
Amer, Kimball House, Kro Bar.

Out-of-town fave (regional)
Nashville’s next door duo of No. 308 and Dino’s followed by a karaoke stint at Santa’s Pub.

Out-of-town fave (national)
Maison Premiere (NYC) and The Aviary (Chicago). The hospitality and creativity of both mark them as institutions for me.

Go-to cocktail order
Penicillin, slightly dirty gin martini, or an amaro and soda.

Under-the-radar bartender to watch
The ever-evolving talent Atlanta produces fuels my love for this industry. The curiosity and dedication of Jessie Harmon, Josh Washburn, and Ryan Rosenberry of Gunshow are what make the menu so unique. Not a cocktail goes on without the creative input and development from the team as a whole. Kate and Erin Allen of Octopus Bar. Alejandra Dudley of El Super Pan.

All Go-To Guides [EATL]


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