Nine Power Couples of the Bar World — and How They Make It Work

Everybody loves a love story. This February, we’re celebrating some of the beverage industry’s coolest, most inspiring couples in a two-part series.

Here, we toast to the dynamic duos of the bar community. Some met on the job and worked together for years before realizing they wanted a romantic relationship. Others got married a month after meeting. Others slid into each other’s DMs “with the quickness” after commenting on the same Instagram. Bar trends change, but these nine industry power couples have staying power.

Julie Reiner and Susan Fedroff

Partners, Pegu Club, Leyenda, and Clover Club. New York

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How they met:

Julie: “We met in San Francisco at a friends and family brunch that Susan was managing (I was bartending in San Francisco at the time as well). It was at a place called Backflip in the Phoenix Hotel. She brought me a Bloody Mary with a grilled shrimp garnish. We were introduced, and she gave me the warmest hug I had ever had. We started dating shortly after that first meeting, and haven’t been apart since.”

Why it works:

Julie: “We moved to NYC in 1998 so that Susan could go to grad school at NYU. I was managing a bar in the West Village while she was in school. Our schedules were totally opposite, and we never saw each other… When I had the opportunity to open Flatiron Lounge, Susan decided that she wanted to open the bar with me so that we would see more of each other. She had a master’s in finance, so her role in the bar would be very different from mine. I handle the front of house, PR, marketing, and events, and she handles a lot of the daytime work and financials. So, it works.”

Kelsey Ramage and Iain Griffiths

Co-Founders, The Trash Collective. Toronto, Canada

Credit: Steve Woodburn

How they met:

Kelsey: “Iain was heading up creative for Dandelyan and I was bartending there, so we ended up working on a few drinks together, and that led to some flirting, and then there was a staff party, and then we did a horrible job hiding it from colleagues for months, and so on…”

Iain: “There was also a lot of late-night Jack Daniels in those early days, remember? Eeesh…we almost never worked together, though! Kels came and smashed a team trial and was all good to go, and then I went on a two-week holiday and never got it finalized. I came back from holidays and Ryan [Chetiyawardana] was like, ‘What happened to that rad Canadian chick?’ at which point I nearly sh*t myself and immediately called her.”

Why it works:

Iain: “Well, our relationship might be a little different as pretty soon — six months — after getting together, we started working on our own business together. And previous to sharing a pillow, we’d spent a lot of hours in the trenches working side-by-side, so a lot of the industry nuances took a backseat to some much bigger focuses… From the get-go, we had clear professional boundaries and were then focused on figuring out shit like how to curate a global pop-up tour that would become Trash Tiki.”

“I was honestly blind to [misogyny in our industry] in a lot of ways before going into business with a female partner, and then also saw firsthand exactly how that impacts us personally. You wind up taking this position of ‘us against the world,’ which sounds extreme but with all the work, travel, partying, and additional stress we put on our relationship, you need to always know you have each other’s backs. And we definitely do.”

Audrey Saunders and Robert Hess

Industry Mentor and Owner, Pegu Club; and Co-Founder, The Museum of the American Cocktail, Author, and Drinks Expert. Seattle

How they met:

Robert: “Technically, we first met around 1998 when Audrey joined the discussion forum that I was running as part of… I believe Audrey joined at the recommendation of Dale DeGroff, her mentor.

“It was in 2002 when I first had a chance to meet Audrey in person. I was on a business trip to New York City for Microsoft, and in the evenings I had time to myself so I could check out the cocktail scene during my visit. On the first night, I made arrangements with Martin Doudoroff, another member of the forum, to meet up at Bemelmans Bar in the Carlyle Hotel, where Audrey was the beverage director at the time. The three of us spent several hours chatting about various things, and I invited Audrey to join me the next night for dinner at Lupa, where a bartender friend of mine from New York was working… As it turned out, my friend got his dates mixed up and wasn’t able to show up. Audrey and I had a nice dinner there, and afterwards she decided to show me a couple of the notable bars in town. Our first visit was to Milk & Honey, and from there we went to Angel’s Share.

“On the following night, Dale DeGroff was doing one of his ‘Cocktail Safaris’ as part of the Institute of Culinary Education. These ‘classes’ would consist of touring students through several different New York bars which were doing interesting things with cocktails. On that night the tour included Layla, Grace, Pico (where Audrey joined up with the tour), and then lastly Dylan Prime and Bubble Lounge for a nightcap.

“After spending so much time with Audrey over these three days, it was clear that there was something special there. However, Audrey had her career firmly established in New York, and mine was in Seattle… Tales of the Cocktail would be a regular event that would bring us together, and it was at Tales in 2009 that we decided we needed to see if we could take it the next level. Audrey was working on a project in L.A., which at least brought her closer to Seattle, and it made it easier for me to travel down there periodically for visits.

“Then in 2010, Audrey moved to join me in Seattle. And in 2011 we got married.”

Why it works:

Robert: “The industry had a very big effect over our relationship — not only was it the focus that both of us had on this industry that brought us together to begin with, but it was the various industry events that we would attend over the years that kept us in contact while we lived on opposite sides of the country.

“It’s of the utmost importance that you enjoy each other’s company OUTSIDE of the industry — meaning that if neither of you could ever work another day within it, that you would still have fun in love together.”

Anistatia Miller and Jared Brown

Drinks Historian and Author; Author, Drinks Historian, and Master Distiller at Sipsmith. Cotswolds, U.K.

Credit: Caleb Krivoshey

How they met:

Jared: “We met in New York at a party… Anistatia was throwing a sit-down holiday dinner for 55 people in her Greenwich Village loft. She prepared the food herself and had hired someone to assist her the night of. However, for the week leading up to the party, that person didn’t reply to her voicemails.

“The day of the party, she had lunch with my cousin Daniel. She was in a panic and he handed her my number, explaining that I was a ‘starving hotel school student and also a talented chef.’ She rang the restaurant where I was cooking and explained her predicament. I let my sous chef take over and jumped into a taxi.

“The party went well, in large part because throughout the night it felt as if we had always been together. The next day I dropped off a dozen irises to her. That evening, I called and asked if she would be up for a Chinese takeaway. She said yes. I brought a photo album with me to properly introduce myself, which we looked through as we ate.

“Then I asked her to marry me. She said yes — no need to scroll back up, this really was the night after we first met. We would have gotten married that week but we had schedule problems, and finally got married a month after we met. Now, it has been nearly 27 years.”

Why it works:

Jared: “We are not great at spending time apart. The drinks industry is also about as far as you can get from M to F and 9 to 5. Working together and sharing jobs meant we got much, much more time together.

“I can’t imagine a jealous person surviving a relationship within the drinks industry, but we have managed nearly three decades so far, with most of it spent firmly full-time in various areas of the booze biz. And yes, it can get crazy in ways that working real estate or insurance or banking or law simply never will. Being forgiving is essential. So is not bringing the party home with you. The bigger the parties, the more essential it is that home is your personal rehab and that you keep each other on track.

“Did I mention forgiveness? I wish I could remember which author said something like, ‘Everyone needs to get drunk at least once a year, if only to keep them from getting sanctimonious when it happens to others.’”

Elayne Duff and Philip Duff

Founder and Chief Cocktail Educator at Duff on the Rocks; Consultant/Educator and Chief Genever Officer at Old Duff Genever. New York

How they met:

Elayne: Philip and I met at Tales of the Cocktail! We were sitting across from each at a brand dinner at Commander’s Palace, hosted by mixologist Brian Van Flandern, then global brand ambassador for Don Julio Tequila. We had never met each other before and ended up in an argument about the effectiveness of brand ambassadors (I, at that moment, happened to be one, and Philip had basically invented the job years before).

“I would not find out until years later that Philip loves to debate the unpopular side — it is one of the things that I admire about him, but at times it can also drive me insane. Being in the industry, Philip and I would run into each other from time to time at trade shows and bars in different parts of the world. Our debates continued, a friendship formed, and years after we met, a long-distance relationship began. Two years later, we were married!

Why it works:

Philip: “Being in the industry really helped our relationship, to be honest. Our traveling lifestyles made it easy to maintain a relationship even though I lived in Amsterdam and Elayne in New York while we were dating; I made sure I visited New York for three weeks, every three weeks, but often we’d meet up at bar shows and events elsewhere in between. That wouldn’t have been possible even 10 years ago but the industry has become so international that a transatlantic relationship was feasible.”

Elayne: “We have many of the same friends and even sometimes clients that cross over — this gives us plenty to chat about over Martinis!”

Nicole Salicetti and Mcson Salicetti

Bartender, Henry at Life Hotel; Head Bartender, Terrazzo at Park Terrace Hotel. New York

How they met:

Nicole: “It was May 12, 2014. The Saturday prior, I had worked an event where I met a fellow ‘mixologist’ who had mentioned he would be guest bartending at this really cool cocktail bar, Botanic Lab. He invited me to be his guest. As I was just getting my feet wet in the world of bartending, I accepted the invitation and was excited to go.

“At the event, the bartender who had invited me was kinda busy and mostly left me on my own; at some point I was standing at the bar alone, drink in hand, and noticed a guy who had just entered the venue but immediately went under the bar. Clearly he worked there.

“I needed something — it may have been a napkin or a straw, something simple, nothing to put the guy out or anything. I attempted to get his attention and he waved me away, saying, ‘Sorry, miss, I’m not working.’ I was taken aback and tried to explain I simply needed him to hand me a napkin. With the same dismissal, he made me aware that he was NOT working. His version of events up to this point is a bit different. Anyway, after some sarcastic banter while we were later on the same side of the bar, and many shots of mezcal later, we fell in love. (Well, in like, anyway.)”

Why it works:

Nicole: “Mcson and I truly vibe off of each other’s endeavors… We can sit and talk about spirits or cocktail development or brands. I feel like that commonality is unique in that it’s not a boring industry, so two individuals in this industry can always have stimulating conversation.

“We both have a genuine passion for what we do and every aspect of the industry. We have been blessed to experience some of the greatest perks this industry has to offer, like sponsored trips, education, amazing events, and things we could never do without being so immersed in it. We bond over the daily trials of the grind and laugh over them, too — we both understand the struggle and also the pride that comes after a great shift!”

Brooke Toscano and Michael Toscano

Head Bartender at Pouring Ribbons and Whiskey Guardian at Angel’s Envy; New York Brand Ambassador at Lustau. New York

How they met:

Michael: “Brooke and I meet in August of 2014 at the Spirits Academy put on by Southern Wine & Spirits in Indianapolis. It’s basically an eight-week college class where you learn about the history of alcohol and different spirits.

“Over the next few weeks, I would sit in class with a coworker and just casually stare at this girl and talk about how beautiful she was, but I just couldn’t talk to her. It took me two months to finally make a move. Finally, on Oct. 20, 2014, I walk into her bar (a friend told me she’d be working that day). We make eye contact and she stops dead in her tracks and says, ‘Hey, what are you doing here?’ I reply with, ‘I’m here to see you.’ She then proceeds to awkwardly laugh and walk away. No bullsh*t, she just left me standing there.

“She comes back in what feels like an hour, asks what I want to drink (I order a neat pour of Bulleit and shoot it like it’s water). She asks me again why I’m there, and I say: ‘I’m here to see you. I think you are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen and I know I don’t know you, but I would love the opportunity to get to know you. I’m an adult and you can say no… I would completely understand, I just figured I should tell you.’

“We proceed to talk here and there and as time goes by she tells me she can’t pass her number over the bar to me due to hotel policy, but I can give her my number. At this point I feel like this is the end, but I took my shot and it was worth it. Two days later, I get a text saying, ‘Hey…it’s Brooke,’ and the rest is history (we’re married now).”

Why it works:

Michael: “There are a lot of positive things happening in the industry right now when it comes to raising awareness, supporting positive causes, and more. Those things are very important to both of us. It feels nice to have a partner that wants to attend and help in those events even when we both have a night off together.

“For us, it’s all about balance. Yes, we have nights where we are out way too late and have taken one or two too many shots, but we also spend time at home with our dogs and one another, find time for the gym, and take vacations that don’t involve liquor companies. It’s all about open communication with one another, honesty, mutual respect, and support.”

Taylor Adorno and Orlando Franklin McCray

Bartender, Ghost Donkey; Bartender, Maison Premiere. New York

How they met:

Orlando: “[A friend] had posted a Boomerang of Taylor working at Seamstress that I left a comment on. She slipped in my DMs and I thought she just wanted my contact because she was doing activations for a brand at the time.

“Our first date was at Syndicated in Brooklyn. I walked in thinking it was an activation. After we were hanging out at the bar for a few minutes before the movie started I thought she just had a really bad activation because no one else showed up. It took me like two hours to figure out it was in fact a date.”

Taylor: “As a millennial does in the hospitality industry, I slid into those DM’s…with the quickness. I asked him out on what I thought he knew was a date. When I arrived he was nice but it felt a bit informal. There were several bartenders he recognized at the bar but after they said hi and walked away he had a face of confusion.

“As the date went along, it took us going to the third bar for him to get that we were on a date. I was so embarrassed…he thought that my activation was a flop and that he was the only one who had showed up. As a result he ‘accompanied’ me to the other bars thinking ‘poor girl, no one showed up to her event.’ Shortly after he realized this was a date and three White Negronis later (thanks to Austin Hartman), we were making out in the backyard of The Narrows.”

Why it works:

Orlando: “I’m in the Bacardi Legacy Competition right now and she’s very much my biggest critic and supporter of what I’m doing. She just schooled me on how to make my syrup better and easier — I always appreciate her input.”

Taylor: “There were two things I remember asking him on our second date; those were, ‘Do you like rum?’ and ‘Do you like Drake?’ He loves rum as much as he loves Drake. I knew then that this was going to work out. We make each other drinks at home (well, actually, he mostly makes drinks at home. I drink them). It’s a great system that I intend on keeping.”

Carey Jones and John McCarthy

Freelance Spirits Writer and Author; Spirits Writer, Consulting Mixologist, and Author. San Francisco

Credit: Zofia & Co. Photography

How they met:

John: “Carey reviewed me! [We] met when she came into the bar I was running. She was a friend of the chef’s, so I got the word to give her and her friend the VIP treatment. I made a tasting menu for them, and at the end of it she asked if she could come in and interview me about the cocktail menu. I pretended that happened all the time, and no problem. The interview went well. Carey had questions, I had answers.

“After the interview, our PR rep who was there with me told me that she thought ‘that writer’ liked me. I didn’t agree and said so. But she pointed out that Carey had seemed so interested in what I had to say, and asked me so many questions…I told her, ‘I thought that’s how interviews work!’

“Shortly thereafter, the group I worked for opened a new bar-restaurant, and Carey would come in to see her friend the chef pretty regularly. And over time we became friends. Looking back, I realize that for coming in to see her friend the chef, she didn’t eat much.”

Carey: “We became friends very quickly. John is generous and chatty and just fun behind the bar, and, as everyone in this industry knows, visiting bartender friends is the best. But it was more than a year before we started dating. I was seeing someone else at the time, John had his own things going on, and I think we were both eventually surprised that there was mutual interest. But it all worked out.”

Why it works:

John: “We wrote a book together and we’re still married! Our book is a series of flowcharts that lead you to your ideal recipe, then 170 original cocktail recipes. Carey had a brilliant idea of using whiteboard wallpaper to plan out the book’s flowcharts. So, we moved all the furniture from one wall and covered it with whiteboard wallpaper. I have very strong memories of Carey on a ladder with a dry erase marker as we worked out the charts for our book.”

Carey: “I think we collaborate so well because we have such different roles and different careers: John’s the cocktail guy, I’m the writer. I’d say we work well together…95 percent of the time. No collaboration is perfect, and we definitely had disagreements about the book. And when it’s your husband you’re disagreeing with, not just a co-author or colleague, of course it feels more personal. But there’s also a greater willingness to hear each other out and figure things out.

“We feel really great about the attention the book has received and the reception it’s gotten, and I love that we can share that — I genuinely feel proud of each other and what we’ve accomplished as a duo.”