JUNE 10–12, 2024

J.R. Starkus

J.R. Starkus
U.S.B.G. Master Mixologist, WSET L3 Spirits, WSET L3 Sake

J.R. Starkus has been a key player in Las Vegas’ cocktail industry for over a decade, previously the Director of Mixology Trade Development at Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits of Nevada and now a Director of New Accounts. Growing up in Southern California, Starkus set his sights on Sin City at an early age, developing a keen interest in the culinary industry and the opportunities the city had to offer.

Eager to explore the industry, Starkus landed his first position as a server, working at Chinois in The Forum Shops at Caesars Palace in 1999. Shortly thereafter, he began his bartending career, after a co-worker didn’t show up for his shift, which ultimately changed his career path forever. From there he went on to work high above the Strip at the Eiffel Tower Restaurant at Paris Las Vegas, where he spent seven years working as a co-lead bartender. In 2009, Starkus moved to Aria Resort & Casino in City Center, where he worked as an opening bartender, and later to Todd English P.U.B. at Crystals at City Center. His final bartending location was Rick Moonen’s rm Seafood as Lead Bartender where he and his team gained recognition as one of the best bars in the city. In 2012, Starkus began work with the (then) Southern Wine & Spirits as part of the Mixology Team.

Starkus is an advocate of Las Vegas’ cocktail culture. He draws much of his inspiration from his mentor, renowned mixologist Francesco Lafranconi and believes in utilizing seasonal and sustainable ingredients. Focused on crafting fresh, great-tasting and approachable cocktails, Starkus provides guests with a memorable experience, while also opening up their palettes to new flavors. In addition, Starkus is a seasoned competitor in the mixology competition circuit. In 2012, he took first place in several competitions in conjunction with the United States Bartenders’ Guild, including the Campari Best Aperitivo Competition, Don Q Mix It Up Ultimate Mixology Challenge, the Ultimate Las Vegas Cocktail Competition and the Angostura Bitters National Competition. Starkus was also named “Best Mixology Ambassador” in Vegas Seven’s 2012 “Best of the City” issue as well as being nominated for “Bartender of the Year” on three separate occasions. In 2015 Starkus won the “Best Aperitif” cocktail in the Iron Mixologist competition at WSWA and in 2016 took top honors in Caesars Palace 50th anniversary cocktail competition.

Starkus has passed the U.S.B.G. Master Mixologist curriculum, 1 of 13, currently, in the country to achieve this. Starkus is a graduate of the B.A.R.5 Day with the highest level of certification, the Sake Professional course put on by John Gautner and most recently has become WSET L3 Spirits and WSET L3 Sake Certified. He’s also the co-host of “What’s on Tap”, a spirits and mixology show on ESPN radio, weekly.

When Starkus is not working, he can be found spending time with his wife Brianne and their son J.T, usually on the baseball field.