Jayce McConnell is the 24 year-old self-taught bartender who, according to many a fan and customer, has set the regional standard for excellence in cocktails. He joined chef John Currence's Oxford, MS restaurant Snackbar three years ago as a food prepper but quickly showed interest in working behind the bar.
He learned everything he could about craft cocktails, experimenting at work and at home, and now runs the bar and produces 20 different varieties of bitters, shrubs, tinctures, and flavored liquors. McConnell runs a program that is reverent and thoughtful but also playful and fun, and he's brought something exciting to the region. That's why he's an Eater Young Gun semi-finalist.
Below, three of his bosses and a local sing his praises.
John Currence, executive chef/owner, City Grocery Restaurant Group:
Drew Stevens, general manager, Snackbar:
Vishwesh Bhatt, chef de cuisine, Snackbar: "He's a great bartender. He's changed the cocktail scene in Oxford. We're a small college town, we have a lot of students who go to bars and drink beers and shots and that has been the culture. With some encouragement from John [Currence], he's built a cocktail program that is the best in the state of Mississippi.
I hired him as a prepper. He moved to town from Savannah as this young kid and he said I'll do whatever, I just want to work. He started off prepping but he's always liked good beer and started getting into cocktails. He was not afraid to experiment with flavors. He's not afraid to ask questions. And he puts a lot of time and effort into researching—whether it's reading about cocktails on the internet or in books and he experiments at home before he brings something to us. It's been fun to watch him develop into that role. He's really humble and modest.
His work is revolutionary. He's changed the landscape. More people are doing cocktails, more people are looking into how to make good cocktails. Things like Manhattans are popping up on menus now, and again part of it is people know what's going on around them in the country and part of it is because Jayce is doing it here."
Anne-Marie Varnell, owner Cicada for Her: "Home schooled all the way, that is what I think makes Jayce McConnell such a perfect bartender and what he said to us the first time we sat at his bar and started asking him questions. His thirst for knowledge, instilled in him from his days being educated at home, is what lends Jayce to knowing just about everything there is to know when it comes to the libations we love so much. If you are interested in the history behind cocktails or even what makes Bourbon different from Whiskey, sit at his bar when he isn't too busy and ask away. Or come in and visit him at our store, Cicada For Him on the fourth Tuesday of every month and take a lesson on that month's featured cocktail. The guy can even read minds. Once, when he took my order, all I told him was that I wanted something "giggly" and sure enough he comes back with exactly what I was thirsting for. Jayce is not only talented behind the bar, but he is as humble as they come and just as nice. And if I ever get stranded on a desert island, he is the one thing, besides my mascara, that I couldn't live without."