America’s first taverns were known as “ordinaries,” and by the 1640s, colonists all across Virginia publicly gathered for their daily dose of spirits (considered one of the safest beverages while drinking water was contaminated). We’ve come a long way since then – to countless, inventive restaurants with a lively scene that begins at the bar. 

We sat down with Savannah Duncan, bartender and server at Emerald Lounge – one of the hottest new restaurants in Richmond – and Alewife for a conversation about the connection between spirits and community, how to make the perfect cocktail for you and how understanding the Virginia distillation process has impacted her view on bartending. 

How did you make your way onto the bartending scene?

I’ve been bartending for a little over 4 years now, but I’ve been in and around the service industry my whole life. My run in with the bar world happened after indoor service came back after the first big pandemic wave. When I was asked if I wanted to return to my old job, they also asked all the servers to make all of our own tables’ drinks. And from there on out, I’ve been behind a bar somewhere!

What’s unique about mixing cocktails with local spirits? 

I’ve witnessed the love for locality raise pretty substantially after the pandemic. So, when I tell someone that a drink they order is made from local spirits, they often are overjoyed. It’s a connection to the community of spirits that mean just as much as a great taste or balancing addition to a cocktail.

For amateur mixologists or home bar enthusiasts, what are the makings of a good cocktail?

Personally, if you like it when you drink it and would have it again, it’s a good cocktail. Everyone has different palates, and our taste buds shift every seven or so years. Some people love bitter, others sour, and many loooove sweet. (Of course, there are many more descriptive words that come into play the longer you bartend or develop your palate!) The balance, I think, is when you find your perfect ratio. Always experiment and try new things!

Have you visited any Virginia distilleries to see the production process firsthand? How did that experience influence your work?

As a bartender, it’s a beautiful thing to see how the products you’re using everyday are made! I’ve visited a few local distilleries and breweries in Richmond and each time I learn something new.

Connecting the dots from beginning to tasty end is so cool. As many of us know, there are plenty of big brands out in the world that use additives or unethical practices to make its spirits and being able to see, taste and educate yourself in your own area on how a local spirit is made, can be a really unique and grounding experience!

As a bartender, if I can use a local spirit in a local bar – it just makes sense.

Strangest order you’ve gotten? Would you recommend?

I’ve had many people ask for strange things. I’ve had people bring in their own recipe books and people who ask for crazy modifications to drinks that are on the menu but the strangest thing someone has ordered from me, and I don’t know if I’ll ever understand, is rail vodka neat… a.k.a a shot of vodka. It’s just not for me!


Drop by Emerald Lounge or Alewife to see Savannah and get a delicious cocktail! And while you’re there, ask for Virginia-made. 

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