This year's Best Bartender was a solid tie between two solid downtown Bend bartenders.
Jon Dude was the first bartender I met when I moved to Bend. My friend, the late musician Melodi Johnson, and I were exploring my new midtown neighborhood for my nearest "blizzard bar." We happened upon the Platypus Pub, where Dude tended bar on top of his other gig at the D&D Bar and Grill, where he still works and where he earned the co-title of Best Bartender in 2021 along with J Dub's Todd Steinbach. Dude's stories are epic; his enthusiasm infectious; his knowledge of beers and spirits extensive—which I discovered instantly upon my first belly-up to Dude's bar.
I don't think I am alone in possessing a love for dark, dusty bars where one can descend into pits of despair and joy and storytelling for a night (or a morning, if you prefer). Presently, there is a chasm in my heart as deep as the now-demolished Platypus Pub's basement space—one that will never be filled by the drive-thru Starbucks soon to open in its place.
But I digress. This story is about two downtown bartenders who work across the street from one another on Bond Street, and who, it seems, are loved in equal parts by Bend drinkers and debaucherers. While both are experts in their craft, Steinbach and Dude have differing styles. I asked them what their bartending style would be if it was a musical genre. Steinbach is more of a mellow guy with Hawaiian vibes, having moved from the Big Island some years back. He said his bartending-musical genre is "reggae rock," starting out smooth at the beginning of the night before he "gets rocked and starts rocking people." Dude, meanwhile, characterizes his bartending-music style as "thrash." It's fast and loud with unrecognizable vocals and erring on the industrial side. If that gives you any indication about which side of the street you want to walk on to enter a Bond Street bar tonight, then cool.
But you don't have to choose between them, either. Head down to one bar, raise a glass to their talents, and then stroll across the street and do it all over again.
WATCH: Jon Dude of D&D and Todd Steinbach of J-Dub square off in an all-out battle of bartender prowess—with swords: