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'Startender' Naima Williams Wins Title of Uptown's Best Bartender

By Jeff Mays | August 30, 2013 12:33pm
 Naima Williams beat out 30 other mixologists from Harlem, West Harlem, Central Harlem, Washington Heights and Inwood and to snag the honor of being the winner of the first  Uptown Battle of the Bars competition .
Naima Williams is Uptown's Best Bartender
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HARLEM— "Uptown's best bartender."

That's how Naima Williams answers the phone these days after beating out 30 other mixologists from Harlem, West Harlem, Central Harlem, Washington Heights and Inwood and snagging the honor at the first Uptown Battle of the Bars competition.

"The competition was tough. There were some really good cocktails and bartenders, but I didn't doubt myself," said Williams who has worked at Central Harlem's W XYZ Bar at the Aloft Harlem Hotel for 2 1/2 years.

Williams, who has been bartending off and on since she was 18, likes to refer to her current job as a being a "startender."

"The bar is my stage and I'm there for the people, the audience,"said Williams.

She earned her star status during the competition by whipping up three original cocktails in front of hundreds of thirsty revelers at Harlem Tavern Monday night.

The ingredients were kept a secret and revealed just before the bartenders had to create their cocktails.

The "Concrete Apple" was mixed using Hennessy, apple juice, bitters, lemon juice and ginger beer.

"It was spicy and appley at the same time," said Williams.

Another cocktail she created, "The Golden Bite," had Riazul tequila, mango, jalapeno and agave served with a jalapeno garnish dipped in cilantro.

"That's the bite," Williams said of the jalapeno flavoring.

Williams' winning cocktail was inspired by the Harlem Renaissance. It's called the "Ponche de Renaissance." It contained Hennessy, honey, tamarind paste, mango nectar, lime juice and bitters.

"I wanted that inspiration from Harlem," said Williams.

The competition is the brainchild of Nikoa Evans-Hendricks, executive director of Harlem Park to Park and Karl Franz Williams, owner of Harlem speakeasy 67 Orange Street and Good Ice Marketing.

The pair said they wanted to highlight the changes and improvements to uptown's bar scene in recent years and to get people hanging out at their neighborhood bar and supporting local businesses.

Williams, who wants the victory to catapult her into the field of cocktail consulting, says she has also been impressed with the changes.

"You don't have to go far to have a good drink and good ambience," said Williams, who describes herself as shy when she's not tending bar.

But she wasn't shy about announcing that she'll return to next year's competition to defend her crown.

"I'm a startender," she said. "And I couldn't let Harlem down."