J.R. Starkus has been a key player in Las Vegas’ cocktail industry for the last decade, and is now part of the mixology team of Southern Wine & Spirits. 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 CityCenter, where he worked as a casino floor bartender, and later to Todd English P.U.B. at Crystals at CityCenter.
In 2010 Starkus joined rm Seafood, worked very closely with Chef Rick Moonen and is an advocate of Las Vegas’ cocktail culture. He draws much of his inspiration from his mentor and boss, renowned mixologist Francesco Lafranconi and believes in utilizing seasonal and sustainable ingredients. Focused on crafting fresh, great-tasting and approachable cocktails, Starkus provides a memorable experience, while also opening up palettes to new flavors. In 2011 he became the Nevada ambassador for St-Germain and quickly became accustom to both sides of the business, growing St-Germain’s sales in the Las Vegas market. 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 several others. Starkus was also named “Best Mixology Ambassador” in Vegas Seven’s 2012 “Best of the City” issue as well as being nominated for “Las Vegas’ Best Bartender” three times. In December of 2012 Starkus joined the Southern Wine & Spirits team. He is soaking up his new role and truly enjoying the impact he can make on young bartenders that really want to learn their craft.
When Starkus is not at work, he can be found spending time with his wife Brianne and their son J.T. He also enjoys being outdoors, playing golf and baseball, and studying the history of cocktails.