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Bartender Shake-Up | Award-Winning Bartender Eric Johnson Joins Juniper & Ivy And Sarah Ellis Takes His Place At Sycamore Den

March 22, 2015

Local cocktail curator Eric Johnson will be leaving Sycamore Den and joining the team at Little Italy hotspot Juniper & Ivy as the restaurant’s new bar manager. Johnson's longtime friend Sarah Ellis will take his place as bar manager at Sycamore Den. Ellis first tended bar alongside Johnson at lauded Noble Experiment and El Dorado - and both were trained under celebrated cocktail guru Sam Ross of New York City’s Milk & Honey.

Johnson will be responsible for transforming the current cocktail program at J&I, training staff and creating palatable synergy between bar and kitchen - working with Chef Richard Blais and the culinary team to inspire a complementary stream of innovative beverages.

“I’m looking forward to working with a restaurant of this caliber alongside some of the most creative powerhouses in the culinary industry,” says Johnson. “The groundwork they’ve set inspires me to match their creativity.”

Johnson, a bartender and consultant with over 13 years in the industry, hails originally from Spokane, Washington and has traversed the country from west to east - and back again - honing his craft. He has trained under notables such as Sam Ross (Milk & Honey NYC and Atta Boy) and Phil Ward (Mayahuel). In his less than six years in San Diego, Johnson has helped open some of the city's most notable dining and imbibing establishments, including Craft and Commerce, El Dorado Cocktail Lounge, West Coast Tavern and Noble Experiment.

"Adding a bartender of such high caliber of artistic creativity will provide us with an opportunity to further elevate the cocktail program at Juniper & Ivy,” adds Juniper & Ivy owner Mike Rosen. “We look forward to the ways in which Eric will work collaboratively with our culinary team to craft innovative cocktails intended to seamlessly complement the kitchen’s ‘left coast’ cuisine."

For the past two years, Johnson has been shaking and stirring contemporary preparations of the classics at acclaimed Sycamore Den, serving as general manager of the 1970s vintage-style Normal Heights neighborhood lounge. During his tenure, he was selected as one of America's 25 Best Bartenders by the Daily Meal in 2014 and was voted as Eater San Diego's 'Best Bartender' in 2013. Johnson will continue working with Sycamore Den as consulting partner, overseeing staff training, menu updates and seasonal releases. 

Ellis joined the team at Sycamore Den after a lengthy stint at North Park mainstay Jaynes Gastropub, where she headed the cocktail menu development, crafting a beverage program to complement the eatery’s adventurous menu. Since stepping behind Sycamore Den’s slatted wood bar in Spring 2014, she has worked closely with Sycamore opening veteran mixologists David Kinsey, as well as Eric Johnson.

"Everyone is thrilled to have Sarah take at the helm at Sycamore Den. Her knowledge of cocktails is incredible, and her dedication to the craft inspiring. Sarah’s leadership and restaurant experience also comes at an exciting time as we tie in our Burnside kitchen," says Nick Zanoni, managing partner at Sycamore Den. "Eric’s day to day presence in Normal Heights will be greatly missed, because beyond Eric’s amazing cocktail expertise, he is a genuinely kind and inspiring person. We wish him the best with this new opportunity and are excited to have yet another reason to visit Juniper & Ivy."  

In her new role Ellis will further develop the Den’s cocktail program, and will be responsible for managing the bar’s operations and staff while working in tandem with Johnson, who will continue to consult with his partners at Sycamore Den, and oversee staff training, menu updates and seasonal releases.

"It’s been a difficult decision to take on a new path with Juniper & Ivy, but I'm thrilled for the wonderful opportunity to work with such a talented culinary team. I'm excited to grow and work with food on such an impressive scale," says Eric Johnson. "I'm confident Sycamore Den will only improve with Sarah's talent and charisma."