Behind the Bar

Getting to know the ingredients of the people who craft the cocktails at Louisville Thoroughbred Society


By Sarah Levitch
Photos by Andrea Hutchinson


Yes, this is the bourbon issue, but we wanted to dive deeper into the world of cocktails and what makes a cocktail and the bartenders who create them great. We spoke to two of the cocktail professionals at Louisville Thoroughbred Society, Beverage Director Dante Wheat and Lead Mixologist Will Jones, to get to know them better and the ingredients in themselves that make them so skilled behind the bar. 

Dante Wheat.

Dante Wheat
Beverage Director at the Louisville Thoroughbred Society
Founder of Raw Pineapples Spirits Media Company
“Spirited Creator”

What are the ingredients that make up who you are as a professional? 

Resilience, a touch of fake it ‘til you make it, a good amount of creativity and consistency. Without any of those things, I couldn’t do anything I do. I can be creative, but if I’m not consistent, then no one’s going to work with me again. I can be resilient, but if I don’t have a little bit of that “fake it ‘til you make it,” I’m not going to put myself into rooms that I shouldn’t be in. Once I am in there, I’ll make sure I am supposed to be.

There are plenty of times when I feel like I should quit. The moment I hit that wall, the voice in the back of my mind says no, we’re not succumbing to that, we are going to break through. 

Where did your passion for this industry come from?

I saw how people talked about spirits and bars and didn’t like it. They make it something bigger than it is. A bar is a place to hang out and have fun. The conversations and things you experience in a bar may change your life, but the bar and the drinks are not going to. I take spirits into bar culture and think about how each spirit creates a different experience. Like, this spirit is good for talking about this, this is the environment you should drink this in and this is why you should drink this. I think people care more about the experience you give them rather than the process of making a spirit. What are you going to remember? I always remember who I go to a bar with, not what I was drinking. 

What words would you use to describe yourself?

“Spirited Creator.” It’s a play on spirits, and everything I do is with spirit, whether it be my passion or disdain for something. 

Where does your disdain come from?

My disdain partially comes from copying ideas that were cool five years ago in other markets. For example, everybody wants to open a whiskey bar because we’re in Kentucky. Vodka sells just as much as whiskey though. If you want to be successful, you have to take a risk. I believe we can do something organic as a city, and we can transcend all that.

Will Jones.

Will Jones
Lead Mixologist at the Louisville Thoroughbred Society
“A bartender willing to push boundaries”

What are the ingredients that make up who you are as a professional? 

A big thing as a bartender is relationships. There is a difference between a person who just makes drinks and a person who makes you feel welcome whenever you come into their establishment. This could mean remembering someone’s drink or remembering their name and details about their life.

Another vast importance is knowledge. Being humanistic in nature as well. The best professionals can be stumped. My mentors taught me that you never know who is sitting across from you at the bar. There could be a lead scientist from NASA sitting across from you, but they don’t know how to make their own bitters. There’s no need to chastise them for that. If you are really passionate about it, then you share that passion with them. 

I see couples come into town, and the husband is a big bourbon drinker, but the wife hates bourbon. Using the knowledge I have, I know if someone doesn’t like bourbon, they won’t like a spirit-forward drink. That’s a big part of brand and spirit knowledge, being able to modify or craft a cocktail for the individual. 

How would you describe yourself as a bartender?

“Avant-garde.” I am a bartender willing to push boundaries. For instance, if someone tells me something won’t work, I’ll find a way to make it work using my knowledge. Most recently, at the Black Rabbit, there was a chevre and beet risotto and it inspired me to make a chevre and beet cocktail. I worked under Clay Livingston at 8UP many moons ago, and they had the strawberry cheesecake cocktail with ricotta. Since then, I’ve been searching for an opportunity to use cheese in a cocktail. I used beet, chevre, pisco, mezcal, lime juice and some bitters. I also think a simple cocktail done right goes a long way. I’m like that Green Day song, “Walking Contradiction.” I value tradition as well. With the new cocktail menu I have coming out at LTS, we have bottles from the 1910s and 1920s, so I chose cocktails from 1908, 1924, 1948 and a rendition of the Bramble, which was around 1984. One thing I learned when creating a cocktail menu is you want to get a feel for your consumer base first. You don’t want to alienate them. What I have now is a balance of classics with some of my creations.

Louisville Thoroughbred Society
209 E Main St. #200
Louisville, KY 40202