Bottoms Up: “On the Rocks” Returns This Weekend

Competition was stiff as a shot of bourbon

Ever wonder what would happen if "Top Chef" met the top shelf?

Well, wonder no more.

This Saturday NBC is serving up season three of its hit reality show "On the Rocks," pitting eight of the country's most skilled mixologists against one another to find out who makes the meanest cocktail. The winner, to be announced online on Nov. 20,  will walk away with $100,000 and the title of Top Bartender. The show airs over the next four weekends after "Saturday Night Live" in most of NBC's markets.

"Season two was a huge success," Morgan Hertzan, the general manager for LX.TV, which produces the show for NBC, said in a statement. "Fans loved watching the search for America's Top Bartender."

NBC hopes to build on that success and is looking to the talents of some superstar pourers to help them do it. The bartenders competing on "On the Rocks" this season include Debbie Peek of Chicago's The Bristol, Milos Zica from New York's Employees Only, Jason Bran, who shakes and stirs at Roger Room in Los Angeles, and Kimberly Patton-Bragg of Dominique's on Magazine in New Orleans.

Patton-Bragg, who, ironically, was born in the dry county of Decatur, Ala., says the contestants got on so well she now "has seven new friends." They often met up on the other side of the bar at night after shooting for the day wrapped. But it wasn't always just Old Fashioned fun and games.

"Once I met everyone in LA, I realized these are very serious bartenders and mixologists," the 40-year-old drink-slinger said.  "We weren't dancing for tips or any of that. These weren't club bartenders showing off their pecs."

The competition and the hot TV lights could do a number on one's nerves.

"If you blink and make one simple mistake, that's going to cost you $100,000," Patton said.

Employees Only's Zica also felt some pressure to perform, but has plenty of experience getting through tough times. The 29-year-old native of Serbia moved from Michigan to New York City in 2004 with only $200 in his pocket. That move seems to have given Zica some swagger.

"Being a rock star, you need to own the stage," he said. "The same goes for being a bartender."

The cocktail revolution in America has been going strong for several years now, with more and more bars offering elaborate, well-crafted drinks. The popularity of "Mad Men" has only heightened our collective cocktail passion in recent years.

Given this booze-friendly environment,  the return of "On the Rocks" could make quite a splash. 

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