Tucked away off of 17 in Fleming Island is V Pizza’s Tap Garden where you’ll find Staci Watkins, Folio’s May Mixologist. Even as Watkins enters her 25th year of bartending, she’s still just as optimistic about movin’ and shakin’ behind the counter. She takes pride that her bar is a rare gem that makes all of their own syrups and juices from scratch, which offers a more thoughtful, authentic touch to her creations and also encourages creativity. “We craft our own cocktails at Tap Garden,” she said. “[They are] all created by bartenders that work here.”
One of her latest concoctions is the Night at the Fairmont, a witchy, gin-based purple potion which has proven to be popular with guests (including me). Another is a collaboration between her and a server named Newman: the Hello Newman. The whiskey-dripped, spice-accented cocktail is a playful twist on the old fashioned with a reference to Seinfeld and Jerry’s greeting to his not-so-favorite neighbor.
Though Watkins doesn’t have a favorite spirit to work with, there is one she’s particularly fond of. “I’m a little partial to whiskey because I’m from Kentucky,” she laughed. Watkins, who adores horses, honors her Bluegrass State roots at the Tap Garden by organizing and hosting a Kentucky Derby party. This year’s eventincluded a hat contest, whiskey raffles and a silent auction. Guests are awlays encouraged to dress for the occasion.
To Watkins, the silent auction is especially important, as the proceeds go to V Pizza’s V for Victory Charity, a non-profit that gives 100% of its donations to families fighting cancer.
“We try to do monthly fundraisers and offer them opportunities they may have missed due to battling cancer, such as family photos and other meaningful experiences,” she added.
As a mother, Watkins is passionate about philanthropy and helping children. She also volunteers with the 26 Reasons Foundation, a charity started by former Jaguars player Josh Evans which sends 26 kids to football skills camps and provides outreach for struggling children in disadvantaged communities.
Though COVID-19 put a pause on 26 Reason’s annual camp and V’s KentuckyDerby party last year, Watkins doesn’t plan to cease assisting her community. In fact, she’s ecstatic to get involved again with the charities and people: “They’re near and dear to my heart.”