The Manhattan Cocktail Classic Preview Event Charms and Delights

It’s not every day that you get to listen to the illustrious Sasha Petraske (owner/creator of New York venues Dutch Kills, Milk & Honey and Little Branch wax poetic, and with a fair amount of hilarity, on how he would personally set up a home bar. It’s not every night that you can dance in the New York Public Library, long after closing hours, consuming cocktails so balanced you have to concentrate on not becoming unbalanced in your stilettos. And, it’s really a rare and unique treat to hear Dale DeGroff, clad in his dapper red jacket, wielding a shaker and a grin, asking, “What’ll ya have?”

These are just a few of  the things this cocktail-industry-event-writer-girl is thankful for after attending the Manhattan Cocktail Classic Preview Party, but let’s back it up just a bit, shall we?

The actual Manhattan Cocktail Classic will take place from May 14 – 18, 2010, but creator Lesley Townsend thought a two-day preview was in order to generate interest. She is the former founder and director of the Astor Center, and she took this idea on because there was no heavy-hitting cocktail industry party in New York City yet.

“San Francisco has Cocktail Week, New Orleans has Tales of the Cocktail and I couldn’t understand why we didn’t have one here,” Townsend says.

Saturday, Oct. 3
I arrived around 2 p.m. to find the lobby of the Astor Center abuzz with enthusiastic conversation and Kold-Draft ice rebounding on shakers. Yes, they had Kold-Draft!

Townsend set aside this space for networking and tasting some of the 100 sponsor brands in cocktails created by Rogue Events, a new company formed formed by combining Contemporary Cocktails Inc. and aka Wine Geek. Rogue enlisted the help of more than 100 bartenders from all over America, who kindly donated their time to shake, stir, entertain and learn alongside the rest of us.

“I think we had around 500 tickets per day, and I would say around 200 or 300 unique people each day,” a relieved Townsend told me on the phone afterward. “On the whole, we had 1,500 people who were in some way attending everything.” For a more comprehensive list, check out the MCC site, but highlights for many attendees included Petraske discussing setting up a home bar. Tickets for this session sold out in less than 10 seconds online. The offsite chats with New York bar owners at their establishments were also enjoyed at venues such as Death & Co., Mayahuel and PDT.

“Basically all of the bar owners just opened up their souls and told attendees everything about what had gone into making that bar,” Townsend says. “It was an intensely personal bonding experience for people because tickets were also limited to the number of barstools each place had.”

Sunday, Oct. 4
While there was no official party hosted Saturday night, I stopped in on Gary Regan’s book signing for his new tome, The Bartender’s Gin Compendium, at the new Crosby Hotel. There, I was able to get a bit of information from Townsend on how this will affect San Francisco Cocktail week in terms of competition. She does not want rumors spreading that there is competition between the two.

“These are the two coolest cities in America,” she explained to me. “I spoke with the people hosting SF Cocktail Week, and we agreed that by having both of these events somewhat overlapping, our goal is that eventually other cities would follow during this week. This could really make Cocktail Week into a national American event.”

Sunday brought us education at the Astor Center, like Call of the Rye seminar with Alan Katz at high noon. West Coast Director of DC Spirits ( Danny Ronen of San Francisco labeled it his favorite event of the weekend.

“For me to come to MCC was a no-brainer,” Ronen told me. “We are talking about the people who are either giants of the industry or those who are really making a push in their respective cities. The rye seminar was just phenomenal. When you are speaking about rye, it’s intrinsic to American history. Katz wrote a poem connecting it with the past. It was so fitting.”

For many of us, Ronen and myself included, the real highlight of this weekend was the send off. Eleven-hundred people attended a Gala event at the New York Public Library, where Rogue’s team managed to pull off amazing cocktails in a space that has no kitchen, no prep stations, one water source and no dishwasher. Rouge, you guys are aptly named. Townsend, with help from her friends, just threw one of the best industry events I have ever attended (ahem, I’ve attended more than I’d like to admit here), and if this is any indication of what’s to come in May, I hope my job holds out in this economy. To attend something like this is a blessing, but to be paid to do it – well, it makes life unfair for everyone else out there. See you in May.


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