Friday, September 25, 2009

Manhattan Cocktail Classic Preview is looming on the horizon

As most of you probably know by now, New York finally has its own cocktail extravaganza.

Tickets for the Manhattan Cocktail Classic preview (Oct. 3-4) went on sale on Labor Day. According to Manhattan Cocktail Classic founder and director Lesley Townsend, tickets for Sasha Petraske's seminar on the home bar sold out in a blazing three seconds.

However, I've been hearing it through the grapevine that there are still some tickets available, especially with certain details got hammered out a little later than others. For example, tickets are still up for grabs for the late add-on barware seminar with Don Lee, Alex Day and Greg Boehm .

You can still buy tickets to pick Phil Ward's brains at Mayahuel, hear about Prohibition in cool accents from Charlotte Voisey and Simon Ford, and party and rub shoulders with folks at the Gala.

Seriously, though, three seconds? Even last week's much hyped pre-sale of tickets for the first of Pavement's reunion shows didn't sell out that fast.

"It was really really fun to watch," Lesley said over the phone about tracking ticket sales. "The first 10 minutes were absolutely ridiculous. I was laughing and screaming the whole time."

If you note, the word "preview" is in the title. So to alleviate any confusion that might still be out there, this is a preview of the Manhattan Cocktail Classic. The actual Classic is taking place May 14-18. Funny story: Lesley said that at first the plan was to make it a sister event with San Francisco's Cocktail Week, but too many people wanted to celebrate drinking and drink-making on both coasts, so the date was shifted by a whole week. There's still a small overlap, but enough of a buffer.

"I certainly didn’t think it’d get this much attention. The whole point of preview initially was to drum up media attention for the main event," Lesley said.

It's not hard to see why the preview itself is such a big deal. It's the anticipation. With the history and current cocktail and bartending millieu in New York, it sort of makes you go, "Why wasn't this organized before?"

Exactly the thought that Lesley had when she sent out an email about a year and a half ago, innocently asking the folks who now make up the advisory board why New York didn't have its own event like Tales of the Cocktail or San Francisco Cocktail Week. Next thing you know, a chain of emails started.

"Every time I saw any of them over the course of the next year, they’d kick me in the shins. And I finally just realized if I didn’t do it right now, it was going to happen. It was only a matter of time because there was such a desire and a need for this to happen," Lesley explained. "Truthfully the cocktail community in New York is so strong...for us to not have our own event? It was long overdue."

The preview is supposed to be a little taste of what the real thing will be like. It's a little bit of education and a little bit of the New York bar experience. There are seminars, but also several of the city's bars and cocktail lounges, like the Clover Club and Pegu Club, are part of "Stories from Behind the Bar." For the "Stories" series of events, people can purchase a ticket to hang out in some of the bars on Saturday afternoon to see the place when it's not packed and doing business and get a chance to talk to the people working there. And, of course, sip on some drinks.

The idea is not only to break down any preconceptions of exclusivity that might keep some people away from visiting these bars and encourage them to go out and enjoy the establishments in New York, but also to acknowledge some of the blurring of lines between the consumer and professional world when it comes to New York and cocktails.

"There will always be a big consumer aspect to this. In NY there’s this huge degree of overlap between the enthusiasts and the cocktail geek community," Lesley explained, and trying to separate the two is not a necessarily easy task. However, for the Classic proper there are still some plans in the works for more specialized skill and trade seminars to help further educate other bartenders in the city who want to learn more about their craft.

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