Like a whirlwind, the Manhattan Cocktail Classic came and went in a flash, leaving a trail of devastation and destruction in its wake. Except in this case the damage wasn't in the form of homes and property, but rather brain cells and livers. After many many jamba juices and wheatgrass shots, full recovery was finally attained, and I've gathered the requisite photos and videos to give you a proper recap, along with a little peek at some of the action behind the scenes in the Astor Center kitchen.
This year I was fortunate enough to be selected along with a handful of other talented and accomplished bartenders from around the world for the inaugural MCC Bar Fellowship program. From Amsterdam to Aspen and lands in between, nineteen total Bar Fellows were selected to participate in this first ever program. You can view the complete list of Bar Fellows here, and I strongly suggest you keep it as reference the next time you're in of their cities and you're in need of an awesomely crafted cocktail. Now you know where to get a great cocktail in St. Louis.
Upon our shoulders was placed the task of turning out the hundreds of cocktails served during all the seminars held at the Astor Center over the course of the week, as well as many of the cocktails served at the opening night Gala. Each seminar presenter provided their recipes, and we got to the task of making them and serving them at the designated time. Most seminars had about 4-5 cocktails, and there were anywhere between 40-80 people in attendance for each seminar. Um, that's a lot of cocktails.
The daily call time was 9am at the Astor Center kitchen, and most days we didn't get out until around 8 or 9pm. But of course our work didn't stop then, because as soon as we were done at the Astor Center we had to motivate to whichever party(ies) were lined up for that evening, with nary a moment to shower.
To kick everything off was the opening night Gala. The NY Public Library building. Hundreds of full-sized, well-crafted cocktails by some of the country's best. Thousands of dappered out guests. The markings of an epic night, and even more epic hangover.
Nick Van Tiel mixing Plymouth gin cocktails.
Chris Patino, an awesome bartender in both black and white and color!
Looks like they were expecting me.
The gorgeous photographer of Happy Hour.
For all you foodies.
Iron bartender Tony Abou-Ganim (L) and Jim Meehan of PDT (R).
Below, the mad scientist of food and drink, Dave Arnold of the French Culinary Institute, dressed like rocket man with his CO2 backpack tanks was walking around the Gala slinging carbonated Negronis and other fizzy goods.
Myself along with Ted Haigh aka Dr. Cocktail, author of Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails, a book you ought pick up immediately if you don't have it in your bookshelf.
The inimitable Jim Kearns, one of NY's top bartenders, and a really nice guy.
Since I was in the kitchen all day I didn't have the opportunity to sit in any of the seminars. But truth be told I didn't mind it one bit, because the kitchen was where all the action was at. And despite the painstaking labor and long hours on my feet, I felt a real sense of privilege to be around the other team members. By the second day I felt a palpable sense of comradery that was unlike anything I had experienced before. Team leaders were pretty much self-appointed, as were most of our tasks, and it was amazing to see how little ego there was in the kitchen, especially considering how accomplished many of the Bar Fellows were.
At certain moments it was pure magic watching everyone work together. Together we comprised a supremely well-oiled machine as we manned our various stations and turned out cocktails en masse for seminar-goers. We established an assembly-line that was simultaneously chaotic and symphonic, as cocktails were shaken by one group, then passed to another group to pour while someone applied the garnishes, then the shakers were passed back to someone in charge of refilling them with ice and passing them back to be filled with more batched cocktails to be shaken, and the cycle continued this way until that particular set of drinks were completed and taken out by the wait staff.
It comes as no surprise that my most memorable moments of the MCC occurred right in the Astor Center kitchen, and not at events or seminars as one might expect.
One of those moments was when myself and teammate Timo Janse (Door 74, Amsterdam) were charged the dubious task of drizzling lines of honey inside champagne flutes. Because it was such a time consuming task, it needed to be done well in advance of the fire time for that particular cocktail. Problem was, the honey would simply flow down to the bottom of the glass if we did it too far in advance. So in order to avoid finding ourselves in the weeds, we found ourselves seated in the walk-in refrigerator with the crates of champagne glasses, drizzling honey into each and every one. From time to time someone would drop by to grab something from the walk-in, and they were greeted with a rather gay looking scene of two guys sitting across each other, drizzling honey into champagne glasses. All we needed was some candles and the scene would be complete.
Another memorable moment involved crushed ice, of all things. At various moments we had to make cocktails which required crushed ice, which as it turned out the Astor Center did not have such a machine so we had to do it by hand. Not a problem, as that's the old school way of doing it anyway, except that we lacked a properly solid surface to do the crushing. The standard metal-top tables which you find in most professional kitchens were what we had, but they're not sufficiently hard enough to absorb the blows required to produce the finely crushed ice called for--not to mention it would be way too noisy of an affair and would disrupt the seminars.
So myself and my partner-in-crime Michael McSorley (Tavern Law, Needle and Thread, Tini Bigs, Seattle) devised a plan to crush the ice out back in the delivery bay where we'd not only have noise insulation but a flat, hard surface to beat the living shit out of the ice. So we laid out some trash bags to cover the floor, grabbed some rolling pins and tablecloths to wrap the ice in, and commenced to lay a hurtin' on that ice. To the unassuming passerby, it looked like a scene straight out of a mafia flick--two guys beating the crap out of some poor schmuck wrapped in a black body bag. We made sure that ice wouldn't steal from us again. The video below says it all.
As hard as we all worked, towards the end we began to get a bit loopy, and found unique ways to squeeze fun into the workday. We even devised a game whereby you toss a ring on a table full of liquor bottles, and the bottle it lands on is the one you have to take a shot of. Even Gary Regan got in on the fun.
No workday is complete without a little Soul Train style dance off.
The final event of the MCC was the anti-gala, serving nothing but beer and shots.
By that time I was pretty cocktailed out, so shitty beer and shots is exactly what I was looking for.
Finally, I leave you with one of the lasting memories that was burned in all our minds (for better or worse), a little something from fellow Bar Fellow Jake Sher, which we dubbed "Jaker Faces."
Until next May...
*Got a cocktail question? Hit me on twitter @paystyle, email me at payman(at)lifesacocktail(dot)com, or simply drop me a comment below.