Is there anything better than a train car full of bartenders? Arriving to the Portland Amtrak station on Thursday night to kick off the start of 2011 Portland Cocktail Week, a bevy of guests were met with a grand Pernod Ricard gala at the adjacent Wilf’s restaurant. Complete with drink master Dale DeGroff slinging Negronis from a push cart (and crooning a few jazz tunes!) the opening event offered a warm welcome, with mixologists, writers, and cocktail aficionados starting the weekend with a little classic imbibery.
Not so very early the next morning, nearly fifty attendees began the official schedule with a Bartenders’ Run to Kick Cancer’s Ass, coming together to raise money and awareness for Breast Cancer research (and in support of a bar community member fighting her own cancer battle). The race, along with plenty of coffee and donuts, gave way to the first day of spirits sessions and events.
Hosted by Diageo’s spirits maven Elayne Duke, my first session of the morning was titled “Drinking Rituals”. Tastings included Fernet Branca alongside a stomach-churning (but weirdly popular) pickleback while Duke gave the history of some of the world’s favorite drinking rituals, from the Greeks and their wine to Mexican Sangritas. Fascinating worldwide rituals included the use of tequila in Mexico to ward off the Spanish flu, the German tradition of drinking before making any big decisions, and the curiously disgusting Canadian “Sourtoe Cocktail Club”. Don’t ask. You don’t want to know.
Before heading off to my non-Cocktail Week responsibilities, I stopped in to the Employees Only seminar. With yearly sales now in the multi-millions, owner Dushan Zaric, who started the popular Manhattan bar back in 2004 as a respite for folks in the service industry, delivered a number of pointers for bartenders and owners looking to increase profits and productivity. Complete with math calculations and bullet points, it was clear how much thought and process had gone into making EO the highest grossing cocktail bar in the country.
After the afternoon events, Friday concluded with a rockin’ Yacht Rocking karaoke party hosted by Don Q Rum, as well as a midnight caviar and vodka tasting with Ms. Duke herself. And then it was on to Day 2!
Missed my coverage of last year’s inaugural Portland Cocktail Week? You can check it out here.
*Photo credit: Jennifer Heigl / Daily Blender