When the door finally opened on the Portland Cocktail Week tiki event at miniature golf mecca, Glowing Greens, guests streamed down the stairs into the dark of the black light. Bartenders from Seattle’s Rumba were glowing with neon paint, ready to shake and pour for the rush of crowd. As we packed ourselves in for the wait, perusing menus and adhering light-up bracelets and necklaces to ourselves and our accessories, conversations began between friends and strangers.
“I can’t find the extra little necklace thing.”
“What are you ordering?”
“Is this your first time at Portland Cocktail Week?”
“It is!” answered most of the evening’s attendees, including the gentleman beside me whose white button-up shirt shined brightly beneath the purple glow of the bulbs above.
“How about you?” he asked.
“Nope,” I responded with pride. “I’ve been here since the beginning.”
“Has it changed much?” he asked.
“It has,” I said.
The first year I attended the annual Glowing Greens event, I was met by the Oregon Bartenders Guild president in the street as he greeted guests in a grass skirt. There was a bit more breathing room when we all piled into the glow-in-the-dark basement, with bottles of rum awaiting us at each miniature golf hole. I remember it…vaguely well.
Ten years later, it’s no longer the brand-fueled drinking and debauchery extravaganza it once was. A decade older, Portland Cocktail Week is a little wiser as well, with more focus on education and spirits camaraderie. Students spend three full days attending classes, each under the umbrella of specific bar-related “major,” with panels on concept development, communication, drink creation, product sourcing, anti-waste measures, and harassment intervention.
“I’m definitely here to enrich my personal experience,” Las Vegas bartender Emilio Tiburcio shared with me during one of the week’s panels. “Sometimes you don’t realize you need to hear it, to work on it, until someone shares it with you.”
Back In The Day
Over the past few years, Portland Cocktail Week has incorporated health-focused workshops alongside tastings and instruction, group yoga stretching or fun runs featuring guests like the Healthtender. Daily bartender courses are led by veteran spirits leaders, such as Lynnette Marrero, Sother Teague, and Derek Brown. This year’s classes included surviving ownership failure, scaling up your bar program, developing reliable communications programs between your staff, and notably, how to best intervene when harassment happens.
“I think this kind of training is essential, specifically in this industry, because these people are selling a good time,” instructor Angela Koon explained about her Green Dot Bystander Intervention session. “Especially knowing that alcohol is one of the weapons used against others, where it can escalate situations. It’s important that bar and industry folks have the skills to intervene and keep their guests safe, how to keep their staff safe. So you can enjoy what you do and not have it impact your livelihood.”
Portland Cocktail Week founder and LushLife Productions CEO, Lindsey Johnson, discussed the evolution of the Pacific Northwest spirits conference in a recent interview with Forbes Magazine.
“Our core mission has not significantly changed, but some of our approaches have. For example, we now offer extensive health and wellness content each day during Portland Cocktail Week…This programming would have been ignored in 2009, but this younger generation of bartenders gets the value and will almost certainly be there. We also require all of our students to attend Sexual Assault Prevention Training…”
“I love to learn,” explained L. Sasha Mullins Lassiter while making her way through the week of events. “New technologies and methods. Just think of all the pieces of knowledge you get, not only from the educators but from everyone around you in the industry.”
Photo credit: Jennifer Matthewson / Daily Blender