If you went to last year’s sold-out Maine Bartenders Bash, you’re probably thirsty for information on this year’s version of the event.

And if you’ve done even a little bit of homework, you’re probably totally confused by now.

That’s because there are two bartender competitions this year.

On the same night.

At almost the same time.

Last year’s soiree at the Portland Museum of Art was the kick-off event to Maine Restaurant Week. It was so much fun, it was one of those events you talked about with your friends for days afterward. Local bartenders competed for cash prizes by creating original cocktails made with Cold River vodkas. The public got to taste the mixologists’ works of art and vote on their favorites.

This year, the 2nd Annual Cold River Bartenders Bash is being held at Ocean Gateway. It could be argued that Bartenders Bash Version 2.1, is not actually the second annual because it’s no longer affiliated with Maine Restaurant Week and therefore not really the same event as last year. At the same time, it is the same event in the sense that it’s featuring only Cold River products.

The group that put on last year’s party is calling their 2011 version the Signature Event because Cold River claimed the “Bartenders Bash” name. The Signature Event is the official kick-off party for Maine Restaurant Week, which runs March 1-12, but the Maine Restaurant Association and the Greater Portland Convention and Visitors Bureau are sponsoring the Cold River party instead.

Huh?

The confusion even trickles down to the bartenders themselves. Both events have John Myers.

John Myers from Fish Bones American Grill in Lewiston will be at the Cold River Bartenders Bash.

Another John Myers, a popular bartender at the Grill Room who lost last year’s top prize by just a whisker, will be at the Signature Event. (Did he jump ship this year since he won’t be at the Bartenders Bash? Or did he stay loyal by sticking with the Maine Restaurant Week event? It’s like a Zen koan, isn’t it?)

There is, I’m sure, a juicy story lurking behind this public relations nightmare. But after asking a few questions of both sides, I realized it would take me reams of newsprint to tell it fairly. And let’s face it, these are cocktail competitions we’re talking about, not health care reform.

“For us, it’s really our signature event,” said Bob Harkins, director of sales and marketing at Cold River Vodka, perhaps using a poor choice of words. “It’s an opportunity for us to showcase the bartenders that are really supportive of us out there in the market, in the Greater Portland area. It’s an opportunity to say thanks, put them on stage and to have a great party with them front and center.”

The Signature Event, says Gillian Britt of gBritt PR, the group that founded Maine Restaurant Week, is “an opportunity to connect people who love fine dining and some of Maine’s most celebrated restaurants and bartenders, all in one event that celebrates the restaurant community in Maine. It’s not just about the two hours, it’s about the 12 days” of Maine Restaurant Week.

The two groups did try to work things out – hey, they realize how confusing this is for the public too – but in the end, both had already collected a few sponsors. On one side was Maine Magazine, and on the other was Down East, “and those two don’t mix necessarily,” Harkins said.

In other words, it was a bit like asking the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees to share the spotlight at the same party.

Ain’t gonna happen.

In the spirit (no pun intended) of full disclosure, MaineToday Media, which owns The Portland Press Herald, is a sponsor of Maine Restaurant Week, and I’ve been asked to judge a dessert contest at the Signature Event.

But I honestly have to say that I think both events sound like a lot of fun, and they both support good causes. If they were held on separate evenings, I would probably attend both. The point is, it’s likely you won’t go wrong with either one.

How to choose? I’ve put together a guide to each event so you can compare details and see which appeals to you most.

And now, on behalf of the people of Maine, a word to Cold River Vodka and gBritt PR: Next year, we beg you, please try harder to work things out.

Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at: mgoad@pressherald.com

Follow her on Twitter at: twitter.com/MeredithGoad


THE SIGNATURE EVENT

WHEN: 5 to 8 p.m. Feb. 28

WHERE: Masonic Temple, 415 Congress St., Portland

TICKETS: $30 in advance, $35 after Feb. 1, available at www.brownpapertickets.com

HOW MANY BARTENDERS: 12

HOW THE CONTEST WORKS: Bartenders create a signature drink using any kind of liquor. Winner selected by popular vote.

HOW DRINKS WILL BE SERVED: Small pours

FOOD: The evening’s food is being labeled “gourmet grazing with an international flair.” Executive Chef Geoffroy Deconinck from Natalie’s at the Camden Harbour Inn will be preparing bites of Asian, Latin American and French fare.

DESSERT: In addition to the bartender competition, there will be two dessert competitions. In “People’s Choice How Sweet It Is,” a dozen local pastry chefs and confectioners will supply samples of their best work, and the public will get to vote on a winner.

There are still spaces available in the second contest, “The Art of Dessert.” Entries will be blindly judged and narrowed down to five finalists. Finalists will be judged on creativity, taste and presentation by Zac Young, executive pastry chef at FlexMussels in New York City and recent contestant on “Top Chef: Just Desserts”; Kathy Gunst, author of 13 cookbooks and food blogger for Down East magazine; Kathleen Fleury, food editor of Down East magazine; Dana Moos, author of “The Art of Breakfast” and foodmadam.com; and myself.

PRIZES: $500 for winner of bartender competition; $500 for winner of the Art of Dessert; $500 for the winner of the People’s Choice dessert contest

EMCEE: Lori Voornas, the morning show host from radio station WJBQ 97.9-FM, will serve as the People’s Choice Dessert and Cocktail Competition emcee, and will announce the winners of all judged competitions.

ENTERTAINMENT: Radio station WBLM 102.9-FM will broadcast a concert of tunes from the archives of the classic rock station from 5 to 6 p.m. Dominic and The Guru host. Jamie O’Sullivan will be the DJ for the night, playing an eclectic mix of contemporary music.

SPONSORS: Natalie’s at the Camden Harbour Inn is the sponsor for the evening. Maine Restaurant Week is sponsored by American Express, Citadel Broadcasting, Constellation Wines, Down East Magazine, Maine Office of Tourism, MaineToday Media, Native Maine Produce, MPBN, Oakhurst Dairy and Shipyard Brewing Co.

BENEFICIARY: Maine Harvest Lunch, a program started by the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association that focuses on bringing farm-fresh lunches into Maine schools.

2nd ANNUAL COLD RIVER BARTENDERS BASH

WHEN: 5 to 8:30 p.m. Feb. 28

WHERE: Ocean Gateway, 14 Commercial St., Portland

TICKETS: $35, available at tinyurl.com/28rmueg. If the event does not sell out, tickets will be available at the door.

HOW MANY BARTENDERS: Thirty bartenders will compete for 15 mixology slots to create “The Ultimate Cold River Cocktail.”

HOW THE CONTEST WORKS: Bartenders have two months to sell as much Cold River Vodka, Cold River Blueberry Vodka and Cold River Gin as possible. The 15 top sellers will face off at the Bartenders Bash, where the public will vote on their favorite original cocktail.

HOW DRINKS WILL BE SERVED: One-ounce pours in a plastic cup

PRIZES: First place receives $500; second place receives $300; third place receives $200

FOOD: Aurora Provisions will provide “Upscale Maine potato-themed fare” such as Ham, Gruyere, Potato and Cornflake Balls with Spicy Mustard Sauce, and Potato Latkes with Beet Relish and Cold River Vodka Creme Fraiche.

EMCEE: While most liquor companies preach moderation, Cold River Vodka has hitched its high-end brand to Joe Ricchio, author of the Portland Food Coma blog. Ricchio regularly brags on his blog about his food, drug and alcohol binges. There are lots of alcohol binges. It seems an odd choice to link him to an event supporting children’s nutrition education. Bob Harkins, director of sales and marketing at Cold River Vodka, says he is “not a regular fan” of Ricchio’s popular blog and “had no clue” about its contents. He said Ricchio’s role will be limited to picking up the microphone a few times and talking about the bartenders. “We chose him because he’s a bartender by trade and a well-known one in the city,” Harkins said. Ricchio’s image has been printed on a groovy poster advertising the event, along with the words “The Spirit of Maine.”

ENTERTAINMENT: Ken Grimsley Band, live classic rock and blues

SPONSORS: Maine Magazine, the Maine Restaurant Association, the Greater Portland Convention & Visitors Bureau, Maine Beverage Company, Bow Street Distributors, RSVP Discount Beverage and Better Bread Company

BENEFICIARY: Share Our Strength’s “Cooking Matters to Maine” nutrition education program

 

BARTENDERS: THE SIGNATURE EVENT

Jay Towl, Brian Boru’s, Portland

Erin Davis, Azure Cafe, Portland

Tom Laslavic, Natalie’s, Portland (last year’s winner)

John Myers, The Grill Room, Portland (last year’s runner-up)

Patrick Morang, David’s, Portland

Dave Thompson, Local 188/Sonny’s, Portland

Tatum Thistle, The Salt Exchange, Portland

Chelsea DiMillo, DiMillo’s Restaurant, Portland

Paul Russell, Blue Sky, York

David Boger, The Armory at the Regency, Portland

Mike Worley, Sea Glass Restaurant at Inn by the Sea, Cape Elizabeth

Adrian Trudeau, Academe, Kennebunk Inn

Michael Dickson, Great Lost Bear, Portland


BARTENDERS: 2ND ANNUAL COLD RIVER BARTENDERS BASH

James Ferguson, 50 Local, Kennebunk

Josh Caron, 555, Portland

Zeus Hannah Suzette, Azure Cafe, Freeport

Chris Pillsbury, Back Street Bistro, Brunswick

Zara Edwards, Caiola’s, Portland

Carly Lowell, Clementine Restaurant, Brunswick

Cindy Doxsey, District Grill, Portland

Megan Schroeter, East Ender, Portland

Benantonio Forgione, Eastland Park Hotel, Portland

John Myers, Fish Bones American Grill, Lewiston

Bob Murphy, Figa, Portland

Jeremiah Davis, Foreside Tavern, Falmouth

Evan Walsh, The Frog & Turtle, Westbrook

Pete Darby, Fuel, Lewiston

Barry McEvoy, Grace, Portland

Sarah Mason, The Great Lost Bear, Portland

Wade Apgar, Havana South, Portland

Kate Pelletier, Henry and Marty Restaurant, Brunswick

Anita Aker, The Hilton Garden Inn, Portland

Roxanne Dragon, Hugo’s, Portland

Bobby Hoye, Gritty McDuff’s, Freeport

Nathaniel Meiklejohn and Jess Joseph, Local 188, Portland

Tobey Moulton, Nosh Kitchen Bar, Portland

Leah Chamberlain, Old Port Sea Grill, Portland

Tracy Rousseau, Solo Bistro, Bath

Spencer Albee, Sonny’s, Portland

Ben Bragdon, Mike Barris and Simone Burdet, The Portland Regency

Josh Edlund, The Salt Exchange, Portland

Scott Doherty and Guy Streitburger, Vignola, Portland

Steve Lovenguth, Walter’s, Portland

 

COMPETITORS: PEOPLE’S CHOICE HOW SWEET IT IS

Patrick Tubbs, The Salt Exchange, Portland

Mercedes Foster-Dougherty, Havana South, Portland

Gabrielle Girard, Sonny’s, Portland

Tony Scherrer, Walters, Portland

Kristin F. Simmons, Kennebunkport

Kristie Green, Maple’s Organics, South Portland

Bevin McNulty, Bam Bam Bakery, Portland

Karen Turner, Sea Glass at Inn by the Sea, Cape Elizabeth

Dean Bingham, Dean’s Sweets, Portland

Dave French, Gritty’s Portland

Stephanie O’Neil, Tulips Cupcakery, North Yarmouth

Shanna Horner O’Hea, Academe, Kennebunk Inn

Tiffany White, Whole Foods Market, Portland