January 26, 2011

Parting shots from Maine's top bartenders

It's a cocktail-hour conflict that may leave sippers shaken and stirred – two major bartender contests on the same day at the same time. What to do?

By Meredith Goad mgoad@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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.

(Continued on page 2)

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