The Elephant in the Room
Sobering details from a three-day cocktail party
The sobering fact about this year's San Antonio Cocktail Conference – outside of the noble charities involved and the sudden awareness that barkeeps at the St. Anthony Riverwalk Wyndham Hotel are not allowed to have a tip jar – is that many of the mixologists who busied this Baphomet of a barfest, which kicked off Thursday, Jan. 17, and plowed into afterparties on a very black-and-blue Sabbath, don't actually drink. People in attendance were professionals, ambassadors of absinthe-like products, promoting drinks with names like Monkey Jam Sour, so it's all about business. The opening night party at downtown San Antonio's gorgeous Majestic Theatre was a networking nirvana, where you couldn't even get to the bathroom without people handing you business cards.
Austin's premium vodka, Tito's, had a great summer twist drink on that cold opening night, and Republic Tequila was passing out grand margaritas that made us realize just what is missing most at a cocktail conference: real drinks. This year's bill of fare included lavender-laced concoctions, rose and cucumber offerings that looked like salads, and people trying to put raspberry jam in everything or the components of Thanksgiving dinner into Scotch.
Perhaps the most entertaining event of the weekend was a speed drink-mixing contest at St. Anthony hosted by Speed Rack, a cross-country group of women bartenders competing round-robin style to benefit local breast cancer charities. While many of the bartenders appearing at the conference were trying to gain some name recognition and maybe win a few grand for their blood orange or rum libations, these guys and gals were shaking it up for a cure. Austin's Madelyn Kay of Haddingtons, Drink.Well American Pub co-owner Jessica Sanders, and Whitney Hobbs from La Condesa kicked ass but were bested by Esquire Tavern bar manager Karah Carmack of San Antonio. (Kay took second place.) The Speed Rack party gave watchers a reason to live it up and earned some serious cash for their charities.
[Editor’s note: This story has been amended since original publication to correct several factual errors. The Chronicle incorrectly identified a competitor in Speed Rack’s speed drink-mixing contest as “Drink.Well American Pub co-owner Mike Sanders (in drag)”; in fact, co-owner Jessica Sanders competed for Drink.Well. (Mr. Sanders competed in drag at a separate charity event, also sponsored by Speed Rack, on Jan. 15 in Austin.) We also bungled the rankings: Madelyn Kay placed second, not Whitney Hobbs, who was a semifinalist.]