LA in NY: The City of Angels at the 2011 Manhattan Cocktail Classic

Today is May 13th, and on this day last year I was in New York on the eve of the inaugural Manhattan Cocktail Classic to toast World Cocktail Day and celebrate my First Blogiversary with my blogger twin, The Dizzy Fizz. And even though I’ll be in L.A. this year and have to settle for vicariously drinking through everyone’s tweets and posts, I’ll be content in knowing that Los Angeles will be well-represented at MCC.

Zahra Bates

Two of L.A.’s best bartenders will be a constant presence throughout the Manhattan Cocktail Classic: Zahra Bates (Providence) and Naomi Schimek (The Spare Room) were named Bar Fellows for the 2011 MCC. Bates and Schimek were selected (along with bartenders from across the U.S., Toronto and Amsterdam) from a hundred applicants to become members of the MCC team for the week, working on the front lines and behind the scenes to help produce the festival.

Last month, members of the USBGLA competed in the DonQ Rum 2011 Ultimate Mix-Off Challenge, which took place at Caña Rum Bar. At stake was a trip to MCC to compete in the Mix-Off Final, which is taking place this Saturday, May 14th. I was invited to judge the L.A. regional competition along with Ron Dollete (Lush Angeles) and bartender/barista Chris Owens (The Varnish, Handsome Coffee), who summed up our task thusly:

[blackbirdpie url=”!/SingleOrigin/status/59825779097346048″]

The cocktails were judged in two categories: Spirited Cocktail with a Signature Ingredient and Fruit Forward Long Drink with a Garnish Focus. One winner from each category would go to New York for the Final. In the Signature Ingredient category, cocktails had to use DonQ rum and a “signature” or “housemade” ingredient made by the bartender. The signature ingredient would also be judged as a standalone. A cocktail in the Garnish category had to use seasonal ingredients paired with a DonQ rum, and the garnish would be judged on its look and creativity as a standalone. Cocktails in both categories were judged on technique, creativity, seasonality, visual appeal and of course taste. Varnish GM Chris Bostick would separately evaluate the competitors in the Technical scoring.

Contestants from each category drew numbers and competed head-to-head, tournament-style. Given the talent level of the competitors and the quality of the entries, scoring was close, especially in the final showdown for the Garnish category. Judging was made even harder when the contestants made adjustments to their recipes for the final round. One drink in particular closed the gap to such a degree that it came down to the Technical scoring to determine a winner in that category.

When the dust had settled, the winning cocktails were the Cafe Pasquale by Marcos Tello (1886), and the Foxy Brown by Jason Schiffer of 320 Main. Both winners stood out beyond having great tasting drinks that were nicely presented; Tello’s rock candy swizzle and Schiffer’s “cocktail within a cocktail” were especially notable for their creativity. Both the Cafe Pasquale’s signature ingredient and the Foxy Brown’s garnish could be enjoyed on their own or incorporated into their respective cocktails. Consistent execution was a key factor, as well.

Cafe Pasquale by Marcos Tello

Created by Marcos Tello

  • 2 oz. Don Q Gran Anejo
  • ½ oz. Homemade “Mexican Chocolate” Syrup*
  • Dash of Fee Bros. Aztec Chocolate Bitters

Preparation: Build & stir with one large ice cube
Glass: Clear Glass Coffee Mug
Garnish: Demerara Swizzle Stick & Dried Julienned Chiles
Presentation: White Plate with a mound of cayenne pepper & a mound of chocolate
*Mixture of chocolate powder, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, & Demerara Syrup

Foxy Brown by Jason Schiffer

Created by Jason Schiffer

  • 2 oz. DonQ Cristal,
  • 1 tsp. Firelit coffee liqueur
  • ¾ oz. 320 Main house-made Orgeat
  • 1½ oz. Lime Juice


  • Shake with crushed ice
  • Serve over crushed ice in a Double Old Fashioned
  • Garnish with a “cocktail within a cocktail”: ¼ oz Fernet Branca and ¼ oz Depaz Cane Syrup inside a lime shell.

Tello and Schiffer will be at MCC to compete against winners from other USBG chapters in the Mix-Off Finals, taking place on Saturday, May 14th at Skylight West. Four winners will be named by a judging panel (two from each category), and a fifth winner will be chosen as the Crowd Favorite when the event opens to the public for The Cocktail Club: A DonQ Rums 80s Bash.

According to the DonQ press release, the five winners from the MCC competition “will be flown to Puerto Rico to tour the Destilería Serrallés and visit the Serrallés Castle. On their return, the winners will present a tailored mixology seminar to their respective USBG chapters. In addition to the winners’ individual prize package, a $5,000 donation will be made to the winning chapter’s non-profit affiliation.”

Cheers to Marcos and Jason for sharing their recipes, and good luck in New York!

The Cocktail Club: A DonQ Rums 80’s Bash
Saturday, May 14, 2011
Featuring: open bar and “80s pop cuisine”
As this post goes live, tickets are still available on the MCC ticket page.

Skylight West
500 West 36th St. (at 10th Ave.)
New York, NY 10018

Life will be a little less fun in Los Angeles while Aidan Demarest is busy in New York hosting two events at this year’s MCC. First up, on Saturday, May 14th: The Spare Room presents The Evening Glass-Off, hosted by Demarest, Marc Rose and Med Abrous. Once guests make their way to the third floor roof of the Thompson LES, they can toast the Manhattan Cocktail Classic with complementary Moet champagne as well as Aidan’s award-winning Mai Tai, The Evening Glass-Off.

Update 5/14: The Evening Glass-Off has been moved to the roof of the Thompson LES.

The Spare Room presents The Evening Glass-Off
Saturday, May 14, 2011
Hosted by Marc Rose, Med Abrous & Aidan Demarest

  • The Spare Room Barstaff
  • Complementary Moet and The Evening Glass-Off
  • Small bites by The Meatball Shop

RSVP to [email protected]

Thompson LES Hotel
190 Allen Street (between Houston & Stanton)
New York, NY 10002
(212) 460-5300

On Monday, May 16th, Demarest teams up with his Liquid Assets partner Marcos Tello to present an “East Coast / West Coast Switcheroo” edition of Red Rover, their all-star mixologist series. Red Rover will take place at Jo’s Restaurant and feature Tello and Varnish co-owner Eric Alperin behind the stick.

Liquid Assets presents Red Rover
An East Coast / West Coast Switcheroo
Monday, May 16, 2011
10pm to close

  • Guest bartenders Marcos Tello & Eric Alperin
  • Cash bar, no tickets necessary

Jo’s Restaurant
264 Elizabeth Street (between Houston & Prince)
New York, NY 10012
(212) 966-9640

Posted in