For many, putting together a March Madness bracket is a staggering work of genius. Hours spent on the Internet searching out team stats, looking at past performances, praying to the basketball Gods that this year there will be no surprises. And yet, “The Big Dance” is fickle, constantly surprising basketball aficionados and novices alike with how things work out.
So, if you’re a bar in Houston, Texas, anxiously awaiting the Final Four to come to your city, how do you honor such a tried and true — and unpredictable — tradition as March Madness? For whiskey bar Reserve 101, that means putting together a bracket of “Game Winning Shots,” with a specific shot representing the teams from the Sweet Sixteen to the Final Four.
Mike Raymond, co-owner of Reserve 101, believes it's important to do something different, especially if your city is hosting the biggest games of the tournament. “We’re downtown by the convention center and the House of Blues. We’re a major spot in the city, and we wanted to do something special to showcase who we are and what we are to people who have never been to Houston,” he said.
Knowing that there will be an influx of people to downtown Houston to watch the Final Four, Raymond and his partner Steve Long put their heads together to create 25 shots based on likely winners, using colors and ingredients that represented each of the teams in the Sweet Sixteen. “There are teams we didn’t have drinks for,” he quips, acknowledging the inevitable upsets during the tournament.
Each shot is created to honor a specific team - Raymond focused mostly on team colors -- and guests can choose from shooters including the Virginia Commonwealth University Ram Rampage, made with orange-flavored vodka, triple sec and orange juice or the Butler Bulldog Banger, involving Three Olives Vodka, Dude (Mountain Dew-flavored vodka), Curacao and Sprite. “We tried to match things as much as possible, which is a little bit of a challenge,” he notes. “The shots are really geared toward the fans of that school.”
Although Reserve 101 is a whiskey bar with a detailed cocktail list, part of the strategy during March Madness is to create quick and easy libations, serving guests in an efficient manner. That’s why Raymond abandoned the initial idea of creating team cocktails, deciding, instead, that shots can be created ahead of time, making sure patrons don’t have to wait long for a $6 shooter.
Through a strong social media effort via Facebook and emails, hitting the local media in each schools' town and having a street team to hand out flyers during the week, Raymond hopes that Houston neophytes and Reserve 101 loyalists will stop in to check out the Final Four games at the establishment. “This is a special weekend for us. We’ll feature the shots, and we don’t want to overcomplicate things. We want to let the bar shine for what it is,” Raymond says.