It’s doubtful that the founders of the New York Public Library envisioned the grand, marbled structure on Fifth Avenue would host nearly 3,000 barflies for a night of drink-fueled revelry, but such was the case on Friday as the Manhattan Cocktail Classic kicked off with its much anticipated Gala. Appropriately billed as “part festival, part fete, part conference, part cocktail party,” the four-day event attracted the who’s who of the bar business — along with the what’s what of popular pours — for a celebration accompanied by a little education about all that goes in a glass.
Friday’s festivities kicked off at 9 p.m., but the line of stylishly clad imbibers was all the way down the massive steps and stretched almost the entire block by 8:30. Good thing I met some colleagues for cocktails at nearby Madison & Vine and opted to head into the soiree at about 9:30. Even with a press pass, it was tough to get to the door. But once I’d been granted my bracelet emblazoned with “I Promise to Behave” and was handed a map — yes, a map — I entered the cavernous lobby and was greeted by a jazz band and a sea of sequins, silk and shakers, as well as a wave of heat. Apparently the founders of the library counted on all that marble to cool the joint, but didn’t account for the heat generated by 3,000 guests plus bartenders and staff on what turned out to be one of the warmest nights NYC has seen yet this year.
More than 100 bartenders held fort at bar stations spread across three floors of the library, including parties in various rooms, all of them shaking, stirring, straining, muddling and mixing up drinks for a crowd with a seemingly insatiable thirst. More than 130 brands of spirits were poured, by celeb mixologists ranging from Steve Olson, who flawlessly manned the Tanqueray bar in Diageo’s Stork Club room, to Nightclub & Bar Bartender of the Year H. Joseph Ehrmann, who had assembled a group of his stellar Cocktail Ambassadors bartenders to work various stations at the event.
Shall I recount what I savored? Would love to, but it’s all a bit of a blur after the second floor (due to the rising heat as one ascended the steps, of course)…but I do know that I adored sipping Corazon, wanted to dive into the punch concocted with Beefeater 24, loved the DJ at the DonQ party and truly did enjoy the Experience Cognac area. Of course, I could have done without the many marble staircases while wearing four-inch heels and holding a drink…but I digress. Favorite party room? The subterranean Stork Club. Not only did its basement location and funk-jazz band give it an ultra-cool speakeasy vibe, but the fact that air conditioning was on down there added to the appeal. Spotted among the revelers: Doug Frost along with his lovely daughter, author Noah Rothbaum, various spirits writers, including our own Jenny Adams and Pameladevi Govinda, as well as King Cocktail himself, Dale DeGroff. Clad in a dapper tux, Dale entered with his talented artist wife Jill and was his usual humble self, seemingly surprised by the buzz his arrival caused in the room.
Of course, were it not for his arrival on the scene high atop the Rainbow Room all those years ago, this gathering of thousands to celebrate all things cocktail would not have been possible by any stretch of the imagination. So a toast to Dale, and to the organizers of the MCC, to fellow revelers at the Gala and to the brands who took part in the celebration, as well as the NY Public Library for a stellar (if not cool) venue.