Donations pour in for Barton Foundation at cocktail contest |

Donations pour in for Barton Foundation at cocktail contest

Dylan Silver
Riva Grill bartender Chris Hales whips up a raspberry basil martini Tuesday. The Barton Foundation's Signature Cocktail Contest will be held at Riva Thursday.
Dylan Silver / Tahoe Daily Tribune |

Every great bartender has two similar characteristics: the ability to make a great drink and charisma to charm a cobra. Both of these traits will be wholly on display at the Barton Foundation’s Signature Cocktail Contest at Riva Grill Sept. 12.

“It’s a really fun event,” said organizer Jenny Taylor, events coordinator for the Barton Foundation. “The demographic is slightly different. It’s a younger crowd, but we do have our regulars that come.”

Bartenders from Chart House Restaurant, Heavenly, Himmel Haus, Lew Mar Nel’s, MontBleu Resort Casino & Spa, The Naked Fish and Riva Grill will compete for best cocktail and the most congenial at the holiday-themed event. The competition has become somewhat of a pinnacle moment for the area’s mixologists.

“I do believe it’s the best of Tahoe,” Heavenly bartender Dan Orr said. “There are some very skilled competitors out there. Everyone takes a great deal of what they make and what they bring to the contest.”

Winners of the contest have their cocktails featured at the annual Barton Foundation Gala as well as promotion for their place of work. Of course, in a town full of bars, there’s also a fair amount of bragging rights that come with winning the competition.

In the past, cocktails have reached a high level of creativity. Last year’s winner, “the Cukacabra” from The Cantina Bar & Grill was a mixture of vodka, fresh jalapeño, orange agave liqueur and cucumber.

“I’m amazed these bartenders have the creativity they do to pull these drinks out of thin air,” Tahoe Blue Vodka owner Matt Levitt said. “We were blown away. I’m looking forward to seeing what they pull out of their hats this year.”

Tahoe Blue Vodka sponsors the event by making a monetary donation to the Barton Foundation. The Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control forbids liquor companies from donating liquor. All of the drinks entered in the competition must contain Tahoe Blue Vodka. Levitt said he supports the event because it’s a great example of community.

“I love the turnout,” Levitt said. “I love the support, I love the community feel and I love the way South Lake gets behind a cause.”

From the Chart House’s “Blue Russian” to Orr’s “Mr. and Mrs. Claus martinis,“ this year’s crop of drinks sounds to be royally innovative.

“The concept is basically digging into some Ben & Jerry’s ice cream,” Orr said. “If you were to eat an entire pint of ice cream, that’s basically my martini.”

Mixology aside, bartenders are prepping their outfits and their smiles for the congeniality competition, which is starting to heat up. Mixing up the right amount of charm and professionalism is almost more difficult than the cocktail competition, Orr said.

“The mixology can be rather scientific and artistic,” he said. “The congeniality can be up in the air. There are a lot of factors that go into that.”

Attendees of the event will receive 1-ounce samples of all the drinks and selection of appetizers from Riva Grill.

“Because we’re serving vodka plus, they usually do pizza and sliders and other things that are nice and filling,” Taylor said.

The crowd then votes on the best cocktail. For the congeniality competition, the crowd votes with their dollars. For the most part, it’s a friendly competition, but there may be more to it than what it seems, Taylor laughed.

“It’s very good-natured,” she said. “But rumor is that there’s a bartender at one of our participating restaurants that’s already taking side bets on who’s going to win.”

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