Is the cocktail world showing bias against the West Coast cocktail scene—and San Francisco in particular?
In support of such an idea there is the following evidence:
• The recent dust-up between SF bartenders and the organizers of Tales of the Cocktail regarding SF Cocktail week (vaguely alluded to here).
• The decision of the organizers of Manhattan Cocktail Classic to stomp on SF Cocktail Week by scheduling their premier event during some of the same days as ours, announced in the NYT yesterday (the implications of which are covered thoroughly by Camper at alcademics.com).
• The fact that in three years of Tales' industry-oriented Spirit Awards and over 30 awards given out only two have gone to anything in California (unless you count Gary Regan, who won for his writing in the Chronicle, even though he lives in New York and is associated with the East Coast). Both California awards were from three years ago, both for things in SF: Bourbon & Branch (Best New Bar, 2007), Jeff Hollinger (Best Book, 2007).
I don't personally think the bias is malicious in any way. It's a big cocktail world out there, after all, and there's a lot of great things going on. But there's definitely some East Coast navel-gazing going on. As Camper aptly described the Manhattan Cocktail Classic's scheduling decision: "[It's] another example of the New York myopia that has plagued the press, industry sponsorships, and, this year, at Tales."
As for this year at Tales, and the large contingent of SF bartenders who attended, I've heard that everyone had a blast, but it wasn't all roses. Neya White of NOPA told me this: "There really are two tales going on right now. There is the official event, at which I presented two times. But everything else I tried to get into—parties, seminars, events—were almost impossible to get into. And then there is what is, for me, the real event, which takes place in the bars, the hotel, the pool, the restaurants. It's all about the networking, the schmoozing, and the passion of it all." White told me that an simple text that went out one night only to SF bartenders suggesting they all meet up at the Olde Absinthe House ended up culling around 200 people.
I heard other reports that the seminars were very hard to get into and not particularly exciting and that the drinks at the events were not as good as they should be. I can appreciate how very difficult it is to make so many cocktails for so many people all at once. It's understandable that quality might suffer. But it's also ironic that, as one bartender put it to me, "I find it really disappointing that I'm at the premier cocktail event in the world and the best drink I could ever find was a bottle of beer."