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My New York Competition

Little did I know when I was in New York a couple of weeks ago that I would be going back so soon. But, indeed I was—though this time not as a journalist, but as a bartender.



A cocktail I created at the suggestion of Duggan McDonnell at Cantina (we just had to invent a cocktail that contained some form of sherry, and it had to be available on a drink menu somewhere), somehow made it to the finals of the National Sherry Cocktail Competition. And I got a return trip to duel with some of the country’s best.

I’ve now been bartending at Cantina for more than six months and so much has fallen into place for me. The difference between me now and when I first stepped behind the bar for my BAR certification exam is stark. I’ve attained confidence through practice and repetition. But I’ve never done a competition before.


The Carmen Amaya

Luckily, I had Duggan there to train me and to play the wise Mickey to my blundering Rocky. Duggan’s competed in dozens of competitions and won more than he’s lost; he’s a seasoned pro and a savvy strategist. So in the weeks I had to prepare, he was instrumental in helping me hone the recipe for the Carmen Amaya—which is still on the list at Cantina—preparing me technique-wise for making the drink in front of judges, and get my overall mental state ready for battle.

Alas, I came in 4th out of 8 in a very closely fought contest. Nevertheless, I was happy with my showing—after all, I was the top finisher who wasn’t from New York. Furthermore, I performed even better than I anticipated—my hands didn’t shake while measuring the ingredients, my answers and explanations were coherent and even articulate, and the drink was good. Later that night, all the contestants had to produce a batch of cocktails to serve 100 drinks for the guests at the after party. The drink was well received by everyone who tasted it at the after party, and I gained a measure of confidence for the next competition.