The DC’s Fastest Bartender Contest describes itself as “one of the largest restaurant industry promotions in the metropolitan area.”
Not that there’s any food involved—unless, of course, you’re on some sort of liquid diet that just so happens to include, say, a low-carb, 99-calorie Budweiser Select. Or, for that matter, any one of the many brand-name alcoholic beverages that this annual charity event, now in its 25th year, so shamelessly plugs.
Sponsored by local liquor distributor Washington Wholesale and D.C.-area Anheuser-Busch suds source Capital Eagle, the contest is intended to lend a little “prestige,” as its Web site puts it, to the booze business—“the industry that America sometimes frowns on,” notes host and MC Jimmy Cirrito.
Through a pass-the-hat-style auction of hastily made margaritas prepared by professional mixologists from local pubs and clubs, the six-week event has raised “tens of thousands of dollars” over the past several years for the nonprofit Make-A-Wish Foundation of the Mid-Atlantic, “helping more than seven children from our area recognize their greatest wish,” according to a March 1 letter from Jon Rosa, the foundation’s development coordinator. Through the first seven elimination trials alone, this year’s contest, held at downtown D.C.’s Rumors Restaurant, has already generated more than $12,500 for the charity.
It seems only appropriate for alcoholic beverage peddlers to show a little sympathy for children who are stricken with life-threatening medical conditions. As Cirrito, owner of Jimmy’s Old Town Tavern in Herndon, so bluntly points out, “They’re not gonna make it to 21 and over.”
And nothing loosens potential donors’ purse strings like a good stiff drink or two. Or six. Not only are contestants and spectators alike enticed to imbibe through wall-to-wall advertisements, loads of logo-adorned swag, and free drink samples, but the competition itself is designed to imprint certain intoxicating brands into memory.
“You won’t hear any generic terms,” organizer Billy Reilly informed a dozen participants shortly before the first elimination trial on Feb. 13. In other words, each cocktail a contestant concocts is called out by brand: Rum is announced as Captain Morgan, gin as Tanqueray, and whiskey as George Dickel.
Staying focused in such a sponsor-saturated environment is pretty tough—arguably a lot tougher than simply pouring five 1-and-a-half-ounce shots of liquid or combining such oddly matched ingredients as “Jose Cuervo and soda with an olive.”
“When you have your friends here rootin’ you on, and everybody’s drinkin’, it can be difficult to stay sober,” says Moe Harris, a bartender at D.C.’s Tequila Beach. Harris knows from experience: The first time he entered the contest a few years ago, he admits, he got totally fitshaced and wound up raising, well, not a dime for charity.
“The first round of competition, I was drunk, and I made a fool of myself,” says Harris. “I grabbed the wrong liquor bottles. I missed the glasses. Upon putting the bottles back in the speed rack, I broke two of ’em. I forgot to ring the bell [after pouring my drinks]. Everybody’s screaming, ‘Bell, bell, bell!’ And when you’re drunk, that really doesn’t make that much sense. When I finally saw the bell, I smacked the hell out of the bell, and it hit some poor girl on the head.”
After that, he says, the broken bell “was gone from the competition.” And soon so was the bartender. But the disgraced competitor would eventually redeem himself: Harris, who now also works as the D.C. contest’s marketing director, nabbed the $1,000 first prize in the Maryland’s Fastest Bartender Contest back in December, raising more than $600 for Make-A-Wish through the sale of his winning margarita.
Not everyone will get so lucky, of course: Only one steady-handed bartender can win D.C.’s $1,750 top prize on March 20. But lots of contestants can distinguish themselves, and some already have, including many who failed to qualify for the finals. For them, we offer these unofficial categories of excellence:
After serving up shots of whiskey, rum, scotch, tequila, and vodka in just 17.2 seconds in Round 1, Adams Mill Bar and Grill suds slinger Mike Polvani made a speedy exit from the contest on Feb. 13. Called up on stage to compete in Round 2, “Derelict Drinks,” Polvani was nowhere to be found.
One onlooker offered an excuse for his absence—“He’s poopin’”—prompting MC Cirrito to suggest a drastic change in scenery: “We’re taking this contest into the men’s room,” the host jokingly announced before agreeing to give the allegedly indisposed bartender a momentary pass.
Polvani, however, never returned to the stage. His purported poopin’, though, didn’t disqualify him, as commissioner Reilly later explained: “I think his taking a poop was just a guise for going somewhere else to drink and trying to make it back in time for the second round.” Polvani did make it back eventually, Reilly notes, “but was, uh, too inebriated to continue.”
Polvani uses the term “wasted.” He blames the incident on his alcohol-induced alter ego, “Spyvee.”
Amount raised for charity: $0
Representing new Adams Morgan nightspot Chloe, Christina Cervera participated in the contest on Feb. 20, which happened to be her birthday—which she celebrated in style.
Asked onstage what gifts she had received to mark the occasion, Cervera informed the crowd, “Earrings and a dildo.” She then began grinding her posterior against Reilly’s crotch—prompting the event’s top official to delay the contest for several seconds: “OK, as soon as she gets done.”
Timekeepers clocked Cervera’s pouring of five shots at just over 10 seconds, but Reilly ruled that many of them deviated too much from the 1-and-a-half-ounce standard. “That’s bullshit,” Cervera repeatedly shouted into Reilly’s microphone.
“Are you gonna make it to the margarita round?” MC Cirrito asked Cervera as the contestant returned to sipping her drink.
Cervera would last long enough to give a repeat performance of her grinding-on-the-commissioner routine during the second round—this time with Reilly stuffing the mike into his jeans. “I like head,” Cervera said, bending over into the mike.
But as expected, the ponytailed Chloe employee disappeared before ever attempting a Round 3 margarita. “Is she gone?” Reilly asked the crowd forlornly.
Amount raised for charity: $0
Unlike fellow Adams Mill employee Polvani, Chuck Moran made it through all three rounds of the contest on March 6. His 21.69-second margarita was by no means the fastest of the night. But it was the most inventively made.
Instead of straining his chilled tequila, triple sec, and sour mix through your typical bartender’s strainer, Moran simply took off his trucker hat and used its mesh backing as a makeshift colander.
“That’s disgusting,” remarked fellow contestant Regan Hanson as Moran filled a glass with hat-strained fluid.
The innovation seemed to work—sort of. The margarita showed no “ice boogers,” as commissioner Reilly calls tiny floating shards, which result in a deduction on the score sheet. But Moran’s drink did contain other debris.
“We got a little hair in it,” noted Cirrito. “Well, all you gotta do is cough it out.”
Friends later poured the tainted drink over Moran’s hat-covered head.
Amount raised for charity: $300
Perhaps the worst foul in the contest’s margarita round is forgetting what Cirrito calls “penetration”: the insertion of an inverted pint glass into a stainless shaker, which allows the maker to agitate the concoction without spillage.
For most contestants who forget this crucial step, such as Kevin Geoghegan of Bethesda’s Rock Bottom Brewery and Ian Shores of Hard Times Cafe in Springfield, Va., it results in a scoring deduction.
But for Coyote Ugly’s Jessica Boughers, Cirrito made an exception. In fact, on March 14, with a vocal crowd’s backing, he let her do the whole thing over again. This time, Boughers remembered the penetration. As for preventing spillage, not so much. But that’s just what she calls “Coyooote style.”
To wit: Boughers stuck a stemmed glass into her ripped halter top. Then, as she explains, “I took the tequila, sour mix, and triple sec, and I poured it nice and slowly through my cleavage. And I had the whole crowd going crazy.”
Not that it did much good for the Make-A-Wish kids. Sure, lots of onlookers stuffed cash into the donation pitcher following Bougher’s performance. But, as contest scorekeeper and money counter Paul Turner noted, “They threw in a bunch of ones.”
Amount raised for charity: $96
“Really?” Boughers says. “That sucks.”
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Now Showing At the City Museum: THE MOST UNDERUTILIZED BEAUX-ARTS BUILDING IN D.C.
The wedding of Julie Lehrman and Adam Wolf on March 13 drew a crowd of more than 200 to the old Carnegie Library building on Mount Vernon Square.
That’s more than twice the average daily turnout from back when the place still featured such illuminating historical programming as the film Washington Stories and the “Washington Perspectives” exhibition. Of course, the wedding guests didn’t have to pay for admission.
For a bit more than the listed $12,000 fee for “exclusive use” of the 60,000-square-foot building—which the groom describes as “a great space”—the Ledroit Park couple exchanged their vows under elegant flowering branches arranged just outside the museum’s locked-up archaeology lab. Guests then headed upstairs, where cocktails and hors d’oeuvres were served outside the museum’s library and former map room. That was followed by a dinner provided by Federal City Caterers and, later, dancing on the marble floor of the Great Hall.
The just-married couple can boast that their two-year love affair has already outlasted the museum, which shuttered all exhibits last fall after just 18 months.