This Sunday certainly qualified as a Sunday Funday as 70 bartenders crowded the grand halls of the San Luis Resort to vie for the title of Iron Bartender. Following a contestant brunch, these 70 hopefuls were narrowed down to 10 of the best mixologists around town who then went head to head in three final rounds of cutthroat competition. The finals were held in the Grand Ballroom of the hotel, which had been converted into a club-like atmosphere complete with a DJ spinning, a full-service bar, jumbo screens displaying sexy videos, and even bottle service complete with cocktail waitresses. Guests munched on crunchy chicken sandwiches, veggie spring rolls, and other yummy finger foods to help combat the massive quantities of booze being consumed.
The first two rounds were combined and required each contestant to create two drinks. The first was a frozen drink featuring Don Q Rum, and the second was the Mystery Libation Round which must contain Sobieski vodka and the secret ingredient: ginger. The ginger could be fresh or in the form of Monin Ginger Syrup. Bartenders had just seven minutes to imagine and execute crowd-pleasing favorites. And should seven minutes seem like a long time, keep in mind that they were at an unfamiliar bar that was not set up to their liking, with fresh fruits that had not been prepped. All chopping, dicing, and grating had to be done on the spot.
There were several contestants who went with fairly standard frozen daiquiri concoctions, but Alexander Gregg of Brennan's wowed the crowd and the judges by filling his blender with avocado, lime and ice cream before adding a healthy dose of rum. As if that wasn't enough, he topped it with an egg white floater and garnished it with an orange twist. We were later told by judge T.J. Auld of the Daily News that this was the drink that helped win him the competition.
Round 3 focused on showmanship, which for many of the bartenders meant displaying impressive feats of bottle juggling while preparing a Southern Comfort cocktail and a second cocktail of their choice. Nathan Taylor of Buck's Bar in Seabrook was crowned Best in Showmanship for his unbelievable flair techniques, including tossing limes, bottles and muddlers high into the sky before catching them in his shaker tin. If he could do this well in a competition, we might soon be taking a trip to Seabrook to see what he can accomplish at his own bar. Raul Dominguez of Yelapa was another crowd favorite, with fans chanting his name as he turned out delicious libations while amping up the energy level with his infectious enthusiasm.
When all was said and done, the crowd was giddily tipsy, the bartenders were exhausted and anxious, and everyone was ready to head out to the H2O Ultra Lounge pool bar for some serious celebration. But first the winners had to be announced. Alexander Gregg of Brennan's was named Iron Bartender 2010. Though he was not flashy or showy, his drinks were creative, delicious, and he was the only one ingenious enough to ask the judges' for input on their favorite drinks. Very clever. He also took home top honors for Frozen Drink.
Scott Sexton of Drink Houston came in a close second; he won the People's Choice vote and the best Mystery Libation. Third Place went to David Yelverton of Luxe Bar and Lounge. Fourth Place was awarded to Nathan Taylor, proving that not only can the man entertain a crowd, but he can also make a tasty cocktail. And fifth place went to David Kemper of Taps House of Beer.
We'd like to give an honorable mention to Jessi Beck for being brave enough to be the only female to make it to the top 10. All of the mixologists gave the audience an amazing evening, and we look forward to visiting them in their home bars very soon.