Manhattan Cocktail Classic Attendance Heats Up

- by Selena Ricks

Cocktail parties are a dime a dozen in New York, but the Manhattan Cocktail Classic, which recently held its second annual edition, is a not-to-be-missed event for cocktail fans from NYC and beyond.

The multi-day event is chock-full of activities, both educational and celebratory, all focused on the culture of drinking in the Big Apple. Events range from a "Behind the Bar" series of seminars The brainchild of founder and director Leslie Townsend, along with her expert advisory board (including Dale DeGroff, Steve Olson, Paul Pacult, Audrey Saunders, David Wondrich, Julie Reiner, Gary Regan and Sasha Petraske), this year's Classic saw its attendance numbers nearly double over last year.

While more than 3,000 imbibers attending the opening-night Gala at the New York Public Library, about 5,000 people attended events over the five-day festival, said Townsend. She estimated that 75,000 cocktails were served throughout the Classic, and all in real glassware. It took a team of 500 to staff the Gala, and about 1,000 people worked the entire festival.

Townsend said she felt pressure to pull off another impressive Classic after last year's successful launch. "The second year is always tough-it's like a band releasing their second album after rocking a best-selling debut," she said. "Expectations are insanely high, and it feels like everyone is just waiting for you to trip and fall... Ninety-nine percent of the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Now we know we're not just a blip on the radar, and now we can really go back to the drawing board and start working on things for the long-term."

Townsend, formerly director of Astor Center, said her goals for the festival are to place more emphasis on the cultural aspects of New York's drinking experiences. "This year's festival was terrific, don't get me wrong, but there were a lot of parties that were 'just parties,' and a lot of places where I feel like we could have pushed the envelope further," she said. "Cocktails and art; cocktails and music; cocktails and fashion; cocktails and technology-this is where it gets really interesting, and where we have the ability to really hit some new audiences."

So far, it seems the Classic's biggest challenge is keeping up with demand, said Townsend. "We started planning next year... at 8:45 pm [the night of the Gala], when we saw the line wrapping around the block at the New York Public Library," she said. "We have an action plan already in place-so frustrating that we have to wait 356 days now to do it again!"