With drinking at a bar off limits for most of the past year, cocktail competitions — the spirited and sometimes raucous throw-downs that happen at bars and venues in every season — have been off the table, too.
One of those contests is taking flight again, but in a new form: A summerlong, self-guided tour of Long Island cocktail bars that asks ticket holders to fan out across the island, sample and vote for their favorite drinks. By September, online votes and professional judges will eventually choose the "best cocktail on Long Island" (well, at least among the 10 bars competing).
"Certainly, the creativity that came out of the last year put us in this mindset," said organizer Matt Kourie, who for years ran the NY Craft Cocktail Expo Long Island as an in-person event. When that competition was postponed for the second year in a row, Kourie morphed it into the LI Cocktail Tour 2021, which begins Sunday, June 12 and runs until Sept. 12.
How it works: Each ticket, which ranges from $25 to $55, scores its bearer a pass and for a spirit tasting and full cocktail (when they order food) at each of 10 bars and restaurants taking part: Coastal Kitchen & Daiquiri Bar in Bay Shore; Great South Bar in Patchogue; Avo Taco in New Hyde Park; Ella's, Crabtree's NY & Main and Repeal XVIII, all in Huntington; The Brixton, The Local and The Argyle in Babylon; and Oakdale Brew House in Oakdale.
Each bar has partnered with a spirit brand, from Illegal Mezcal (Coastal Kitchen) to Ha'penny Dublin Dry Gin (Repeal XVIII) and will riff on that particular spirit for their competing drink. Once participants try the drinks, they vote for their favorites online, with social posting earning those votes extra weight; a panel of professional bartender-judges led by Jonathan Gonzalez, a previous winner who is busy prepping his Lindenhurst bar Hunter & Thief for opening, will also weigh in.
"It's fun and interesting to be in these cocktail events, whether it's just to get our name out there or have people recognize what we do," said Michael Matarazzo, who owns Repeal XVIII in Huntington. He said the last year had been a rough road, to say the least. "We reopened in October but just before the 10 o'clock curfew went into effect. Fortunately, we weathered that storm and are grinding away."
Spring fruit seems to be shaping up as a competition theme: At Repeal, Matarazzo will combine gin with a strawberry-vanilla purée to which the bar adds lemon, prosecco and a sage garnish, for a twist on the French 75. A few blocks away, Crabtree's NY & Main will blend an award-winning strawberry-infused vodka with a berry cordial, Lillet Rouge, Campari and soda water.
With three bars in Huntington and two in Babylon, cocktail seekers can potentially hoof it between places, at least some of the time, but Kourie encourages ticket holders to keep Uber, Lyft and the Long Island Rail Road in mind as they imbibe.
At the end of the tour, the first place winners in Nassau and Suffolk will win a People's Choice award; the pro judges will also choose their top drinks from each county, and then Nassau and Suffolk will go head-to-head as those judges anoint their favorite islandwide cocktail.
Tickets range from $25 for a Nassau-specific pass to $30 for a Suffolk pass, and call for the purchase of at least one dish per holder; higher-priced options, up to $55, come with more perks. Find tickets on Eventbrite and more info about related events, including spirit seminars that will take place over the summer, is at nycocktailexpo.com,