Ice Cream Social’s pilot event and Syracuse Craft Cocktail Battle kickoff the evening of Sunday, Sept. 20, was one for the books.
Alphabetically speaking Chris Bily and chef Anthony Donofrio (Modern Malt), Chris Fowler (Syracuse First), Scott Friedberg (Gilded Social); and Eric Hinman (Urban Life Athletics) are the five key ingredients that make up Ice Cream Social team. Danny Vault, owner and manager of The York, proved vital as he offered his new restaurant as the venue for the event.
There were plenty of helping hands that added support to the event that have to be mentioned: Brewery Ommegang, Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, Empire Brewing Company, Life of Reilley Distilling, and Owera Vineyards. Friedberg’s Gilded Social provided the social media live feed that projected from a television set, encouraging and engaging patrons to participate and promote.
I do stand by my initial tweet: “@icsocialevents’s #ccbattle is definitely what #Syracuse nightlife has been missing.”
More elements were there: The DJ pumping tunes did not miss a beat, accentuating and encouraging the mood of the Syracuse Craft Cocktail Battle. Bily proved vital as an emcee, getting the crowd excited and talking with the four featured bartenders of the first round.
The York is distinct as a restaurant and venue, aesthetically and spaciously. The former BC layout felt clunky and disjointed; the new layout does not feel that way. The front room is now wide open, and there’s plenty of mingle room. The back room, for event purposes and for the food, was cleared out. Although the bar was the place to stand, the crowd was not obnoxious about standing room.
The crowd was filled with a variety of people. Many actually dressed up for the event. Point for Ice Cream Social for boasting an event that ranged from classy casual to a dolled-up night on the town. For $20 a pre-sale ticket ($25 at the door), it’s both exclusive and a patron did get their money’s worth: one free drink, free food, and a free sample of each cocktail.
But where does the money go? (A question to be answered at a later date?)
There were individuals such as Michael John Heagerty and Jamie Ann Owens (The Society Gurl), who consistently prove their worth as being more than just “social media personalities” — they actually go to events, quite a few of them, and embrace the Syracuse lifestyle.
Appropriately, these local familiar faces and celebrities participated in the giving out of swag and in the actual tasting/description of the concoctions, which were made on-the-spot and incorporated a specific ingredient: balsamic vinegar.
Despite the samples boasting full-flavor, there were some aspects or the night that tasted sour.
Being a public event, it’s not a personal event. Where it’s appropriate to show up (fashionably) late to a house party, it’s the opposite for a public event that starts at 7 p.m. and (supposedly) ends two hours later. Late becomes an inconvenience … especially on a Sunday.
I arrived late myself, which was personally frustrating — I’m only the one to blame for that — so there was fear that I missed out on the competition. After stepping through the door shy of 8 p.m., mingling was still going on. The four bartenders were introduced after that hour, which led into a “break.” (The DJ’s arm is tired from pumping his fist; he wants this party to start, too.)
If the doors were to open a half hour early for cocktail (half-)hour, that would be fine. This would employ proper time to mix and mingle. If the goal is to wait for a good crowd to trickle in, postponing start time defeats the purpose of holding an event. In this case: The crowd has more control than the event planners.
Bands have tendency to start late, 10 minutes or so — unless you’re the band Everclear. This is a special event, and the show must and will go on if you are tardy. If you snooze, you should lose.
Two of the four bartenders, not all of them at once, competed in two separate rounds. For seven minutes, the bartenders had to create their concoction and presentation. For another 20 minutes, a large batch had to be created for the patrons to sample from — in individual cups, of course. The voting took place, and then then another break.
By the time the second pair of competing bartenders went behind the bar, not only was it past the 9 p.m. cutoff, more drinks (naturally) were consumed by the patrons. This does not give a fair advantage to the first pair of bartenders who participated first. And who is to say that the first bartender voted off had a better drink than either of the two latter bartenders? Sure, there is no second place in each preliminary round, but fair is fair.
Granted, the voting by volume — Yell loud for the drink you enjoyed better! — works best for two people, but the four drinks should be compared consecutively.
The bar is also large enough to fit the four bartenders and the DJ, who was nestled in the corner. The amount of space was proved during the introduction: All four bartenders ventured behind the bar.
Given the preview of this Craft Cocktail Battle, it was implied that the process was going to be based off the food-related reality shows. With anticipation that the bartenders-in-waiting’s secret ingredient was “balsamic vinegar,” the Ice Cream Social crew changed it up and threw in “bread and butter pickle juice” as the Round 2 secret ingredient. For the final showdown, the secret ingredient: “habanero.”
The three-part first preliminary round finished. There was a method to the first-perceived madness.
In two Sundays, Oct. 4, the second event will run. The last three events will stretch/drag into November. Oct. 18 and Nov. 1 will precede the final/championship held on Nov. 15.
Where the following events are to take place is still up in the air/have not been revealed, but presumably it’s The York.
This is not to hold the negatives against Ice Cream Social, since this is their debut in more ways than one. However, the potential this event has is immense. It’s new. It’s exciting. It
will could define Syracuse nightlife for the better.
I can’t speak for everyone else, but I’ll be cheering. See you in two weeks.
The main photo is the Ice Cream Social logo.
The second photo features Ben Reilley of Life of Reilley, and myself. Photo by Travis Owens.