As emcee of the 2011 LA’s Best Bartender Competition, which took place Sunday at the Elevate Lounge in downtown Los Angeles, it was my job to try and keep the 250 or so attendees engaged throughout an event that ran nearly four hours long and consisted of five nervous bartenders stirring and shaking liquids, while a panel of stone-faced judges stared at them and intermittently passed notes to one another scribbled on napkins. Woohoo!!!
Emceeing was no easy task, particularly because I myself was having a hell of a hard time focusing on the competition knowing that on the street below right outside the building, director Christopher Nolan was shooting a major scene from the upcoming blockbuster film, The Dark Knight Rises.
For a comic book geek such as myself, the choice between Batman or barmen was a no-brainer. Alas, the sponsors who’d hired me to host the event – Table20.com and Karlsson’s Gold Vodka – didn’t quite see it that way. Neither did my Imbiber Show co-host Stretch Roberts, who was on hand to record another installment of our booze-soaked podcast.
“Hey, look who’s here – it’s Dale DeGroff!” I heard someone say when my old friend, and the world’s most famous bartender, arrived to judge the competition.
“Dale. Right. Great,” I mumbled, peering over the edge of the building at all the cool-looking “Gotham Police” cars crammed onto 6th Street several stories down. I suddenly had the strong urge – a cacoethes, if you will – to jump, just to see if Batman would come swooping in to save me. (He would. I was sure of it.)
Someone tapped me on the shoulder, interrupting my reverie. It may have been the event’s founder, Trevor Smith. I’m not entirely sure, though. I should point out that I’d put my Perfectly Legal State-sanctioned Medical Marijuana Card to use earlier in the day, and had also thrown back three or six shots by this point. Fortunately, partaking thusly while on the clock isn’t often considered a fire-able offense in my line of work.
“This is Johnny Iuzzini.” And so it was the charismatic James Beard Award–winning pastry chef and television star, once dubbed the sexiest chef in Manhattan by the NY Daily News… which, you know, is kinda like being named valedictorian at summer school. But, whatever. The guy is good-looking, I’ll certainly give him that.
“Do you think Christian Bale goes ‘commando’ beneath the batsuit?” I mused. Unintentionally, out loud, I’m afraid, because Johnny Iuzzini was suddenly looking at me as though I’d asked him to bake me a shit-filled whoopie pie with dingleberry sprinkles.
I resisted the urge to pose the same question to yet another notable from the judge’s panel, Bricia Lopez, owner of acclaimed LA eatery, Guelaguetza. Instead, I asked her if I could drop by the restaurant and sample some dishes for free sometime. “You know, like, research and shit.”
Then I queried Dale DeGroff about the likelihood of Bale going commando in the batsuit, and he looked at me like I’d asked him to whip me a Blood & Sand made with actual blood and sand.
Clearly, these people weren’t fanboys.
Oh, and it’s probably a safe bet I won’t be asked back to emcee LA’s Best Bartender Competition next year.
Justin Pike of The Tasting Kitchen in Venice wound up winning the competition, beating out worthy adversaries in Joe Brooke of Next Door Lounge, Devon Tarby from The Varnish, Harvard & Stone’s Brian Summers, and Daniel|Zacharczuk of Bar|Kitchen.
In the end I put on my host hat for a moment, stuck the microphone in Pike’s face and asked him how it felt to have won the grand prize – a billboard in LA proclaiming him the best mixologist in the city. He said it felt great or something. I dunno. It didn’t matter. To me, anyway. I was more interested in whether or not Michael Keaton would ever again have the opportunity to portray a superhero. Or Adam West, for the matter.
Pike had nothing salient to offer on that point.