Bartenders Who Give Back, And Not Just With Free Tequila Shots

Last weekend, I found myself walking away from the San Antonio Cocktail Conference a broken man after sipping drinks continuously at countless parties and seminars. I was, however, departing with more than a hangover – I left with the knowledge that the money raised during the weekend will be going to a good cause.

This annual event was founded in 2012 by Milk & Honey maestro Sasha Petraske, along with Scott Becker and Jenny Rabb of Bohanan's, a great bar in San Antonio. The money they raised last year paid for two children's heart transplants through the foundation HeartGift, and I look forward to seeing what they do with this year's earnings. My hangover has helped someone, and although that might sound somewhat odd, it is an example of how even drinking can be put to good causes. I have recently discovered that the drinks business, an industry heavily dedicated to fun, is actually really good at giving back.

Bartenders are some of the most generous people I know, and not just because of the ungodly number of free shots they have given me over the years. First off, all great bartenders are masters of hospitality and the art of making people happy. I have noticed, however, that they are generous with both their time and money when they are off duty. It might have something to do with the fact they usually have the previous night's tips in their pockets or because they often have their days free, but it is mainly because they are bighearted people.

I could not even begin to count the amount of times I have been bailed out at work by friends who have rolled up their sleeves and helped me when I have found myself stuck. The people in my industry are the main reason I love my job, far beyond the fantastic drinks and lavish food that gets consumed in the line of duty (oh my, the First World problems).

In the last year, the amount of time and hard-earned money that bartenders have donated to charities has become very noticeable to me. That said, I want to dedicate this week's column to some of these thoroughly impressive people.

Bartenders, Hurricane Sandy, Murray Stenson and Uros Miljkovic

Bartender Uros Miljkovic from Employees Only had his face smashed by a moving truck last September. Within 48 hours, his bartender friends had raised the money to have his face fixed (remember that bartenders do not get health insurance), and now he is even better looking.

This brings me to a man named Murray Stenson, who has been one of the most inspirational bartenders of the last two decades. He is responsible for reviving the Last Word cocktail, one of my all-time favorite drinks, and has won Best Bartender in the World twice. Murray needed heart surgery last fall, which is not cheap. So Seattle bartender Jamie Boudreau put the word out. Within days, bars in several cities had fundraisers, and I was lucky enough to bartend two of them: One in Chicago hosted by Bar Deville and one that Audrey Saunders put together in less than a week at The Pegu Club. She pulled in every big name in the industry and raised $18,000 that she split between "Murray Aid" and Hurricane Sandy's relief fund. I have to say that people come when Audrey calls, and it was an honor to bartend alongside greats like Julie Reiner, Dale DeGroff and countless others for these causes.

Tippling Brothers Tad Carducci and TJ Lynch put on a stonker of a fundraiser at The Tippler in New York for Sandy relief and raised $12,000 in a few hours. Many other bars and bartenders did the same thing across the country. Omar Yeefoon guest bartended four cities in four days across Texas raising money for Sandy, and deserves a shout out.

Speed Rack

I could never write this piece without mentioning two remarkable women who have been touring with a bartender competition called Speed Rack for the last two years. Ivy Mix, a bartender at the Clover Club in Brooklyn, and cocktail consultant Lynnette Marrero created this event to bring attention to female bartenders across the U.S. while raising money for charities dedicated to cancer research. By July, they will have taken their inspirational road show to more than 20 cities and will be headed to London for their first international event.

I have attended over half of their events, which have taken me from Los Angeles to Boston to San Antonio this past weekend. At each event, I have witnessed bonding, tears, laughter, high energy and some of the best bartending in the world — all while raising thousands of dollars for charity. There are still several Speed Rack events happening between now and the end of the year, including a grand finale in New York. Check out the schedule at:

The Bon Vivants

My final shout out is to my friends Josh Harris and Scott Bard, aka The Bon Vivants, from San Francisco. Every year, they pull together a huge bunch of bartenders who have gone out and done everything from cleaning up schools to rebuilding homes in New Orleans. They throw a bash at Portland Cocktail Week and Tales of the Cocktail each year that raises money for charity; last year they supported KIPP Charter Schools.

Bartenders have quite a bit of influence and I love seeing them raise awareness for good causes. They are not helping out for a tax break or for publicity or fame, but rather because a lot of them were built to care. It makes me proud to be part of an industry in which I know so many people doing these same things. And finally, a big thank you to you – the consumer! The drinks brand the support, so thanks for giving the bartenders that extra help needed to make these things come to life.

The Last Word cocktail

A thank you gift from Murray

3/4 ounce Green Chartreuse

3/4 ounce Maraschino Liqueur

3/4 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice

3/4 ounce Plymouth Gin

Shake ingredients and strain into a cocktail coupe.

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