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A cocktail festival is born

Photo by Aaron Ingrao


What: Nickel City Drink

When: October 12–16

Where: All over Buffalo, including private clubs, bars, restaurants, and other venues

Highlights: A kick-off party, Sacred Bond; a closing party, Nickel City Cocktail Shakedown, and a collaborative cocktail menu at all the League venues (Buffalo Proper, Lloyd Taco Factory on Hertel, Marble + Rye, Mes Que, Toutant, and Vera)

Contact: Facebooknickelcitydrink.com



There’s a brand new reason to love October. Nickel City Drink, a local festival dedicated to the cocktail, makes its debut this month. This is the brainchild of Buffalo Proper bar manager Jon Karel, who co-founded the Rochester Cocktail Revival in Rochester in 2014. While planning the Rochester festival, Karel contacted former Spree food editor Christa Glennie Seychew about a similar event in Buffalo; the two proceeded to gather a like-minded group of local cocktail mavens who call themselves the League. Think boozy superheroes. The team includes personnel from Buffalo Proper, Lloyd Taco Factory, Marble + Rye, Mes Que, Toutant, and Vera.


Though it may seem like every restaurant has a special cocktail menu now, there’s a big difference between a list of twenty flavored martinis and a list of seven artisanal mixtures that may feature housemade ingredients and/or small batch spirits. Participants in this five-day festival will have the opportunity to drill down into that difference, as they watch the masters and learn how the magic is made. Festival activities include hands-on workshops, demonstrations, dinners that pair cocktails with compatible small dishes, late night bar events, and two big parties that, respectively, start and end the festivities. 


For those who haven’t been paying attention over the past ten years or so, the craft cocktail movement dates back to the nineteenth century, when bartenders wearing sleeve garters started getting creative with punches, sours, slings, cobblers, shrubs, toddies, flips, and other mixed drinks. Bitters became a popular ingredient. This creativity continued until the huge setback of Prohibition; speakeasies tended to serve harsh, raw spirits, masked by sweet juices. It wasn’t until the beginning of the twenty-first century that mixologists began to revive the complex beverages of an earlier age, though the rise of vodka-based drinks in the 1980s and nineties, if nothing else, refocused attention on the cocktail and on mixology in general. 


Why should we care about craft cocktails? If you don’t know the answer to that question, then you may want to consider attending at least one Nickel City Drink event to find out what you’ve been missing. As co-organizer Seychew notes, “It’s no different than understanding that there’s a fundamental difference between a $10 factory farmed steak served at a chain buffet versus a grassfed, pasture-raised cut of beef prepared carefully by a chef with both skill and regard for the product. There’s room for both, but it’s important to know the difference. In Buffalo, it’s easy to see that craft cocktails have not just arrived, they’re here for the foreseeable future. Cheers to that!”


Seychew also warns that the Rochester Cocktail Revival sells out almost immediately, and it’s likely that some of the smaller Nickel City Drink events will also fill up quickly. Check the festival’s website, NickelCityDrink.com, and follow it on Facebook for more information and tickets to the events. A portion of Nickel City Drink proceeds will benefit Crisis Services.


Selected highlights: (These are only a FEW of the many, many offerings—please check the website, and keep in mind that many of these require tickets that should be purchased online. Many events will sell out.

October 12: Sacred Bond Kick-Off Party—Guests enjoy Mad Men-era snacks from Lloyd Taco Factory, Sacred Bond cocktails from Buffalo Proper, Lloyd Taco Factory, Marble + Rye, Més Que, Toutant, and Vera- Buffalo, live music from Nelson Rivera and Jazz Conception Project, a photo station, and more. At Town Ballroom, 6–11 p.m. Tickets

October 13: Ladies Through the Centuries (class)—Join Women and Whiskeys and Buffalo’s own all-ladies bartending group, Bar Biddies for a discussion on women’s roll in craft cocktail history.  Bar Biddies founders Kerry Quaile and Rachel Wright and a local historian will preside and share some refreshments along the way. At Twentieth Century Club, 1–2:30 p.m. Tickets

October 13: Bitters Make Everything Better (class)—Join Toutant at Tommyrotter Distillery where head distiller Bobby Finan and Toutant’s beverage manager Jeff Yannuzzi will discuss the process of adding flavor and spice to spirits. 1–2 p.m. at Tommyrotter Distillery, Tickets

October 13: Pizza Party at Marble + Rye—For one night only Marble + Rye will serve up a menu of handmade pies from their woodfire oven, and offer  a special menu of Woodford Reserve cocktails. No cover charge, menu prices apply. 7 p.m. at Marble + Rye

October 14: Jagermeister Dinner at Buffalo Proper—This fine dining excursion highlights a beloved bitter and provocative elixir.  Experience five courses with drink pairings and  giveaways. 5 p.m. at Buffalo Proper, Tickets

October 15: How ’Rita Got Her Groove Back (class)—Learn the traditional way to make this popular but much-abused summer favorite. 12:30 p.m. at Lloyd Taco Factory, Tickets

October 15: Scotchy Scotch Scotch at Vera—Two seatings are available for this pairing dinner featuring Black Bottle Scotch. 5 and 7 p.m. at Vera, Tickets

October 15: Le Diner des Angels—Join the staff at Buffalo Proper for a once in a lifetime meal, as Chef Edward Forster and Cognac Ferrand create a delicious and luxurious dining experience. 5 p.m., Buffalo Proper, Tickets


Elizabeth Licata is editor of Spree.

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