by Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette — History is once again set to come alive in Lewiston, this time with a bit of a kick. An alcohol induced one.
Owners and managers of the village's bar and restaurant scene are coming together to present the first Lewiston Cocktail Festival, an attempt to take advantage of the legend of Catherine Hustler – the possible inventor of the cocktail.
"I kept hearing the underlying theme about the invention of the cocktail here in Lewiston," Jon DiBernardo, owner of Water Street Landing, said. "I'd been thinking of having some sort of event here for the last eight years. I finally said it's time we do something. We want to make sure the cocktail is owned by the community of Lewiston."
The story of the cocktail is mostly conjecture, as other communities also claim ownership of the mixed drink. But, according to the Lewiston Historical Society, Lewiston has a bit of evidence in its favor in the form of a book called "The Spy," by James Fenimore Cooper, a man who knew Hustler and even created a character based on her.
The character's name is Betty Flanagan and he gives her credit in the story for inventing the cocktail. Although it's fictional, members of the Historical Association believe there's more truth to Cooper's words than anything.
Though details are still being worked out following the event's first planning meeting Thursday, organizers like DiBernardo are hoping to hold the one-day event in early March, possibly the first or second weekend. And they're not looking to create an event featuring debauchery and public intoxication.
"We don't want to create Mardi Gras," DiBernardo said. "Our goal is to take some of the doldrums between this being New York and winter and give it a bit of a spike. Eventually, we'd like to see a weekend event. We can go as far as we want with this."
According to tentative agreements, the festival will feature a pre-paid brochure with stamp squares available to indicate where patrons have attended among participating restaurants and bars. The booklets will also provide historical information about the
Many of the participating bars will be offering trial-sized cocktails for free with the booklet, allowing each location to offer tastes of their offerings.
Small samples would also allow the participating members to sell their full courses and drink menus to new patrons, should they choose to stay longer.
Members of the arts council felt a few other suggestions could liven the festival up. The council believes it has worked hard to bring Catherine Hustler into local fame through its Marble Orchard Ghost Walks, held each fall in the village, and that a little pageantry might be in order during the festival.
"There needs to be some sort of experience," Eva Nicklas, artistic director for the arts council, said. "Otherwise, this is just a pub crawl. Maybe Catherine could make an appearance, or maybe all of the cocktails should come with a feather for stirring like the original. Also, Lewiston is a community which prides itself in its historical significance, but there are no bars or restaurants that have their employees in period clothing. But there needs to be something."
Meanwhile, Historical Association President Bruce Sutherland said he's excited to assist in the project and will do whatever he can to make it successful.
"I think it fits in real well," he said. "The cocktail is part of our history. It's a perfect fit. It's something we can do in the winter months. It can certainly be a positive for the community and the businesses in the community."