by Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette — Timothy Chipp
Imagine, if you will, standing in a crowd. You're wearing a costume you aren't entirely comfortable in but is perfect for the situation. While in this crowd, which is rowdy and drinking some of the craftiest cocktails ever invented – both of the alcoholic and non varieties – you step forward, take a deep breath and speak a line you make up in the heat of the moment. You're commanding everyone's attention.
Imagine now going from one bar to another and performing in an act designed to celebrate the very drinks this crowd is consuming. The rush is unbelievable, despite the costume, which is formal wear from two centuries ago, topped by a bowler hat.
The Lewiston Cocktail Festival, held Saturday, presented the Marble Orchard Players a chance to step out of the cemetery we occupy each autumn and bring some history and creative storytelling to the people of Western New York.
I'm writing this story from my own perspective because I feel a special connection with the first-year festival. Like it, I was brand new last September when I joined the Marble Orchard Players portraying famous author James Fenimore Cooper. And again Saturday, I spent a bit of time getting warmed up, biding my time in the surroundings as my fellow actors flew through performance after performance they'd spent years perfecting.
It was after a few stops on our whirlwind tour of 13 bars and restaurants where I noticed an opportunity. I seized it and made the performance my own.
In a way, I am the Lewiston Cocktail Festival. That's why I feel akin to it. Like me, the festival stood as the little party that could. Organizers like Water Street Landing's Jon DiBernardo and Sparkle! Events' Melissa Morinello spent months preparing for whatever the first Saturday in March threw at them. They waited to see what sort of reception they would get from the people, not shocked by what transpired but certainly blown away.
They didn't sell a single ticket to anyone during the festival. But that's good news. The event sold out before the first drink was ever poured.
"We sold out by 1 p.m. Saturday," Morinello said. "We printed a limited number of tickets because, this being a first-time event, we really didn't know what to expect. We wanted to make sure the places could handle the crowds they did get."
Some of the bars saw hundreds of people filling their rooms. Carmello's Restaurant, Casa Antica, The Brickyard and The Village Pub all saw large crowds of friendly, boisterous people. So much so, us actors simply couldn't command their attention.
So much so, DiBernardo and Morinello already scheduled the second-annual Lewiston Cocktail Festival. They aren't changing the weekend. They are changing the ticket count. There will be no more sellouts.
"There are a few adjustments we'll be making," Morinello said. "But we're looking at it being the first Saturday in March again. So many of our participants reported business being up in a time of year it typically isn't."
Lost in the event may be that it also served as a contest for local bragging rights. Not only were participants able to sample a drink from each location, they also had a chance to vote on them.
Hundreds of ballots later, Water Street Landing took the top honor as Absolute Best Cocktail for its Absolut Basil Gimlet.
Next year, the competition is likely going to raise its game. And, with more participants, the results may change. But, my alter ego, James Fenimore Cooper, known to enjoy a hearty challenge wrapped in a good aventure, will surely be there again, as well.
Reporter Timothy Chipp can be reached at email@example.com.