Skirts twirled, shirts popped open and hips swayed Thursday night during the third annual Palm Springs Summer Splash Cocktail Challenge.
And those were just a few of the bartenders’ moves.
A crowd of supporters and spectators gathered at Hunter’s Nightclub in Palm Springs as 12 barkeeps and mixologists from the U.S. and Canada competed.
Their mission? To create the quintessential Palm Springs cocktail — and win a title, trophy and all-expenses-paid trip back to Palm Springs.
All of the bartenders competed in their hometown gay bar for the opportunity to show their stuff at last night’s finale.
Since February, Michael Jortner of the Palm Springs Bureau of Tourism has traveled across the country and to Canada to find bartenders who could channel their creativity and passsion for Palm Springs into a single cocktail — and in the process stir buzz about the city as a travel destination.
The competition was friendly but fierce as the contestants brought their A-game to the finale. Dressed in a blond wig and silver lamé dress, Madame DuMoore, aka Daniel Pulver of CC Slaughters in Portland, Ore., brought us Marilyn Monroe.
Norbert White of Sidetrack in Chicago served up a taste of India while wearing a Hawaiian-inspired shirt (His Vedic Spring cocktail contained vodka which for weeks was infused with cardemom by his friend, Spurline owner Jim Osterberger.)
And you could say some of the other contestants, while clearly gifted behind the bar, showed their affinity for the intense summer heat of the desert by wearing as little clothing as possible. Gerardo Haro of Charlie’s in Las Vegas and Christopher Higgins of Badlands in Sacramento performed in their skivvies. Higgins started out wearing a tuxedo.
It was the incredibly challenging task of four judges — Bob Bogard of the Palm Springs Art Museum, Patrik Gallineaux of Stoli Vodka, Amy Guzzetta and yours truly — to sample the drinks and decide which would be the winning cocktail.
Thankfully, most were inventive, artistic rewards for the taste buds. With names like Spring Thyme, Sex with A Colombian in Palm Springs, and Aloe Vera Wang Springs Collection, they also were concoctions of flavored Stoli vodka (a sponsor) with a dollop of whimsy and dash of fun. (See the video at http://mydesert.co/KxRWzK.)
Barbara Moeggenberg of Bill’s Filling Station in Fort Lauderdale kept her spirits spirited by drawing upon on her Georgia roots. Her Babs’ Southern Springs Honey Tea, served in Mason jars, was equal parts her grandmother’s traditions and refreshingly delicious — like drinking a breezy, sunny afternoon in a porch swing.
But the winning libation was Pom Springs Fling, created by Steven Sheehan of Brix in San Jose. It was a celebration of all things pomegranate, which according to Gallineaux is Stoli’s most challenging flavor to integrate into a cocktail. Sheehan did it exceptionally well and showed he could do a distinctly Palm Springs groove while mixing. Wearing dark glasses and a leather jacket, he lip-synched and danced to “All Shook Up” by Elvis Presley.
Though Sheehan walked away with the return trip as his prize, his competitors also felt they were winners. Many, visiting Palm Springs for the first time, publicly and privately expressed their fondness for the community as a getaway.
And a celebrity guest in the audience, Ross Matthews, revealed when asked to say a few words that he’s decided to become a Palm Springs resident. Matthews, who may be best known for his appearance on “Celebrity Fit Club,” said he instinctively knew when he visited for the first time nine years ago, “I was home.”
(Photos by David A. Lee)
How to make Pom Springs Fling
- Stoli White Pomegranate
- Pomegranate Schnapps
- Soda water/7-up
- Simple syrup
- Cucumber slice
- Mint leaf
- Pomegranate seeds
Muddle cucumber and mint, squeeze of lime. Served on the rocks, garnished with cucumber slice, mint leaf and pomegranate seeds.