MCC 2011 – The Gala

MCC Gala @ New York Public LibraryOver the next few days, I’m going to walk through the events I attended this past weekend as part of the Manhattan Cocktail Classic. We’ll start at the beginning, of course, with the Manhattan Cocktail Classic Gala.

For the second year in a row, the Manhattan Cocktail Classic kicked off in style with a lavish party at the main branch of the New York Public Library. The halls and hallways of this classic New York location were filled with liquor industry elite and fans alike, sharing in the delight of hundreds of different cocktails representing nearly every major spirit brand on the market. I will admit, though, having attended the gala two years in a row now, I have some mixed feelings about whether I’ll go back next year.

Here’s why:

The Good

Inside the MCC Gala The Space – The New York Public Library is an amazing building. It’s a wonderful space in which to spend time on a normal day, but it’s a breathtaking space in which to throw a party. The vaulted ceilings, the polished marble, and the varied nooks and crannies – each of which is filled with some sort of historical or literary treasure – scattered throughout the city-block-wide building… well, it’s pretty tough to beat it. The hallways are filled with cocktails, the basement is turned into a dance club, and there are surprises around every corner. I don’t know how the MCC crew gets the NYPL to provide such carte-blanche access to the building (or – phew – what that must cost!) but bless them for making it happen.

The Cocktails – The world’s best bartenders spend all night mixing cocktails with the world’s best brands. What could possibly be bad? Among many others: Tony Abou-Ganim mixing up Negronis, Phil Ward serving a lethal tequila concoction, James Menite and Esteban Ordonez with DonQ’s Jet Pilot Punch, and Jeffrey Morgenthaler unveiling the hotly anticipated barrel-aged “White Manhattan” cocktail, comprised of Tuthilltown’s Hudson New York Corn Whiskey, sweet white vermouth and orange bitters (aged for two months in Tuthilltown whiskey barrels).

The People – These are my people. Nearly everyone I know in the liquor industry was on hand, decked out, and ready to party. I get to see many of these people often, but sadly, I only see equally as many of them once or twice a year, and it’s always nice to have a good excuse to get so many awesome friends in one place (and all looking so great! Plus, cocktails!)

The Not-As-Good

I have a deep respect for the Manhattan Cocktail Classic crew, and their efforts to open up the cocktail world to more people in new and interesting ways. That being said, the Gala ain’t a cheap date. Tickets run $150 each, and for that price, there are a few things I’d change if I could…

The Food – Have it or don’t. But two years in a row now, the promise of food has been big, and the delivery pretty lacking. Food was hard to come by, with the exception of the occasional server (one seen every 20 minutes or so) with a single tray. What little food their was, frankly, wasn’t very good. There were stale pork buns, bars of macaroni and cheese that tasted microwaved… you get the idea. I heard through the grapevine that there were oysters somewhere, but I never saw them. I hate to nitpick, but again, at $150 per ticket, I’d expect better. Or honestly, I’d just rather there wasn’t food at all so expectations could be set appropriately and people wouldn’t surround and tackle the first server they see.

The Staff – The staff of the MCC itself are great, and the bartenders and brand ambassadors working the bars are world-class. But if you’re going to invite a few thousand people into a huge building and give them real glassware (which is awesome, by the way), you need to have a larger house staff than the MCC provided to help bus used glasses, etc. It’s only natural that empties will get put down on any even surface, but as the night wore on, the piles got higher, and by the end of the night people were tripping over (and breaking) glasses left and right. It really puts a damper on the atmosphere when you find yourself tip-toeing over piles of broken glass to get out of a room.

The Waits – They were long. To some extent, that’s to be expected. It’s a big party; lots of people want their next drink, the halls get crowded, etc. But given that, the waits across the board seemed pretty excessive. For example, we arrived at 8:45 for the doors to open at 9:00, and didn’t get inside until a bit after 9:30. Once inside, the average wait for a cocktail at a popular station was at least 5-10 minutes (sure, some waits were shorter, but some were longer, too.) Again, for $150 tickets, it’s a shame to see that much time lost.

All-in-all, the MCC Gala is one helluva party. The combination of amazing people and amazing cocktails in a wonderful space creates an unforgettable experience. Will I go back next year? I dunno… most likely yes, primarily because it’s one of the few opportunities I get to see so many good friends together. But I’m hoping that the MCC crew might address some of the issues that have dogged the event over the past two years… it’d certainly make the evening that much more enjoyable.

Did you attend the MCC gala? If so, I’d love to hear what you thought. Share your experiences and pictures in the comments below, or find me on Twitter (@cocktailspirit).


Tags: DonQ, Events, mcc, NYPL, Tuthilltown

3 Responses to “MCC 2011 – The Gala”

  1. Pedro Says:

    Great article. I think your description nails the pro’s and con’s of the Gala. But considering there were over 3500 guests, I was prepared for the caos. And the outcome didn’t bother me.
    My mezcal stand had a good location on the third floor, so I was pretty satisfied with the logistical organization. And most of the attendants had a good attitude and I didn’t see them being bothered by the lack of good service. And most people who gave my cocktail a chance did like it, so that was good for me.
    Just consider that sometimes bar service in a club is worse and prices are much higher. So maybe the MCC was not bad at all.

  2. Live from MCC 2011 – Behind The Bar: Painkiller | Spirited Cocktails Says:

    [...] Spirited Cocktails Dedicated to the Craft of the Perfect Cocktail « Live from MCC 2011 – The Gala [...]

  3. Mark Says:

    Nice writeup. This was my first time at the Gala so I didn’t have any point of reference heading in. My main gripes were with the food (where was it all??) and in hindsight, the missed opportunity to prioritize those tables of personal interest had I known which bartenders/spirits were represented where. Was there an index or such a map made available in advance which I may have missed? I actually managed to find the oysters, but would’ve expected them to sit on ice rather than merely dumped onto a table not knowing how long they’ve been there throughout the course of the night.

    Third floor = fire hazard
    The basement? Maybe I’m too old to fistpump to heartpounding trance music with glass in hand but seriously, what was that all about?

    Aside from lining up outside, the waits for me didn’t seem so bad. However, this is coming from an idiot who’s gone against better judgment year after year, joining crowds at food fests in 90+ heat.
    I do respect all the planning and execution they put into this and give them somewhat the benefit of the doubt as to any reasoning why some of the more obvious faults existed that we felt weren’t addressed. But yes, at this ticket price you’d hope they’d give you more reason to return again and less reason to complain.

    Overall, I left the Gala blown away by the experience, somewhat wasted and starving. Would I go again? Knowing myself, I’d likely take the bait as soon as I receive the email blast just to silence those inner voices saying ‘you’ll regret missing out’.

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