Lesley Townsend credits being in the right place at the right time for her becoming Founder and Director of one of the most anticipated festivals of the year, the Manhattan Cocktail Classic. About three years ago, she noticed a gross oversight in NYC, the epicenter of cocktail culture, and home to literally every other type of festival under the sun, did not have a festival honoring cocktails. While Lesley is well known to most New Yorkers as liquors leading lady, she actually has never spent time behind the bar. It matters not, since she has managed to use her marketing and event planning skills to bring the art of all things alcohol to a whole new level. For this she is a bar star.
What does it take to be a star behind the bar?[quote]People are always drawing parallels between bartenders and chefs. I think the biggest difference is that chefs are people who have chosen a life in the background, in the back of the kitchen, while bartenders have chosen a very sort of front facing role. A lot of what they do is similar. What makes a bartender a star is not about your skills of crafting a drink, it’s about your ability to relate to people. Most bartenders are naturally incredibly personable people, they are charismatic and easy to talk to. Food culture celebrity, for some reason, happened first but actually chefs are the total opposite of that, they are in the back and it is funny that it has happened in this order. Bartenders are the ones out front; the ones who should be on camera since they are usually very attractive and charismatic- its how they make their living.
Relating to consumers outside the industry is one of the most rewarding parts of the MCC. When I get random emails from someone who doesn’t work in the industry but is so passionate about the festival that they travel from other cities to visit and learn it’s the kind of enthusiasm that is really amazing to me. The more you learn about a product, how its made, the family history, this all goes into a much more comprehensive appreciation of what you are drinking. You begin to savor it in every way possible, not just the taste. So like a chef comes out for a compliment and explains his dish in a fancy restaurant, the dish tastes better, you know what you’re eating and how its made- it enhances the experience in so many ways. This is important for bartenders who are already in front. Make people slow down and become mindful drinkers. It is also true of the MCC Gala Cocktail party which is as close to what a magical night out in NYC could be- with amazing jazz bands, black tie, beautiful gowns, people having fun, savoring great cocktails all dressed up in the Public Library one of the most iconic buildings in NYC. It brings the integrity back to drinking and enjoying well-made cocktails. And although cocktails are the acting point the act of drinking can be surrounded by art, music, fashion, technology and all other things, it’s the experience people can take time to appreciate.[/quote]