In addition to the tail end of Light City Baltimore, Orioles opening day, and the return of food extravaganza The Emporiyum, April in Baltimore just got even more exciting with the arrival of two back-to-back cocktail festivals.
First up is Baltimore Cocktail Week, now it its second year, which is hosting competitions, movie screenings, and tastings geared towards consumers throughout the city from April 10-17. Right on its tail will be The Bar Institute convention, which serves as an educational platform for those in the service industry.
"I think it's incredibly serendipitous timing," says Ginny Lawhorn, founder of Baltimore Cocktail Week. "The momentum of consumers getting engaged will invigorate the industry folks who are in town for Bar Institute."
In fact, Lawhorn stressed that is the main difference between her inaugural cocktail week and what she hopes to achieve this year. Getting bar guests more involved will be the goal at events such as a make-your-own margarita class at Rocket to Venus or watching a screening of the documentary Hey Bartender at Landmark Theatre.
"Baltimore has an extremely well-engaged consumer demographic," says Lawhorn, who also co-owns Sticky Rice and runs the bar program at Landmark. "You have more and more guests who are really understanding and respecting the craft of cocktail making."
The week kicks off Sunday, April 10 at Pen & Quill, where the public is invited to the "Baltimore Lovely Ladies Bartender Competition," where a dozen of local female bartenders will compete and a portion of the proceeds will benefit Moveable Feast. The charitable aspect will continue throughout the week, as participating bars and restaurants will feature signature cocktails and, with each purchase, $1 will be donated to the charitable organization of the bar's choice.
The entire week is sponsored by William Grant, a heavy-hitting distilling company that includes brands like Milago, Sailor Jerry, Hendrick's, Tellamore Dew, and Glenfiddich.
"After such a challenging year for Baltimore, it's been so great to see these big suppliers and brands investing in us," Lawhorn says. "Instead of bar folks going to New York and D.C., they will be coming here."
That is also the exact ethos behind The Bar Institute, which has been running a cocktail convention in Portland for six years. But now the brand is expanding to five regional events and Baltimore is the host city for the Northeast—a territory that spans from Detroit to Portland, ME, to Richmond.
"I always had my heart set on Baltimore," says Bar Institute founder Lindsey Johnson. "It has an incredible community and energy that I have not seen matched. You walk into a bar and you can tell—maybe they didn't have a million dollars to fix it up—but the community got together to paint the walls and make sure it was ready for service."
Taking place at The Grand, Bar Institute's convention is heavily geared toward members of the service industry who want to excel in their careers. The weekend will offer sessions such as branding your bar, using technology in technique, writing a menu, upping your ice game, and learning about business and marketing etiquette. About 1,000 bartenders from the Northeast region are estimated to attend, says Johnson, who adds that the sessions "are dorky to the nth degree."
There will be one Bar Institute element open to the public, which will be called Art Beyond the Glass, a charity event on April 17 where bartenders will showcase their skills and talents outside of the bar.
"It will be so exciting to have two cocktail events catering to different audiences, but with the same goal," Johnson says. "And that's drinking well in Baltimore, a city that is already doing a great job. Bars in Baltimore don't need a lot of help—they could be competing with any bar in the world. This will hopefully just inspire them to be even better."