Food competition shows have been a popular draw for the last decade or so. There is of course the inherent drama of competitors going mano a mano, and when you add to that the fact that everybody likes eating, it’s easy to see why these competitions resonate with so many people. Even Little Rock’s own annual Diamond Chef contest is a big success. But there’s one thing all these events have in common: they’re all about food.
This week, you have a chance to see a competition of a different kind at the second annual Preservation Libations Master Mix-Off. On Friday, six bartenders will mix up their best cocktails for the audience and judges. And we’re not talking about flashy bottle spinning or pouring eight drinks simultaneously. These are expert mixologists who will be putting all their talents toward making the best looking and tasting drinks they can. This year’s competitors are:
- Rob Armstrong, Raduno and The Fold
- Summer Blake, Boulevard Bistro
- Merrick Fagan, Trio’s
- Alejandro Fierro, Cache Restaurant
- Dillon Garcia, The Pizzeria at Terry’s Finer Foods
- Sarah Harrington, South on Main
This year’s theme is Prohibition. Attendees are encouraged to dress in their best 1920’s themed garb, and all cocktails will be geared toward Prohibition-era stylings. The competition is divided up into the people’s choice and master mixologists categories. Everybody who attends will get to sample drinks from all six bartenders and will have two votes to cast for their favorites for the people’s choice. Additional votes can be purchased for $2 each.
For the master mixologists category, all six competitors will make a cocktail for the eight judges (full disclosure: I am one of the judges this year). From there, four will advance to a head-to-head stage where they will be judged against each other’s creation. The final two will then square off and create an original Prohibition-themed drink to be crowned winner of the competition. We spoke with two competitors who are gearing up to put their best food forward.
“I have some new techniques I’m playing around with for the judges’ cocktail,” says South on Main bartender Sarah Harrington. “And I want to make sure my people’s choice cocktail is accessible for everyone.”
“I’m really looking forward to seeing what the other bartenders are doing,” says Dillon Garcia of The Pizzeria at Terry’s Finer Foods. “I am positive several of them know something I don’t and I’m going to learn something through tasting what they have.”
Tickets for the event are $50 for general admission, which gets you unlimited samples of the people’s choice cocktails, plus heavy hors d’ouevres from Ben E. Keith. Bumping that up to $75 gets you a VIP ticket, which includes early admission to the event, an hour to mingle with the bartenders, a special cocktail for VIP’s only, a commemorative glass and a behind-the scenes tour of the Albert Pike Masonic Center, which doesn’t offer tours regularly.
All proceeds go to benefit Preserve Arkansas, a historic preservation nonprofit that works to educate people about the importance of saving historic sites. Development director Llahoma Jackson says preservation has a positive impact on the entire community.
“When you have the old buildings that are deteriorating, it’s detrimental to the community,” says Jackson. “When you’re willing to invest in the community and invest in the preservation, it’s an amazing thing.
Take Argenta as an example. People are coming back and investing in the community instead of knocking down these buildings. It’s much more green to restore than to knock down and build over. It’s also more important to our history.”
The Preservation Libations Mix-Off is Friday at 6 p.m. at the Albert Pike Masonic Center on Scott St. VIP admission starts at 5 p.m. Tickets are available here.