My scout for the women’s restroom reported only one passed-out stall-hugger, but the unconscious lady became a field sobriety test for the other gals based on their ability to aid or even detect the woman. “Nah, she’s fine” was a common refrain.
Thus concluded the first day of the sixth annual San Diego Spirits Festival, held inside and outside the Port Pavilion, in the metaphorical wake of the USS Midway.
Posing as the LA Cocktails Examiner once again, I swagged two press comps to this all-you-can-eat-and-drink extravaganza. According to the website, “San Diego Spirits Festival highlighst [sic] the cocktail and culinary community and the talented bartenders and chefs who are shaking up San Diego’s vibrant scene. Its [sic] all about Cocktails, Culinary and Culture set on San Diego Bay!”
After checking ID—always a compliment to me and my hair dye—visitors walked a gauntlet of corporate tables selling something like timeshares. One of them handed out good chocolate, though. In the main area was loud music, louder conversations, and various trade booths serving alcohol either neat in tiny tasters or simple cocktails in cups.
Outside were food stalls surrounding a stage featuring Drop Dead Dames Burlesque followed by Brazil Carnavalle Samba performers. While waiting in the longest of lines for Crazee Burger sliders, you could have watched a scantily clad ginger-haired dancer sunburn in real time. But the reward, barbecued kangaroo and camel sliders, were worth it—if you aren’t vegetarian or an animal rights activist.
The best tip for fest dining is to tag team with one person waiting in line while the second forages at the other booths. If you’re waiting, pull out a notepad and pen to make new friends. Nguyen D., a San Diego native, said “This venue, you can’t beat it.” His lady friend from the OC, Cindy D., attended the Fest last year. “I love it!” she exclaimed in the accent of one living near the Happiest Place on Earth.
All the foodstuffs served were different degrees of delicious, as befitting a city with The Blind Burro, Neighborhood, Knotty Barrel, and Bootlegger within four blocks of each other. Some vendors, like San Luis Sourdough, hailed from parts outside the SD county border and is available to Angelenos. Scoring a loaf seemed to be a secret game among the crafty.
There must be an attack plan for uninhibited drinking. Given free reign and four hours to imbibe to your liver’s discontent, restraint is required if you hope to make it out standing. My rules, which you are free to repeat when you go next year, were:
Do not finish any cocktail.
Do not drink anything flavored, like spiced rum or Fireball.
Skip all vodkas, a.k.a. the Miley Cyrus of distilled spirits.
It’s fine to revisit your old faves, like Diplomático, Don Julio, Zacapa, and Woodford Reserve, but don’t camp at their booth. That’s rude.
The discoveries were: Marqués mescal (not very smoky, more like a robust tequila blanco), Corbin Cash rye whiskey (from Merced’s Sweet Potato Spirits, one of the rare ryes that’s not from a single distillery in Lawrenceburg, Indiana), and my favorite of the fest, Gompers Gin of Oregon (available at Mel & Rose), a dawn-colored intoxicant with honey notes, resembling a genever.
The party peaked around 4:45, just over halfway through the event. Everyone suddenly turned wobbly-happy, and my Robots in Orbit retro shirt became a beacon to safe conversational harbor for those fogged in by free booze.
The day ended with bad Sinatra karaoke and slurred “Woooooooooooooooooooooo’s,” crisply followed by a trenchant exit executed by burly men in black suits corralling us with ham-hock hands, silently saying “Don’t make me use this.” Even the Wreck Check stand turned away folks trying to figure how close they were to a DWI conviction.
The floor was littered with empty cups, crushed popcorn and promo flyers, all soon to be swept away like well-pickled customers. The private professional networking event would begin in thirty. Time to clean up.
Disclosure: The San Diego Spirits Festival provided two complimentary passes to the event.