Since its opening in November 2011, Williams & Graham has set the standard for what a speakeasy bar can be: A training ground for the best cocktail makers around, a family for whom learning and education is as important as hospitality, and a magical place for guests who must feel compelled to bring others to live out the whole experience. Owner Sean Kenyon's approach to pushing the boundary has not been a calculated masterplan, but rather a feel-it-out-as-you-go one. At one point, he considered doing takeovers and that's how Denverites got drinks from New York's PDT or LA's E.P. & L.P. without the air travel.
Early this year, Kenyon got another idea: Dueling bar teams, East and West Coast, in LoHi. His post on Facebook got quickly populated with interested parties. San Francisco's A.B.V. challenged New York's The Dead Rabbit. When the original West Coast bar could not make the date happen, Trick Dog (also from San Francisco) quickly replaced them. And that is how the first of four planned national battles was born. It will happen on Monday, April 17 from opening time until 1 a.m.
The rules are simple: The Dead Rabbit will takeover Williams & Graham and Trick Dog will be next door at the Occidental. Each will enter eight cocktails, six of which will be made with spirits sold by Williams Grant & Son, the sponsor of the competition. All cocktails will be sold for the same price and guests will be able to swing from one bar to the other through the passageway that united the two establishments. A group of industry pros, including Williams & Graham alum Chad Michael George, owner of The Way Back, will judge the performance of the two teams on creativity, entertainment value, sales, and cost management. A winner will be announced at the end of the evening.
Bragging rights aside, that winner will be invited back next year to battle it out with one of the winners of upcoming events. In a bracket-like line-up, Kenyon hopes to see four winners return in 2018 and the two who win among them back again for a final challenge. Who are the other bars coming? Kenyon isn't quite ready to reveal it but he promises that at least one will come from a smaller market because he always roots "for the little guy."