Speed Rack NW at Seattle's Washington Hall
On Sunday 3 December, some of the Northwest's best bartenders went head to head at Washington Hall to claim the top spot at Speed Rack NW (Season 7). The intense competition tests a bartender's skill, knowledge, creativity, speed, and poise. That is pretty cool. It gets better. Speed Rack champions breast cancer awareness and research.
This was my first Speed Rack. I learned about it last year when I did a profile on Jacyara de Oliveira. She's so badass that she's won in two cities - Chicago and Seattle. In following her Instagram feed, I learned that Speed Rack doesn't end after the competition. The sponsors are into it, and they put a lot of effort into working with the Speed Rack champs at events throughout the year. Seattle's Megan Radke credited Speed Rack with challenging her abilities and changing her career and life.
Sunday's competition was four hours long. I couldn't make it for all of it. I got there just before the semi-finals. Two bartenders would take their spots behind the bar. Volunteers served as the barbacks (please forgive any incorrect terms here). The panel of three judges would read out the drink orders. I think they could be a mix of classic cocktails or special orders (dealer's choice?) in the later rounds. The hosts would then lead the crowd in a countdown...188.8.131.52.1. After that it was a whirlwind of intensity and cocktails. When the bartender finished that last drink they'd triumphantly clock out.
The bartenders really did make it look easy. I don't know how. I've never been a bartender, and I don't have a head for memorization. I would definitely be in the Bill Murray school of bartending. A Perfect Manhattan? Sure thing, coming right up. Pour a shot of tequila, hand it to the customer, "One Perfect Manhattan, enjoy."
Even though they made it look easy, a lot of work went into prepping for Sunday. I know a couple of the bartenders. In the past month or so I've seen a lot of Instagram posts with studying and practice sessions. I was at Capitol Hill's Witness on Saturday. In between serving up drinks and talking to customers Ally was studying her colorful array of flashcards. I'd like to think that the awesome Boulevardier I got helped the effort.
The final round saw Lauren Darnell matched up against Lydia Mcluen. I was pretty far away and couldn't hear the exact instructions, but I think each judge got to specify a unique, tailored drink. It looked brutal. In the end, Lydia won the day. I know this will sound cheesy, but I don't think anyone lost. I've added a bunch of photos below. Warning - there are a lot of them.