What happens when you combine a bunch of the best female bartenders in the Pacific Northwest, a veritable ocean of booze, and a frenetic and challenging competition? The best possible way to spend your first post-Seahawks Sunday of the year: Speed Rack Seattle. Equal parts bartending competition and bacchanalian free-for-all, it has rapidly become one of my favorite events of the year, and it’s this Sunday (2–6 p.m.) at the Century Ballroom.
Like a well-made cocktail, Speed Rack is equal parts drama, humor, and indulgence. The centerpiece is of course the bartending competition. It’ll feature female bartenders from throughout the Northwest and as far away as Hawaii, including contestants from some of Seattle’s finest bars: Haley Holman from Liberty and Kathleen Manley from Rob Roy. Portland’s Angel Teta (Ataula) will be back to defend her title as Miss Speed Rack Seattle. We’ll see if an actual Seattleite can earn the crown this year. To do so requires a strong command of classic cocktails (I’m not sure I could make a Rosita on the fly) and an ability to make them as quickly as possible and perfectly enough to keep the judges happy.
Each of the four judges names a cocktail, all four of which need to be assembled with a timer ticking away and a raucous, well-lubricated crowd. It’s a challenge that can psych out even veteran ’tenders, and it tends to overwhelm new competitors.
“A common mistake from first timers is they ‘forget to forget’ that it’s a competition,” Speed Rack co-founder Lynnette Marrero reveals. “For example, they often know the drinks, but they can let the ‘game’ psych them out. The most successful ladies forget that it’s a competition, and they just bartend.” Another common mistake I notice is simply forgetting to garnish drinks.
At last year’s event, I was surprised to see just how tense things got as the semifinals and finals rolled around. By the time Teta knocked off Seattle’s Amanda Reed (formerly of Tavern Law, now at Oliver’s Twist) in the finals, the energy was palpable, if not quite up to CenturyLink Field standards.
Between rounds, there are a bevy of beverages to sample from the many prominent distilleries that sponsor the national competition. Even better, the entire event is a fundraiser for breast-cancer charities, raising more than $250,000 to date. Tickets are $20 in advance through EventBrite, $25 at the door.