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Food & Drink

Behind-the-Scenes at the San Antonio Cocktail Conference

Photo: Courtesy photos, License: N/A

Courtesy photos

Like all mix and mingle functions, the Cocktail Conference takes much more work than meets the eye

Photo: , License: N/A

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Area cocktilians can puff up their chests a little more this week as we go into the third annual San Antonio Cocktail Conference. The brainchild of Bohanan’s Prime Steaks and Seafood chef and owner Mark Bohanan, this year’s SACC is a four-day affair that features three kickoff dinners, more than 30 seminars, three major parties, a smattering of after-parties, a cocktail-making competition, a documentary screening, a beer break, a brunch and an official closing party. The mission of Houston Street Charities, the 501(c)(3) nonprofit the conference operates under, is tri-fold: They promote the burgeoning cocktail culture and downtown San Antonio while donating proceeds to children’s charities.

One could speculate about the success of the massive event. Maybe it’s because it’s the first of its kind in Texas, or because 100 percent of the proceeds go toward saving children’s lives … or simply because the conference brings together some of bartending’s best minds all hawking expertly made cocktails.

Whatever the reason, none of it would be possible without the team behind the conference. With Bohanan at the helm, his bar and restaurant employees—including general manager Scott Becker, director of catering Jenny Rabb and manager Carlos Faz—usually staff the events; but the action also includes social media manager Ana Flores and spokesperson Cathy Siegel, both of whom have day jobs outside of the restaurant. Head bartenders who’ve graduated from Bohanan’s to run their own bar programs across town, like Timothy Bryand (of NAO) and Chris Ware, are back on board running production and other drink needs.


Conference planning starts almost immediately after the previous event ends. As all the boozers, local and otherwise, make their way home, the planning committee holds a recap meeting with most of its partners including HeartGift (the conference’s initial charity partner), area bartenders, bar owners, restaurateurs and distributors such as Republic National Distributing Company and Glazer’s. Conference planners base the following year’s event dates around the City’s Visitor’s Bureau convention calendar, Spurs games (obvs) and the availability of the Majestic, but the meeting’s focal point is to rehash and find areas of improvement.

The inaugural opening night was held at Bohanan’s, but the large number of first-year attendees warranted a new venue. That’s where the Majestic came in last year, with help of general manager Michael Rilley. With party ticket sales nearly tripling from year one, the group decided to keep using the colorful and historic backdrop of the theater to host opening night festivities in 2014. Other improvements lined up for this year include the streamlining of bar stations inside the Majestic to one cocktail per station, and the addition of more food to the lineup, as organized by Lüke Riverwalk’s John Russ.

As cocktail-centered bars keep popping up around SA, the group had to find a way to incorporate establishments that aren’t necessarily downtown such as TBA, The Fruteria, NAO, Arcade and Barbaro. This led to changes for the Friday Night Soiree, which previously relied on river barges to get attendees from bar to bar along the River Walk. This year barges will be used to transport conference-goers from the Weston Centre to the Pearl Stables for a night that celebrates Texas-based spirits.

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