Cocktail Gala Opens Five-Day Booze Party With Lakshmi, Rum Bus

Lesley Townsend
Manhattan Cocktail Classic founder and director Lesley Townsend with a Negroni cocktail. Her third annual festival, which runs from May 11-15, is expected to attract more than 8000 cocktail aficionados. Photographer: Bartomeu Amengual/Hanna Lee Communications via Bloomberg

Lesley Townsend found out in a New York minute just how popular her first Manhattan Cocktail Classic was when 2,000 tickets for the second one went on sale on April 1 at midnight.

They were all gone before 12:01 a.m.

Townsend added tickets for Friday’s gala, the main event of a cocktail festival that runs through May 17. It includes more than 75 events and has become a hot ticket worldwide. Last year it lured hundreds of bartenders, leading spirit makers and thirsty types from Europe and Asia. The additional tickets are also sold out.

“Anyone I had ever met socially was calling in for favors, which got a little difficult,” said Townsend, 32, talking in a phone interview about last year’s event. “I don’t like saying no to people.”

The gala, at the New York Public Library’s main branch, featured about 110 vendors pouring drinks ranging from classic cocktails to the more exotic, such as Just Got Paid, Byzantine Julep, Bison Republic and Milagro Agua Horchata.

“We’re trying to bring awareness to the art and craft of the cocktail to people who might not otherwise allocate such a significant part of their disposable income to fancy drinking,” said Townsend, a Fort Worth, Texas, native.

She rented 44,000 cocktail glasses to make sure that everyone samples several drinks in proper glassware, because a plastic glass “compromises the cocktail experience,” said Townsend. “It’s like drinking a Pinot Noir out of a paper cup.”

From Saturday to Tuesday, the festival offers seminars such as “Make Mine with Rye,” “The Science of Citrus,” “Discovering Le Cognac,” “Women & Whiskies: Drams for Dames,” and “The Rum Bus,” a journey from New York’s Astor Center to Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where Venezuelan music and rum awaits participants.

For Charity

Townsend, who owns the Cocktail Classic through a for-profit company, is offering sponsors the opportunity to give some of their proceeds to charity. The festival will match as much as 50 percent of their contribution. Sponsors include including Campari, Patron Spirits Co. and Bacardi Corp.

In one of the charity events that sold out quickly Campari will have mixologists make drinks inspired by the Bravo “Top Chef All-Stars” host Padma Lakshmi. The event will benefit the Endometriosis Foundation of America, which Lakshmi co-founded.

“Until the festival gets to the point where we could make a really serious contribution, doing it like this is the next best thing,” Townsend said.

Harvard, New Zealand

Townsend graduated from Harvard College with a degree in ancient Chinese history, and then went to New Zealand to study digital video post-production. After various jobs and travels, she worked at Astor Center, a space in New York for food and wine events. It was there that she realized the extent to which the cocktail had been unfairly neglected.

“There are a lot of festivals out there for everything else,” Townsend said. “So I’m just rounding things out.”

(The second annual Manhattan Cocktail Classic festival begins tonight. Information and list of events:

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