So you want to open your own bar? Yeah, you and everyone else in Portland.

“It’s the dream,” says Tawny Alvarez, an associate at Portland law firm Verrill Dana who often works with would-be Tom Cruises. “It’s (the movie) ‘Cocktail’ from the ’80s. Everybody’s going to start a bar, and it’s going to be wonderful living the life.”

Alvarez and some of her colleagues from Verrill Dana’s Breweries, Distilleries and Wineries practice group, along with James Sanborn of GHM Insurance in Waterville – “the beer insurance guy” – will be on a panel at a June 4 seminar, So You Want to Open a Bar? Let’s Talk Logistics! during the New England Cocktail Conference. The seminar will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Hyatt Place Old Port. Attendance is free.

The conference, which runs from June 2 to 5, was formerly known as Rum Riots, but organizers decided to expand the event this year, adding more tastings and seminars, as well as welcoming bar-industry folk from all over New England.

Classes are both industry-focused (Become a Better Bartender) and designed for anyone who happens to enjoy a good cocktail, such as Hemingway and Rum. The Hemingway event will include Key West-inspired eats, tastings of Hemingway’s favorite cocktails and a talk by Carlton Grooms, head distiller of Papa’s Pilar Rum.

The conference will close with the U.S. Bartenders’ Guild Best Bartender competition, in which eight of New England’s best bartenders will compete for $500 and a Vitamix.

Briana Volk of the Portland Hunt + Alpine Club, who organizes the conference, expects 600 to 900 people who work in the cocktail industry to come in from New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, Boston and Philadelphia. Volk said she hoped the regional approach would draw national attention to the “great work” that bartenders are doing here.

“Being up here and being a small state, it’s hard to get a lot of attention,” she said. “I like the strength in numbers showing there is this really amazing, flourishing cocktail community, not only in Maine but all around New England.”

Although the event is now called the New England Cocktail Conference, it will continue to be held in Portland every year, just before bartenders’ busy summer season, Volk said. All of the events – including ones on agave, Jägermeister and Glenfiddich – are open to the public. Some require tickets, others don’t.

“With every class we have, I have either the international or American brand ambassadors from those brands to represent them,” Volk said, “so it’s some of the people who are the best in the business and know the thing they are speaking about.”

Industry-focused seminars include High-Volume Bartending and Accuracy – costing just $5 – taught by two bartenders from the Clover Club in New York, “one of the most well-known and respected high-volume bars in the world,” Volk said.

Two sessions may be of particular interest to locals. A June 4 cocktail dinner ($60) called Grandpa Drinks at the Cumberland Club may satisfy the curiosity of anyone who has ever wondered what goes on behind closed doors at the circa-1877 private social club on High Street. Nibble shrimp cocktails and sip Scotch or some forgotten classic cocktails – Brown Derbies, riffs on Manhattans and Negronis – in the former Men’s Lounge. “Things that are very true to the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s,” as Volk describes it.

Another event likely to capture the interest of cocktail enthusiasts is the $40 seminar on Day Drinking Done Right, focused on lower-alcohol cocktails and drinks more exotic than brunch cliches like mimosas and bloody marys. The event, which includes brunch and cocktails, will be held June 5 at Roustabout on Washington Avenue.

For the bar-envious, though, the highlight just may be the free access to legal help at the seminar So You Want to Open a Bar?

Opening a bar is not the same as opening, say, a shoe shop or hair salon, because it’s such a heavily regulated industry, Alvarez said. The Verrill Dana attorneys serving as panelists will speak about what it costs to open a bar, what to expect in the first year of business and the importance of developing relationships with state and federal regulators.

Alvarez said wannabe bar owners don’t always understand the complicated legal issues involved. What happens if the bartender serves someone who is under age? What if a customer drinks and drives and hurts someone? What if an employee drinks and sexually harasses another employee? What if someone breaks his nose in a barroom brawl?

“We know in this industry the overhead is high and the profit margins are low,” Alvarez said. “It’s our goal that we provide as much information to people as possible so they can make an educated decision about whether this is truly something that they want to invest their time and money into. It’s not scare tactics that we’re employing. We just want people to go in with their eyes wide open.”


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under:

Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.