Words by Leah Stacy, above photo by Mike Martinez
Beneath the bar at Restaurant Good Luck on Anderson Avenue, bartender Elise Barnard hides a stack of 70 multicolored index cards.
The cards, which are color-coded according to base liquor, aren't there to remind her how to mix drinks for patrons - she knows the Good Luck cocktail menu by heart. She created the cards to help her study for Speed Rack, a nationwide speed and accuracy contest that not only spotlights female mixologists, but also raises money for breast cancer research, education and prevention. (Serious props to whoever brainstormed the name.)
This is Barnard’s first time competing in a national event, though she won fastest bartender during the Rochester Cocktail Revival Bar Room Battle Royale in 2014, beating out nearly a dozen other 'tenders for speed and accuracy.
She applied to the competition late - in December 2015 - and made the waitlist for Seattle’s competition in 2017. Then, the organization liked her resume so much, they emailed her a week later about competing in Tennessee the following week. Since that was short notice, Barnard opted to keep waiting -- and that’s when a spot opened for this weekend in the Boston competition.
So, how does it work? Barnard broke it down for us:
"They take the number of competitors from 22 to eight almost right away. Everybody knows the first four drinks you have to make: Kamikaze (equal parts vodka, triple sec and lime juice), margarita (tequila, triple sec and lime or lemon juice), Fitzgerald (gin, simple syrup, lemon juice and bitters), and Vesper Martini (gin, vodka, and Kina Lillet). The judges can request you make the drinks straight up (no ice) or on the rocks (with ice).
The first round is just about speed, but if I give them a rum and Coke and that’s not what they asked for, I'm gonna add seconds to my time. A short pour, or glass not really full, adds seconds. If I pour too much into my shakers, they strain that out at the end and "x" amount over is "x" amount seconds they add on. A broken glass during the competition also adds seconds. You can go too fast and screw yourself up, or just throw a bunch of swill into a cup and screw yourself up.
The competition is bracket-style and the ladies compete in pairs, down to the final two. It goes from 22 to eight contestants pretty much right away. When you make the top eight, it gets more intense. There’s a list of 70 classic cocktails (hence the index cards). You have as much time as want, but the faster you do this, the better off you are.
If two people are competing in a round, and the judges call out four cocktails - say one person makes those in a minute and nine seconds (1:09) and someone makes it in a minute and 18 seconds (1:18), it doesn’t mean the higher time won’t win. If 1:09's drinks suck, 1:18 can still win - because seconds are added on when there’s a lack of accuracy in ingredients.
Between opening a business of her own and working at Good Luck most nights, Barnard is training as much as she can and in a few different ways: her recipe cards, having someone time her while she mixes and pours four drinks (she uses water in liquor bottles during her many practice runs) and watching videos of past competitions.
We even got to watch her practice:
Barnard will drive the six hours to Boston on Saturday, April 2, and compete on Sunday, April 3, beginning at 11 a.m. (She’ll have a cheering section, too -- a Good Luck coworker and a friend will accompany her.)
And of course, Rochester will be cheering from afar. Good luck, Elise!