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The Pacific Northwest stands to be well-represented in the newest category added to the James Beard Awards .

The 2012 edition of the annual restaurant

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James Beard Foundation Adds Cocktail Category to Awards Program

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The Pacific Northwest stands to be well-represented in the newest category added to the James Beard Awards.

The 2012 edition of the annual restaurant award competition includes a category for "outstanding bar program," a division created to recognize the valuable contributions of cocktailians.

"For a long time, the committee has talked about how to recognize the growing importance of cocktail programs," says Providence Cicero, Seattle Times restaurant critic and chair of the James Beard Foundation's Restaurant and Chefs Award Committee. "We thought there should be room for another beverage award."

The award will be given to a bar or restaurant, not an individual bartender. Cicero declined to predict which names might appear on the ballot. "I wish I had a crystal ball," Cicero said. "But the people likely to emerge are the ones having an impact nationally."

Cicero believes Seattle and Portland bars could have a good shot at the prize. "Between Portland and Seattle, there should be some strong contenders," she said.

The awards process begins with an open call for nominations. While the nominees will be whittled down to 20 before committee members cast their votes, Cicero strongly encourages everyone to participate in the preliminary stage. "The more participation we get, the broader possible candidate base we'll have," she says.

Nominations for all award categories are now being accepted at jamesbeard.org.

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