On weekends bars are busy and bartenders are busier, so if you're in need of a crowded bar and a good time on a Monday, you'd do best to follow your bartender. Sure enough, the town's finest beverage slingers were gathered at Vessel last Monday for the first in a year-long series of monthly cocktail contests. The re-opened Vessel isn't a bad choice for a little Monday night lamb sandwich anyway, and when you add in a boisterous industry crowd cheering on its friends and the possibility of a little cocktail experimentation, it's a clear winner.
Vessel's menu, by chef Cameo McRoberts, is designed to eat well with what you're drinking, and you'd be wise to have some bites before the contest begins, as the judges passed off some of their extra drinks to the crowd so everyone could sample. Those not believing in the germicidal attributes of alcohol can also order their own full-size version any of the six finalist cocktails from the menu. At $8 a pop, it's a unique opportunity to sample some of the town's best bartenders' latest creations.
The contest is judged partially in a blind tasting, but the fun part comes in the showmanship aspect, when the competitors prepare the drinks again, in front of the judges. A little bit of dinner and a show, no extra cost. This month's competitors were battling for the best drink that was "brown, bitter, and stirred." With home-bar advantage, the winner was Bryn Lumsden of Vessel and his "Muse for Hire", which used a variety of uncommon spirits: Neisson Élevé Sous Bois (rum), Byrrh (wine-based aperitif), and Combier Creme de Mure (blackberry liqueur). The contest is great for learning about new spirits like these--which is why it's sponsored and run by a local distributing company.
Next month's contest is on February 4th, and the theme is vermouth, so I recommend getting there early enough for a good seat (contest starts at 6:30) and ordering one of the competitor cocktails and a batch of Vessel's delightfully salty vermouth-cured olives to nibble on while you watch the show.