Seth Asch (front left) and Kevin Tahouney, co-owners of Cenote along with Scott Lansdowne (inset photo), and bartender James Harrison are proud of the downtown establishment’s win at the Art of the Cocktail gala last year. They’ll be back for this year’s Victoria Film Festival fundraiser event, happening Oct. 19 at the Crystal Garden. Don Descoteau/Monday Magazine

Behind Bars: People’s Choice winner back for Art of the Cocktail

Expect something special from Cenote for this Victoria Film Festival fundraiser Oct. 19

When the team from Cenote Restaurant and Lounge signed up for their first appearance at The Art of the Cocktail, they had a pretty clear plan: let as many people as possible know who they were, where they are and what they do.

They went all out to create a memorable experience for attendees at the Victoria Film Festival‘s 2018 fundraiser event at the Crystal Garden, doing their best to recreate the essence of their basement bar. And while competition wasn’t their focus, they wound up winning the people’s choice award for their tequila-based cocktail Night Swim.

Scott Lansdowne, the man behind Cenote’s cocktail program.

“We probably brought more stuff than anybody to create the same kind of essence that we have in our basement,” says Kevin Tahouney, who co-owns Cenote with Seth Asch and Scott Lansdowne, the man who oversees the bar side of their operation underneath Lyle’s Place Records at 768 Yates St.

The success enjoyed by the Cenote crew at Art of the Cocktail – yes, they’ll be back for the Oct. 19 event this year – belies the fact they only got serious about creating cocktails four years ago. For Lansdowne and his team of bartenders including Nate Caudle, Adam Price and James Harrison, creativity is the key. They seize on new items and new trends to create drinks that raise your eyebrows.

When I dropped by Cenote recently, I sampled a Pistol Whip (Bulleit bourbon, Triple Sec, absinthe, orgeat, lime and fresh mint) off the cocktail menu. I had just finished this delicious and refreshing beverage when Harrison whipped together an amazing, unnamed cocktail on the spot, with some ingredients he’d been working with lately. There’s that creativity in action.

Victoria Film Festival director Kathy Kay has seen Art of the Cocktail evolve from a business casual, after-5 affair to cocktail classy where attendees, like many of the exhibitors, also go all out.

“Now they’re stunning, absolutely stunning,” she says. “And this year with the Paris theme, I think we might even see some Chanel.”

There’s about 45 exhibitors expected this time around, including many newcomers, Kay says. While the majority are offering cocktails, more are expected to provide food items – a good thing for people looking to pace themselves. After all, this event doesn’t have tokens or tickets for drinks, it’s one ticket for everything. Which is likely a big reason it sells out about 900 tickets every year.

Among the features to watch for this year are an ice luge, courtesy Prince of Whales, with a mystery cocktail at the end; potato latkes and smoked salmon appetizers courtesy of The Village Restaurant, and fresh oysters from 10 Acres.

But in the end, it’s all about the cocktails. Tahouney says Cenote’s bar crew haven’t quite determined what they’ll be concocting for the event, but you can be assured it’ll be something special that will do the Victoria basement bar proud.

VIP tickets, with early entrance, are sold out but you can find general grand tasting tickets, along with more information, at artofthecocktail.ca.


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