Bartenders in spandex! Ticking clocks! Children saved from cancer! Yes, the service industry’s craziest competition, is nearly upon us. On March 24th, BarMania will return to Herbs & Rye in Las Vegas and push the stick to 11—for a good cause.
The concept is simple competitors are given seven cocktails, two shots and a beer to serve. Fastest time wins (although costumes do get points also.) However, with a five digit cash raise to fight cancer, a long list of startenders as alumns of the showdown, and lots of trash-talking in the mix, the rest is complicated.
BarMania was simple in it’s origin. Founder Nectaly Mendoza described the original March 2015 incarnation as fun for a good reason.
Mendoza explained that the idea was first inspired by his partner Michelle Meyer, who sheared her locks to help fight pediatric cancer annually. “My better half shaved her head for St. Baldrick’s Day every year,” Mendoza recalled. “She raised money [to fund cancer research], but I kept thinking, ‘We could do more.’”
So, he assembled a group of local Vegas bartenders and the first Bar Mania was born. The inaugural event was a small and local, a pro wrestling themed speed bartending contest. Then, when it was all over, Mendoza compiled a short video on iMovie and posted it online.
That video went viral fast. Spurred by the publicity, the first BarMania wound up raising $8500 and in the following months, dozens of industry folk contacted the organizer about getting involved.
In the second year, Igor Hadzismajlovic of Employees Only and his former co-worker-turned-restauranteur Steve Schneider flew out to help. At the time, Schneider was heavily involved in the popular Rematch Beyatch event and the Bar Mania team adapted much of Rematch’s format to help lend some structure. The encore event raised $12k and drew even more interest.
Mendoza told Neat Pour that by the third year, the event “really exploded.” The pro wrestling inspired costumes and entrances got wilder, the crowds grew larger, and the funds raised leaped to $18k.
From that point on, BarMania only got bigger, attaining a cult following among the elites of the industry–not to mention raising a ton of cash. BarMania even hosted a spin-off event in Seoul, Korea with Mendoza’s friend (and occasional social media nemesis) Seoung Ha. (A follow-up Korean venture is planned for this April.)
Throughout all the growth, some elements have remained static. The Vegas events still benefit St. Baldrick’s. 100% of the moneys raised are still donated to St. Baldricks. (Costs like labor, supplies, etceteras are covered by Mendoza and Herbs & Rye.) Likewise, everyone involved covered their own costs including airfare—a far cry from heavily comped brand events.
Shouldering their travel costs didn’t didn’t dissuade competitors from getting outrageous. One past contestant appeared wearing nothing but an American flag. Another hopeful attempted to garnish a drink with a rooster. The latter was a bad idea.
“We didn’t know that was going to happen and it’s definitely not allowed moving forward,” chuckled Mendoza. “But, the goal is till to see who can do the wackiest stuff.”
The winner also still receives a rather unique prize, the Golden Rooster. “It’s literally the shittiest trophy you can make,” noted the organizer. “The week before, I go to the swap meet, buy metal roosters. spray paint them gold, and then duct tape them to a crate. That’s the trophy!
Oddly, that dubious piece of hardware is highly coveted. The BarMania team believes that competing for pride not prize is part of the appeal.
“I think people actually like it because you don’t win anything,” mused Mendoza. “You’re doing it for pride. A boxer can fight for a purse of millions of millions of dollars or they can fight for pride in their country. We’re fighting for pride.”
Judging will be handled by Yael Vengroff, Laura Cullen, Ezra Star, Sebastien Derbomez, Jake Burger, Yisell Muxo, Sly Augustin, and Ashtin Berry. Kate Gerwin will serve as ScoreKeeper.
Herbs & Rye (3713 West Sahara, Las Vegas, NV) will host the drinks duel. There is no set admission, but attendees are asked to make a donation (whatever they can spare.) If you can’t make the event, you can still help out with the fight against cancer. Donations to St. Baldrick’s can be made here.