by Tiffany Tran
Guys, I finally did it – I made it to San Antonio Cocktail Conference, more familiarly known as SACC. Held every January in the heart of San Antonio, bartenders, brand ambassadors, bar owners, and service industry enthusiasts alike gather in the city to attend classes led by influential industry leaders, and you know, PARTY.
However, since the event is five days with pairing dinners up to a week ahead of it, it may prove rather daunting to an unprepared SACC rookie. So, I’m here to help! Armed with my first full SACC experience, I’ve distilled it down to what I hope is a helpful guide to navigate and fully enjoy the spirited waters of everything ext year’s San Antonio Cocktail Conference has to offer.
STAY CLOSE TO THE ACTION
One of the best things about SACC is that almost all of the events take place in the same five or six blocks next to the famed Riverwalk. So, it’s in your best interest to book a room close to the action. I had the pleasure of staying at the St. Anthony Hotel with Ms. Susie Drinks herself, and we found that we never had to walk very far for classes, bar takeovers, or event-hosted parties, mostly because many of them took place inside our hotel. Yes, Uber and Lyft are easy options for quick rides to events, but if you’re there for the full five days, those rides add up. And whatever you saved by booking that AirBnB 15 minutes outside of the city quickly disappears when you add up the ride receipts. (And who wants to have to take an Uber at 2:30am?) There are plenty of hotel options along the Riverwalk such as the Hotel Valencia, Sheraton Gunter, and Hotel Havana that make excellent locations for home base.
Repeat after me: “I don’t have to finish every drink. I don’t have to finish every drink. I don’t have to finish every drink.” It’s your new mantra. Why? Because YOU DON’T HAVE TO FINISH EVERY DRINK. Friends. this is a COCKTAIL conference. As you can surmise, there’s no shortage of alcohol flowing during any of the five days you may be there, so take care of yourself. One glass of water for one alcoholic beverage. Remember to eat. Sure, chances are you’ll slam some snaiquiris with your people, but you don’t have to slam ALL of your drinks, right? Right. Also, get plenty of sleep. It’s a very full five days, so conserve your energy in order to ensure that you make it to the end.
There’s no shortage of educational opportunities. Peruse the schedule and find one or four that speak to you. They offer classes for the cocktail enthusiast and the experienced industry members alike.
Speaking of pacing yourself, know that even in the seminars you’ll be served some tasty cocktails. Talk about incentivized education! I wish college was more like SACC classes; I would’ve learned so much more.
Yes, there’s plenty to do in San Antonio Cocktail Conference even if you don’t attend a single class, but you’d be doing yourself a grave disservice if you don’t take advantage of what the classes have to offer. I had the opportunity to meet Ezra Star from Boston’s Drink in her class, “Building Culture of Hospitality”. It was amazing to hear her philosophy on the culture that drives her bar: “We serve people, not drinks.” And in more depth, how that philosophy drives how she hires people for her team, how they create rituals that drive their culture and inspires her team to take initiative to further their own education. The class ran for an hour, and there was plenty of time dedicated to a Q&A, a rare opportunity for class attendees to pick Ezra’s brain and learn from her expertise.
Classes cost ~$45 each and run all day on the Friday and Saturday of the conference.
GET OFF THE BEATEN PATH
Not everything you do during the conference will have anything to do with the conference itself. While there are plenty of hosted dinners and grand parties to attend at night, like Waldorf on the Prairie, there’s still plenty of time to explore the city’s other offerings. Do me a service and check out a couple of spots that I discovered on my trip and totally fell in love with. Like …
I keep telling myself that I’ll go back to San Antonio just to stay at the charming and historical Hotel Havana. But, with so few rooms, availability is rare. I understand since there’s a wonderful restaurant and bar there that keeps people coming by to discover the hotel. During my stay, I met up with some friends at Ocho at the Hotel Havana for lunch, and upon first glance, I was hooked. The space is encased in a glass observatory and offers pan-Latin food and Cuban-inspired cocktails. Personally, I recommend the Cuban sandwich and the coffee. Take some time to recharge for a day of SACC here. It’s a welcome reprieve from the hustle and bustle, and the decor is both warm and whimsical.
Another San Antonio gem I had the pleasure of enjoying is the new bar Downstairs at the Esquire Tavern. Located beneath the historic Esquire Tavern downtown bar, Downstairs is directly on the Riverwalk, and boasts a well-curated back bar as well as dark wood and intimate lighting details. The drinks are expertly executed by friendly and knowledgeable staff, and the walls are adorned with a bit of Esquire’s trademark taxidermy touch. This is my favorite San Antonio bar for sure.
So there we have it, my First-Timer’s Guide to SACC.
You’ll bump into friends everywhere you go.
You’ll get to know the city’s bartenders really quickly.
You’ll make friends with people from all over the country.
You’ll eat amazing food and drink delicious drinks.
You’ll avoid all hangovers while you’re there. (God willing.)
And you’ll learn so much from people who’ve been in the industry for years.
You’ll have an amazing time! See you next year at SACC 2018!