Nearly a year ago, on what would have been a typically quiet Tuesday, tiki bar Rosemallows in Downtown was brimming with people. Over 175 guests packed the tropical bar to watch and try the concoctions of six local bartenders as they vied for the honor of “best craft rum cocktail” at the inaugural Tropical Shakedown.
“We packed the house,” said Tomas De Los Reyes, West Coast Brand Ambassador to the Don Papa Rum, who organized the cocktail competition. “I would say half (of the guests) were in the industry.”
The success of attracting a large bar industry turnout, De Los Reyes said, was one of the reasons he wanted to create a cocktail competition—to cultivate an event that brought Long Beach’s bar community together.
“I wanted to throw a cocktail competition because I knew there were a lot of hungry, talented people in Long Beach. But they had nowhere to flex that in Long Beach outside of their own workplace,” said De Los Reyes said. “I’ve been a competitive bartender for a while, so I understand the fun but also where it can possibly take your career if you choose to stay in this industry—the networks and the camaraderie.”
De Los Reyes began working as a bartender in New York in the early 2000s, just as the city was experiencing a shift in bartending culture that many writers and historians today call “the cocktail renaissance.” In essence, the renaissance was a revival of traditional recipes, techniques and high-quality ingredients in the bar industry that popularized the term mixologist and catapulted the mainstream status craft cocktails have today.
Being part of a scene that was energized, inventive and ripe with opportunity helped De Los Reyes launch his own career as a bartender and bar manager. After helping open a restaurant in New York, he went on to land a career as a brand ambassador for Moet Hennessy, where he worked for almost five years before moving to Long Beach in 2019 to work for Don Papa. Now with four years in the city, De Los Reyes is determined to shake up Long Beach’s own bar scene.
Giving bartenders a chance to highlight their skills and creativity in competitions like Tropical Shakedown is just a part of creating opportunity and cultivating community within the bar industry, De Los Reyes said, but there’s still work that needs to be done in between high-profile events.
He found just the collaborator in Navy Proof bar lead Dane Olson.
“There’s a lot of love and pride for Long Beach hospitality but no central space to come together and grow, so I threw out the idea of, ‘Why we don’t start our own thing?’,” De Los Reyes said of a conversation he had with Olson. “We’re part of LA County, but we don’t necessarily get the attention we need, and he was feeling the same.”
Five months later, in November 2022, De Los Reyes, Olson and 25 other bar industry folk sat in a private dining room at the Westin Hotel for the first meeting of the newly minted Long Beach Bartenders Guild. With a plan to help educate local bartenders, cultivate a strong bar community and promote local bar industry, the guild has frequently hosted educational workshops, meet-ups and events in the months since its inception.
Now under a unified front, the Long Beach Bartenders Guild is hoping the community will turn out again for the return of Tropical Shakedown, the event that started it all, on Tuesday, June 27. Bartenders from Long Beach and neighboring cities “that touch Long Beach” such as Lakewood, Seal Beach and Signal Hill are invited to submit their original cocktail recipes featuring Don Papa seven-year rum. The deadline is June 16.
The recipes, which are free to enter, will be submitted without names to Don Papa brand ambassadors in New York, London and Manila and four finalists will be selected to compete during the event. The grand prize winner will receive two tickets to the Tiki Oasis, a cocktail convention in San Diego, which also includes a two-night hotel stay and at least one guest bartending shift at the convention to showcase their winning cocktail.
Last year’s winner was then The Social List bartender Sonny Esponda, who created the “Lovers Rock,” a bright and creamy tiki cocktail featuring an original cream and agave syrup crafted by Esponda. See for yourself how he made the cocktail below:
Tropical Shakedown is free to enter. The location of the competition is still TBD. To enter your recipe, email [email protected]. Learn more about the competition on the Long Beach Bartenders Guild Instagram here.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the last names of Dane Olson and Tomas De Los Reyes.