Celebrating the season with a cocktail class at the Ritz.
By Hannah Wallace
OK,  picture this: It’s about 75 degrees outside, and you’re sitting at an outdoor bar with a direct view of the sunset on Sarasota Bay, as two men scurry around behind the bar, explaining how to make eggnog and insisting that Kentucky bourbon is the only bourbon there is, while they hand out cranberry champagne drinks and martinis rimmed with crushed candy cane.

Oh, and you’re wearing a silly Christmas hat. At the Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota.

Mmm...swizzle stick and hot buttered rum.


Dude. Serioulsy. My job is awesome.

I mean, a cocktail class for $25? I would’ve gladly done that on my own time, even if it were being held at the Hi-Way or the Drift-Inn. And this was as good as I’d dreamed it would be.

For starters, the setting. I always loved the Ca d’Zan Lounge’s terrace, which overlooks the Hyatt Marina with a peek at the bay. But before Wednesday’s class I’d never been to the Bay View Bar and Grill, which gives, as it promises, a direct view of the water from its horseshoe-shaped bar. This was where Copy Editor Megan, Biz 941 Editor Susan and I joined about 15 or so other women (what’s up, guys? No love for the eggnog?) for Ritz bartender Peter Whitely’s instructional on seven of his own holiday-themed potent potables. And while we’ve repeatedly praised bartender Pete here at the magazine, it should still be said that he’s a master of both sides of bartending: the palate for beverages and the personality for bar-goers. That’s really something that can be said for most if not all Ritz employees, but for Pete especially: They make you feel as though you actually belong there. (That includes all the valets who kept a straight face while handling the Seafoam Monster, may she rest in peace.)

 Copy Editor Megan and I show off our bounty.


Suzanne Willis, the Ritz’s new PR maven, gets a ton of credit for the event. The collection of goofy holiday hats, I thought, was particularly genius for lightening the mood (just in case the booze wasn’t enough). Five minutes in, we all had champagne flutes in hand, me in my green tinsely thing and Megan in her big blue boa.
And educational, too! Pete explained ingredients and technique before dishing out samples of each of the concoctions: the Poinsettia (cranberry champagne), Ritz-Carlton egg nog, candy cane martini, hot buttered rum, the White Christmas (vanilla vodka and white chocolate Godiva liquer-based), A Grinch Christmas (citrus vodka with Apple Pucker and other assorted goodies), and the Rudolph (citrus vodka, Cointreau, white cranberry juice). The eggnog, with its quart of ice cream and Makers Mark, was a big hit. I plan to put it in a bowl and pretend it’s vichyssoise.
And of course, as the evening wore on, the crowd’s volume grew. I sort of wondered how Pete would be able to hold tipsy peoples’ attention through the two hours, but folks were asking questions about grenadine and Cointreau through the last drink.
While this was the last of the holiday-themed classes, Suzanne promises more educational opportunities to come.
So now that I’m well versed in the art of the classy Christmas cocktail, today I did some last-minute shopping to prepare for our Chrappy Christmas party. I’m particularly fond of our new snow globe with a gold cross inside that clinks out “The 12 Days of Christmas” in uneven, music-box notes. That and our bologna hors d’ouevres should be big hits. We’re expecting a group of hockey players, as well as some folks from work and from other parts of our lives. Embarrassing pictures and video to come.