Tampa Bay-based craft distillery Dark Door Spirits is releasing an essential vodka called “Pandemic at the Disco” in support of the hospitality industry that has been adversely impacted by COVID-19.
“Just like the essential workers that have bravely kept us going for many months, this is the essential vodka that has the power to make the best of any situation – even the hot mess that is 2020”, said Dark Door Founder and CEO Matt Allen.
Fifty percent of Dark Door Spirits profits from sales of Pandemic at the Disco will be donated to charitable organizations supporting the local hospitality industry, including the U.S. Bartender Guild COVID-19 relief fund.
Pandemic at the Disco is available through local distribution from Pepin Distributing Co. and Great Bay Distributors as well as many local liquor stores and restaurants in the Tampa Bay area.
Luekens and Drizly will be retail partners for those who want to enjoy responsibly at home.
“We’re doing this now because we see a need in the community – a need for something to benefit the hospitality industry and a need for a laugh while not sugar-coating the mess we’re in,” Allen said.
“We want to support the people who have supported us all these years. Creating a great product with a fun label seemed like one thing we could do.”
“By ordering Pandemic at the Disco by name at their favorite bar or restaurant, Tampa Bay residents are helping their friends and neighbors in the hospitality industry at a time when they are struggling to make ends meet”, Allen said.
Dark Door Spirits was founded in 2016 in Tampa Bay by Co-Founders Matthew Allen and Brandon Marshall focusing on “crafting unique and unexpectedly delicious spirits”.
COVID-19 has impacted numerous industries around the country. One of the hardest hit industries is the bar industry where bartenders have constantly found themselves in shutdowns with rent still due and clothes that needs washing.
Recently, Florida’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation closed bars and breweries around the state as virus cases continue to spin out of control due to very little regulation or engagement from Tallahassee.
I talked recently with Justin Gray from the United States Bartenders’ Guild chapter in Tampa Bay, a long time supporter of the industry and one of the best local bartenders I know.
I wanted to get the story behind how they ended up partnering with a non-profit called Current Initiatives and their Laundry Project which is “committed to educating and mobilizing communities to be Hope Dealers” for a project called A Drink Pocalypse that is raising money for bartenders and also for Current Initatives.
Supporters can purchase videos on cocktail techniques from experts around the Tampa Bay at the low cost of $10 and help support the industry and those who need it most.
Carlos Eats: What’s the story behind the partnership between USBG Tampa Bay Chapter and Current Initiatives?
JG: There isn’t a backstory – there is the reality of restaurant closures and the response to COVID-19. It was unexpected and something that none of us knew how to prepare for.
When it happened more than anything it was kind of a sense of emergency. I don’t think it was something light-hearted. We need something now.
USBG and bartenders…we’ve had meetings and conversations. A Drink Pocalypse happened in late April, while restaurants and bar were initially closed in March. We as an industry hadn’t figured it out.
There was a sense of urgency.
Carlos Eats: So survival pretty much?
JG: Sam Adams did something. Guy Fieri too. However too many people are impacted for one of those to have an actual lasting effect. Seeing how many people lost their jobs nationally, there is no way for those programs to guarantee that the assistance would come into our zip codes.
We wanted to do something where all funds would be kept right here in Tampa. Open to anyone throughout the Bay Area. The candidate pool was smaller.
That’s what drove us.
Carlos Eats: How can people help?
JG:Current Initatives has been around. When the restaurant closures happened, they extended their programs to include the hospitality programs.
What a lot of people aren’t thinking about. One of the most unfortunate things is the number of places that are permanently closed. We aren’t counting how many places have closed permanently or indefinitely.
Even though some restaurants are open, we are going to continue to provide help as long as we can.
Cocktail videos from bartenders from M. Bird, Copper and Shaker, the best bars in Tampa will show you different cocktail techniques. The video is a learn video.
As a bar manager or owner, you can purchase this video and they have incredible techniques that can be implemented. Sales go directly to Current Initiatives.
Carlos Eats: What do you think the state or city should be doing to help?
JG: I don’t want to make this sound like it is only a bartender phenomenon. If I can get sick at a bar, I can get sick anywhere else. The policy is inconsistent.
The situation is like this: either people go hungry or people lose their lives. Either people pay rent or people pay their lives. It’s an impossible situation and it is absolutely necessary that institutions – that they be there.
Stimulus checks can be good or bad. We need to halt rent payments. Our government has to care enough about us. The numbers in Florida are record breaking, at the same time people cannot afford not to have money.
None of us citizens are able to stop the coronavirus. There is nothing we as citizens can do besides looking at our government. Please continue to provide support. People are not able to work.
It’s time for us to look at how the government can continue to extender rent or mortgage deferments. The government is the only one who can help us.
Everyone needs help.
The more people that buy the video the better.
I then wanted to get more of the story behind Current Initiatives so I talked with the Founder Jason Sowell. He is a native Floridian who has worked in the non-profit sector for 20 years. He is a public speaker, writer, non-profit entrepreneur, missionary, wedding officiant & podcast host.
Carlos Eats: Can you start off with the history behind Current Initiatives?
JS: Current Initiatives started 12 years ago. Our first initiative was The Laundry Project. Out of learning stories about families that live in the area, I learned laundromats are expensive and not a fun place.
Lots of families struggle between groceries or laundry. I sought to turn laundromats into community centers and provide free laundry for those in need. I had big expansions plans for new locations and citizens, then the pandemic happened.
Things shut down. I pivoted back to Tampa – which is my home that I love. Recognizing that it is not just lower income families. People are out of work. The hospitality industry is hit hard. People will struggle to do their laundry.
I sat down with Mayor Jane Castor and TPD and I said we need to keep doing this. I told them I hope they will keep laundromats an essential business.
Carlos Eats: Would volunteers be helpful?
JS: We typically use volunteers, but shut down most of it due to the pandemic. A few bartenders and servers are personal friends that were laid off and hadn’t participated before then offered to help.
The hospitality industry got involved as volunteers and for 3 months teams of hospitality workers have worked 3 days a week to help in laundromats. 1 day a week is for hospitality workers. Bartenders went to bars and restaurants and told people about the project. Whoever needs can sign-up.
Carlos Eats: How can the general public help?
JS: Donations are what we are seeking. People can contact to volunteer when things get better. The need has been great. Typically we do 80 projects in a year, but in 16 weeks we have done 48 projects. Much more than usual. We don’t have plans to slow down.
Carlos Eats: What policy solutions could be used to help?
JS: A huge block of citizens who use laundromats are there by force. Prices at laundromats are what they are due to policy decisions. At home you pay for water by the gallon, but laundromats pay in tiers which strains operators and raises prices on citizens. It’s a slim-margin business.
Carlos Eats: How else can the government make a difference?
JS: Government assistance is usually only for food. People cannot use it for household supplies. Nor can they use it at a laundromat which is a problem.
Also – lower-income families are operating on cash. Politicians are pushing cashless which is harder on lower-income families who may not have bank accounts for contact-less payments and the hospitality industry which is paid in cash from tips.
There is a coin shortage due to a shutdown at the mint. Politicians need to get creative to get quarters to help families who need to wash their clothes. Bad policy can make things worse for people already struggling.
We as a society need to think about doing things in way that is dignifying for people getting help or empowering. Decisions during the coronavirus unintentionally are hurting lower-income families because leaders are not thinking things through.
Carlos Eats: I agree. The shutdown of bars and breweries is a perfect example of rushed decision making.
JS: Yes – that shutdown depends largely on license types. If you are coded for a restaurant you are allowed to operate, while other businesses close.
If I had to home in on a temporary measure we need to take, we need to make it easier for people out of work to get funds for things they need. Unemployment access.
Some bartenders have spent weeks and months helping other bartenders that need help, while struggling themselves to get on unemployment. That needs to change.
Carlos Eats: Thank you for your time. I know I learned a ton.
Bartenders showcased their talents and the winners move on to London (the home of Bombay Sapphire) for the finals and the chance to win $10,000, a digital feature in GQ, and other Conde Nast digital properties.
Cocktail competitions are awesome because you get to see bartenders push themselves to the limit. Bartenders have that same creativity that chefs show in the kitchen and the same passion too. The United States Bartenders Guild (USBG) helps to promote that and USBG Miami helped to partner with this event.
Bartenders are judged on flavor, appearance, bartender presentation, and imagination. The key to these competitions is to make something new, while also staying true to the spirit that you’re competing with. Due to these requirements, the people’s choice award will often not be the same as the one the judges choose.
Last night’s winner for people’s choice was Evan Lewis from Taquerias el Mexicano in Miami. His cocktail is called “Queen’s Bouget” and incorporates Bombay Sapphire Gin, Blueberry “Gin-ager”, Lemon Aquafaba, Blueberry Cardamom syrup, Sparkling Elderflower Liqueur, topped with a Floral Candy Orchid. This drink made gin truly fun to drink.
The winners of the Southeast judging contest who will move on to London are:
Derek Stilmann from Beaker + Gray in Miami. His drink is called “Who I Am” and incorporates elements of his life into each ingredient. The cocktail has Bombay Sapphire Gin, Spiced Milk Syrup, Lustau Cream Sherry, Gunpowder Tea, Orange Liqueur, Absinthe Salt, and Rose Mist.
Cody Henson from El Coyote Charleston with “Ceylon Fix”. This drink includes Bombay Sapphire Gin, Lemon Juice, Pineapple Syrup, and Doctor Possner’s New Star Soda.