Preview and photos by Joshua Maloni
Lewiston just can't quench its thirst for history.
Water Street Landing proprietor Jon DiBernardo, event planner Melissa Morinello and Niagara River Region Chamber of Commerce Board Chairman Richard Haight met Thursday with more than two-dozen people, including several village restaurant representatives, members of the Historical Association of Lewiston and the Lewiston Council on the Arts, to unveil the new event celebrating history and, well, drinking. The first Lewiston Cocktail Festival will take place on Saturday, March 2.
"One of the first things I heard (upon coming to Lewiston eight years ago), was the culture and the history - War of 1812, Underground Railroad, all the different cultural festivals. But I kept hearing the underlying theme of the cocktail," DiBernardo said. " 'Oh, it was invented here.' I kept saying, 'Well, we've got to do something. Somebody's got to do something.' ... So finally I said it's time we do something."
A flier sent to those in attendance reads, "From the first moment Catherine Hustler plucked a peacock quill from the back wall of the Lewiston bar she was tending and stirred the spirits of a French soldier's libation some 200 years ago, things just haven't been the same.
"After numerous conversations, speculations, and roads paved with good intentions, it's time we let the world know the 'Cocktail Capital' ... the 'Mecca of Mixology' ... is none other than Lewiston, New York."
All details are tentative at this point, but it appears the Lewiston Cocktail Festival will be somewhat modeled after the popular Tour of Kitchens and Homes. Attendees will purchase a ticket and, during a set number of hours, visit participating restaurants and/or retail stores in whichever order they please. The pass is set to be priced at $25; each ticketholder would be entitled to a taste of a cocktail and perhaps more (food or some other discount).
"I think that this is a great opportunity to bring a lot of attention to this community," DiBernardo said.
"My objective is not to turn this into Mardi Gras. ... What I'm looking to do here is to bring a demographic of mature 25-year-olds to immature 70-year-olds," he added. "The goal is to bring every restaurant not just a cocktail business and alcohol business, but to bring them diners, as well."
As drinking is highlighted in the festival, it's expected the Barton Hill Hotel & Spa will offer patrons special overnight room rates for the weekend.
Morinello encouraged HAL and the LCA to get involved with the Lewiston Cocktail Festival.
"Catherine Hustler is really this character that has told the story of the history of the cocktail," she said.
Hustler's Tavern was located on the corner of Center and North Eighth streets (recently Dennis Brochey's Automotive). Exactly what Catherine did with the cocktail is unclear. Some say American soldiers raided a British commissary in Canada and took possession of a number of chickens and roosters, which Catherine roasted for dinner. In one variation of the story, when serving British soldiers at the bar, Catherine put a cock's tail in their cups to identify them to other patrons. In another tale, a U.S. soldier saw Catherine place a feather in a glass and asked for his own "cock tail."
Part of Catherine's story was repurposed for James Fenimore Cooper's book "The Spy."
"Catherine was not a native of here. She moved here. She could have invented the cocktail before she came to Lewiston, but this is where it was served," said HAL volunteer Lee Simonson. "This is where it was first recognized."
Catherine Hustler died in 1832 at the age of 70. She is buried in the Village of Lewiston.
Kathryn Serianni has portrayed Catherine Hustler as part of the LCA's "Marble Orchard Ghost Tours." She gave meeting guests an impromptu reading during Thursday's gathering.
DiBernardo said it's important Lewiston take control over Catherine's story, and ownership of the birth of the cocktail.
The Lewiston Cocktail Festival, he said, is a way to do that, and to boost business during a traditionally slow time of year.
"I think this is a rare opportunity," DiBernardo said. "If we just go narrow-minded and say, 'Let's sell a lot of drinks, here,' it's never going to work. And if you sit here and say, 'Let's have a historical whatever,' that's not going to work. Let's bring them together."
Further details on the Lewiston Cocktail Festival will be provided in the near future.
Businesses participating in the event will be asked to pay a $100 fee, which Morinello said would go into an overall budget to create a limited liability company and pay for marketing expenses. For the first go-around, the Chamber of Commerce will handle the money.
A portion of the proceeds may go to a charitable cause or a not-for-profit agency. That has yet to be determined.