The SACC ice sculpture at the SACC Stroll on Houston Street. Photo by Scott Ball.
The SACC ice sculpture at the SACC Stroll on Houston Street. Photo by Scott Ball.

San Antonians and cocktail lovers from all over will drink to new, deliciously immersive experiences during the 5th Annual San Antonio Cocktail Conference on Jan. 14-17. The four-day event will celebrate the best of local and national cocktail culture with parties, seminars, and paired tastings. More than 45 presenters are scheduled to educate, entertain, and imbibe.

Developed by Bohanan’s owner Mark Bohanan and General Manager Scott Becker, the Cocktail Conference is operated by the nonprofit Houston Street Charities which donates 100% of event proceeds to organizations that benefit children. The 2016 recipients include: Children’s Shelter, ChildSafe, Clarity Child Guidance Center, TEAMability, and Transplants for Children.

Sasha Petraske, Courtesy Photo.
Sasha Petraske, Courtesy Photo. Credit: Courtesy photo

This year’s event will pay homage to the conference’s co-founder Sasha Petraske, who died suddenly in August 2015 at the age of 42 at his home in Hudson, N.Y.

Hired by Bohanan to elevate the downstairs bar of the upscale steakhouse, Petraske quietly led the cocktail revolution in San Antonio, but his work influenced drink cultures throughout the world. His wife Georgette Moger worked with local event organizers this year to create a conference that would honor his work and celebrate his legacy for years to come.

“I absolutely believe that there is Sasha in a huge percentage of the bars in San Antonio right now. So many of these bartenders were classically trained at Bohanan’s, his handprint can be seen and his influence was tremendous,” said Cathy Siegel, Houston Street Charities executive director. “How lucky we were, that he chose San Antonio as a second home.”

The Cocktail Conference website will permanently have a place for Petraske and the events will carry on his work and legacy, which have helped put San Antonio’s food and drink culture on the national map.

Bohanan’s will hold a free, public roundtable on Thursday, Jan. 14. The event, 4:30-6 p.m., will feature local and national industry figures including George’s Keep General Manager Tim Bryand, Bohanan’s Bar Manager Jordan Corney and New York Times’ resident cocktail expert Robert Simonson, who will moderate the discussion.

Daiquiris, Petraske’s favorite cocktail, will be the drink of choice during the Classic Daiquiri Hour & Toast, where friends and partners will share stories and memories of Petraske. Entry is free, but all daiquiri sales will benefit Houston Street Charities. Event organizers hope the toast will become a tradition every year before the Cocktail Conference’s Opening Night at the Majestic.

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Classic Happenings: Opening Night, Stroll on Houston, and Paired Dinners

Opening Night is an epic kickoff to the annual conference, where attendees dress their best and enjoy a variety of cocktails and culinary treats while exploring the Majestic Theatre‘s classic architecture and glamorous decor. Saturday night’s Stroll on Houston starts at Bohanan’s and extends the street to include spots like IBC Plaza, the Sheraton Gunter Hotel, Hotel Valencia and several pop-ups. Attendees can enjoy craft cocktails and the best of local food while being serenaded by live music from an 18-piece orchestra.

The Paired Dinners look better than ever this year. Guests can sip spirits and cocktails from brand ambassadors while enjoying an intimate dinner and talk with the chefs. Chef John Russ, of Lüke San Antonio, joined with Zacapa Rum to create a delicious food and drink experience. Other participating restaurants include: Mixtli, Two Bros BBQ, Folc, and Cured.

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“These dinners always give us an opportunity to get out of the box within our normal life,” Russ said of the food-drink collaboration. “The wonderful aged body and incredible range of flavors really give depth to the character. Inside of that range is where we get to play with the food for this dinner.”

Russ and his team are still working on the menu, but he promised dishes would include venison and flavorful Eastern spices.

“Each course will present a unique profile that gives the diner a view of the exquisite rums and the flavors that are associated,” he said. “We hope that guests will enjoy a relaxed and exciting dinner with our friends from Zacapa.”

New This Year: Women Shaking It Up

Women Shaking It Up, a new cocktail event at Arneson River Theatre at La Villita, celebrates female bartenders and chefs in San Antonio who are challenging the norm. The premiere of a mini-documentary, “Women of Tin,” follows three local, strong female bartenders: Paramour’s Karah Carmack, Barbaro’s Elisabeth Forsythe and Esquire Tavern’s Hillary Woodhouse.

After the event, food and drinks will made by some of the best chefs and bartenders in San Antonio, who happen to be women. General admission is $65, premium seat and in-seat beverage service tickets are $80. All profits from Women Shaking It Up will go directly to Girls, Inc. of San Antonio.

Karah Carmack serves up a freshly mixed daiquiri at Hot Joy. Photo by Scott Ball.
Karah Carmack serves up a freshly mixed daiquiri at Hot Joy in December 2014. Photo by Scott Ball.

Forsythe credits her experiences at past Cocktail Conference events and the local speed rack competitions with helping her learn the ins and outs of the bar industry.

“Compared to other markets, we have a huge presence of women,” Forsythe said. “In other cities, still you see women holding things together behind the scenes – here we’re starting to show it and celebrate it.

Click to here learn more about the 2016 Speed Rack, an all-female bartender competition that routinely draws a fun crowd and offers an impressive look into the craft.

“I am so proud of my city,” Forsythe added. “The work ethic and creativity and drive here is up to par, and it’s just an awesome, awesome thing that I’m just so proud to be a part of.”

Tickets to individual events and package deals, which often sell out days before, are on sale now at This year the St. Anthony Hotel is hosting Cocktail Conference Central in its library, a one-stop-shop for attendees to pick up tickets, purchase merchandise, plan out their days, and – of course – enjoy a craft cocktail.

*Top Image: The 2015 San Antonio Cocktail Conference ice sculpture during Stroll on Houston Street. Photo by Scott Ball. 

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Lea Thompson is a Texas native who has lived in Houston, Austin and San Antonio. She enjoys exploring new food and culture events. Follow her adventures on Instagram, Twitter or Culture Spoon.