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'Tis the season ... for martinis! • City Hall vs. The Tent

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'Tis the season ... for martinis!

The 4th Annual Martini Mix-Off begins Thursday with a big lineup of new and returning competitors. If the judging is as competitive as in previous years, imbibers will be downright giddy with some of the best libations in the Northwest during the entire month of May. This year's returning participants include Mai Thai, Piper Pub & Grill, Reef, Bardenay, Pair, The Milky Way and The Red Feather. Not since the first year have we seen so many new competitors mixing it up. They include Tablerock Brew Pub, 8th Street Wine Co., Red Room, The Front Door and Lush.

It works like this: Every Thursday in May, five judges (including yours truly for the fourth time in a row) visit three bars where they swirl, smell, sip and suck down three martinis. Yes, that is nine martinis every Thursday night. OK, the judges might not drink the whole thing, but if you cajole them enough, perhaps even double-dog dare them, you might be able to see one or two fall off a stool by the last bar. (Judges are sent home in a cab, by the way.)

The categories are the classic (your basic gin or vodka with an olive ... "Shaken, not stirred, Mr. Bond"), the original (which can be tart, sweet or fruity but breaks the traditional martini rules just a bit) and the sponsor category. The sponsor this year is Absolut so bartenders must invent a drink that uses something in their proverbial spirit stable.

Thursday night beginning at 6 p.m. The judges will arrive by limo at the 8th Street Wine Co., then will move on to the next bar after an hour or so. The following bars this first week are Red Room (next to Pair on Main Street) and Mai Thai. The food category makes a comeback this year is so the judges will be able to gnash while they nosh. (Or is it nosh while they gnash?)

On Tuesday, May 29, finalists will gather at the Rose Room where judges will be re-tasting and re-judging. This year, the finals will be judged "blind": Each judge will sit at his or her own themed table (which they decorate themselves), and won't know whose martini is who's, making judging and audience participation a little more fun. Then, the big martini gala will be held the night of June 2, at a location yet to be determined, where the overall winners will be announced.

Why would you want to follow a bunch of judges around and watch them taste martinis? Well, because you can get a martini coupon book that includes a ticket for one martini at each of the 12 participating bars where you can try one of their competition martinis, and a pass to the final Grand Gala. And, on each judging night, some bars like to put on a little show to make the night extra special for everyone in attendance. After a few martinis, the entertainment becomes, well, even more entertaining.

During the month of May, watch this space for martini history, updates and this judge's inside view of the competition.

—Bingo Barnes (professional martini judge)

Tickets are available at each participating bar.

City Hall vs. The Tent

A tent may have been a perfectly acceptable solution to Ada County's prison inmate overflow, according to Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter, but the city of Eagle disagreed that a tent was acceptable to accommodate restaurant overflow seating.

Earlier this year, city officials in Eagle told Eagle Rib Shack owner Andrew Petrehn that the large, heated tent he had erected outside his restaurant to provide additional seating did not have the proper building permits and requested that Petrehn remove the structure.

Petrehn objected, saying that because the indoor seating in his restaurant was limited to a handful of people, the tent was necessary and its dismantling could jeopardize his business. In March, after negotiations with the city, Petrehn was given 30 days to remove the tent before the city took further action. Last week, Petrehn complied and took down the tent.

"Since the weather has warmed up, it's not that big of an issue now" said Petrehn. However, he is already preparing for next year's cold season. Despite claims that he would take his business out of Eagle if the city forced him to remove the tent, Petrehn says he's had such a supportive response from Eagle customers that he no longer plans to leave.

"We've decided to stay. However, we do plan to move," explains Petrehn. "We've located a building [in Eagle] that will take care of the seating problem." Petrehn says he hopes to complete the move this summer, and in the meantime, he jokes, there's overflow seating at city hall.

—Rachael Daigle