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Tampa’s prohibition Repeal Day Party will be four-day celebration

— The city’s biggest craft cocktail celebration is about to get bigger.

Tampa’s Repeal Day Party, celebrating the Dec. 5 anniversary of when Prohibition was overturned, will become the four-day Repeal Day Conference & Gala, with seminars, spirit-pairing dinners and a blowout party at the Cuban Club in Ybor City.

The goal: To put Tampa firmly on the cocktail map along with trendy cities like Portland, Oregon, Austin, Texas, and New York City.

Bartender Justin Gray of Anise Global Gastrobar and Dean Hurst, spirits director for Bern’s Steak House, SideBern’s and the Epicurean Hotel, are modeling this year’s event on Tales of the Cocktail, a five-day annual bartending conference in New Orleans that attracts 15,000 industry professionals from around the world each July.

Tampa’s Repeal Day party first took place Dec. 5, 2010, in the basement of the Don Vicente de Ybor Historic Inn in Ybor City. The event was conceived by Hurst as a way to form a Tampa Bay chapter of the U.S. Bartenders Guild. The result was a 1920s-themed party with classic, hand-crafted Prohibition-era cocktails and attendees dressed as flappers, saloon operators and gangsters.

To the Tampa-born Gray, who joined the USBG chapter in 2011 after graduating from the University of Notre Dame with degrees in economics and African-American studies, the guild represented a higher performance standard for a profession with a less than honorable reputation.

“Guild members were all about protecting the virtues that make the profession more than just a bunch of alcoholics getting together and getting wasted and irresponsible,” he said.

Over the years, Repeal Day grew to occupy the entire Don Vicente hotel, with live music and burlesque performers and various rooms themed to different eras and cocktail styles.

As the guild’s membership grew, it also began throwing a summer tiki cocktail party on St. Pete Beach. The group now has about 135 members from Tampa, St. Petersburg and Sarasota.

The 2014 Repeal Day events will start Dec. 4 with cocktail-pairing dinners at a half-dozen local restaurants. (The locations will be revealed closer to the event date, Gray said.)

On Dec. 5, industry heavyweights will give seminars throughout the day. Those scheduled to appear include master mixologist Dale “King Cocktail” DeGroff; Elayne Duff of Diageo Spirits; world-renowned beverage consultant Philip Duff; global rum ambassador Ian Burrell; Dushan Zaric of Employees Only bar in New York City; and cocktail historian Elizabeth Pearce.

At 5:32 p.m. that day — the exact time when the Volstead Act was repealed 81 years ago — a toast and happy hour will take place at the Don Vicente Inn.

On Dec. 6, the fifth annual Repeal Day Gala will be held at the Cuban Club. A VIP reception will start at 8 p.m., while the extravagant main party, featuring dancing, casino games and burlesque entertainers, begins an hour later.

“I have my fingers crossed, but ideally there will be champagne falling from the sky if I get my way,” Gray said.

It’s not all about the party, though. As during Tales of the Cocktail, which benefits community efforts in New Orleans, Repeal Day participants will perform charitable work to renovate the Tampa Heights Youth and Community Center on North Lamar Street with the Tampa Heights Junior Civic Association. Also, a portion of ticket sales will benefit the Because of Ezra pediatric cancer research foundation.

The goal is to promote Tampa as a destination for cocktail lovers, Hurst said.If you’re in the bar business, you want everyone to know about Tampa, he said.

“If you’re following a path to being a bar professional and you want to take it to that next level and you’re following all these events around the country, you’re going to hear about Tampa because of Repeal Day.”

For more information about tickets, prices and events, go to RepealDay Party.com for updates.

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