Monday, April 22, 2024

Long Beach Last Call draws thousands across 10-day celebration of bar culture

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Thousands of revelers—be they dancers or drinkers, in the industry or seeking to support it—came out in love for Long Beach Last Call: 15 events across 10 days of celebration in the name of our bar culture and the people behind one of our strongest social and economic drivers.

And for me organizing it, it is hard not to make this a personal thank you since this was a special collaboration that involved myself, my partner Samuel Cornejo, Chris Lewis of Nosotros, Scott Lennard of RNDC, and the countless folks within the industry.

This was and will always be an ode to an industry that is often not given the light it deserves—so the name “Last Call” has a double meaning: Yes, last call is the time when bartenders pour their last drink but the bar industry is also the last to be called on in the name of recognition. And I felt like changing that.

Long Beach Last Call’s three largest events each drew in hundreds

A free disco party aboard The Queen Mary dubbed Studio 534. A bar crawl in support of a neighborhood that means more than the world to me, Downtown Long Beach. A tiki cocktail competition that was hosted by the very space which returned tiki culture back to Long Beach, The Bamboo Club.

These were the events that drew in hundreds across each—like the 500 people who attended The Queen Mary’s disco party sponsored by Hendricks and Woodford Reserve (after the 1,000 free RSVPs were booked in 90 minutes).

“Last Call was such a hit on The Queen Mary,” said Steve Caloca, managing director for the historic ship. “The best part of the night was having so many of our local friends and neighbors dance the night away. Disco is always in, even on the regal Queen. Also, I know that our Observation Bar bartenders are creative and professional, but wow, they were on fire that evening. So proud to call them fellow crew members.”

For Downtown—a neighborhood that I feel has been horribly maligned, particularly by local media, when, in the words of ISM Brewing owner Ian McCall, “Every single downtown is experiencing, if not worse, the same thing Downtown Long Beach is experiencing”—it was a pretty amazing sight: Over 300 people showed up and showed out for a five-destination bar crawl that started at Altar Society before hitting up ISM Brewing, The Stave, The Ordinarie, and ending at Rosemallows.

The Downtown Long Beach Alliance was a supporter and sponsor of the event—sponsored by Proximo, the brand that owns everything from Don Julio and Bushmills to Centenario and 400 Conejos—and CEO and President Austin Metoyer said that the “Last Call Bar Crawl in Downtown Long Beach truly reinvigorated our entertainment district and bar scene, drawing crowds into the heart of the city with its vibrant energy.

“This event infused fresh energy into our nightlife, boosting patronage and showcasing the diverse and vibrant bar scene we are so proud of in DTLB. It wasn’t just an event; it was a celebration of community spirit, offering a fantastic opportunity for residents to explore the bustling downtown area and connect with their neighbors.”

Then when it came to an event meant to uplift the talent of our industry while also celebrating the fifth anniversary of one of our key establishments—the tiki cocktail completion at The Bamboo Club sponsored by Cutwater—co-owner Jim Ritson outright waxed poetic.

“The first annual Last Call immediately established itself as the perfect vehicle to recognize of the creativity, talent and camaraderie that is alive and thriving in the Long Beach bar community,” Ritson said. “It honestly highlighted the often under-appreciated talents of the masters of wellness, cheer and good times. We look forward to next year as I expect it to bloom in size, not unlike the emerging smile on the face of any thirsty patron kicking off their evening with some mysterious and fantastic cocktail…Last Call was the first call of a new and hopefully long running Long Beach celebration of talent.”

And other Long Beach Last Call events sold out and were packed to the brim

The kick-off event at The Bungalow—a part-private, part-public celebration on Mar. 1 sponsored by Cointreau and Nosotros—saw a line wrapped around the venue’s outside corridor while I curated a private party of bar owners, bar managers, politicians, and community leaders to network and coalesce.

“That party—and the events throughout the whole stretch of Last Call—has been not just uplifting but essential in getting our brand out there in Long Beach,” said Max Stecca, the master distiller behind our city’s newest distillery, Broken Spirits, in Downtown Long Beach. “I was able to network, problem solve, connect—it was great to feel like such a part of a community.”

We hosted a sold-out Irish coffee class with 50 guests at The Auld Dubliner in Downtown Long Beach on Mar. 3 sponsored by Tullamore Dew.

“Truly fun, genuinely kind group of people—and great to meet first timers to the pub,” said co-owner David Copley. “I even heard one say, ‘It’s the Long Beach Buena Vista,’ a nod to the great San Francisco bar known for its Irish coffees. Great event and happy that they were eager to learn the origin of the Irish coffee—Foynes in County Limerick. A success. Thank you to Tullamore Dew and to you, Brian.”

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Mar. 6 saw two events: a sold-out, 75-person tasting of Uncle Nearest, the country’s most significant Black-owned and Black woman-operated distillery, at BLACK Bar as well as a 35-person, sold-out wine tasting at Michael’s on Naples.

150 people attended an agave spirits tasting at Panxa Cocina, curated by bar manager Bryce Kaesman that featured not just some biggies like Siete Leguas and a new release from Don Julio but also an array of independent, lesser-known brands like Tequila Ocho, Nosotros, Cazcanes, and more.

“We couldn’t be more thrilled about the overwhelming success of the Long Beach Food Scene: Last Call event at Panxa earlier this month,” Kaesman said. “It was truly gratifying to see our sold-out crowd indulge in an array of quality tequilas and mezcals that our bar team has curated. Events like these not only tantalize taste buds but also broaden perspectives. We aimed to present attendees with the depth and diversity of tequilas and mezcals, and we believe Panxa succeeded in enhancing their appreciation for these exceptional agave spirits.”

Even more importantly, many stayed on board after the tasting to experience the restaurant’s menu offerings for dinner—bringing on a new patronage to the much loved space founded by Chef Art Gonzalez and now headed by his wife, Vanessa Auclair.

And the Big Red Bus bar crawl event? While we weren’t able to focus on the dive bars we originally intended to—we had to make it strategic for the bus in order to properly end it at Roxanne’s—the event that was sponsored by Modelo and Fernet was a hit. I’ll just let attendees speak for themselves:

The hopes and future of Long Beach Last Call

Long Beach Last Call was, by all means, a random occurrence: After the success of my first Long Beach Food Scene Week, many in the bar industry asked for a similar project in return—and I obliged but didn’t really know the extent to which bar culture around the country isn’t celebrated.

Aside from Tales of the Cocktails, massive event in New Orleans that attracts attendees from across the globe, there isn’t a major event dedicated solely to the industry in any major city. Nearly every cocktail week is attached to a restaurant week and even then, it is focused mainly on menus—not the people and places who make it.

So with the success of this year’s series of events, it only makes sense to do one thing for Long Beach Last Call 2025: make it a bit more regional with the people who are invited while keeping the entirety of its celebration within the boundaries of Long Beach and, slowly but surely, make Long Beach home to SoCal’s proper bar industry epicenter.

Brian Addison
Brian Addison
Brian Addison has been a writer, editor, and photographer for more than a decade, covering everything from food and culture to transportation and housing. In 2015, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club and has since garnered 25 nominations and three additional wins. In 2019, he was awarded the Food/Culture Critic of the Year across any platform at the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards.

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