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New Women-Led Chicago Cocktail Conference to Tackle Diversity and More

Chicago Style will take place in May

Chicago Style founders (left to right) Sharon Bronstein, Shelby Allison, and Caitlan Laman
Anjali Pinto
Ashok Selvam is the editor of Eater Chicago and a native Chicagoan armed with more than two decades of award-winning journalism. Now covering the world of restaurants and food, his nut graphs are super nutty.

A trio of Chicago women in the cocktail industry have launched a new conference to address issues including the sector’s lack of inclusivity — a topic brought to the forefront last year in New Orleans at the long-running Tales of the Cocktail conference. The four-day event, which is open to the public, is called Chicago Style and will bring together a star-studded group of industry insiders from May 7 to 10 at the Ace Hotel in Fulton Market, giving out of town visitors a reason to stay in Chicago for a little bit longer after the James Beard Awards which take place on May 7.

Shelby Allison (co-owner of Lost Lake — the acclaimed tiki bar in Logan Square), Caitlin Laman (beverage director at the Ace Hotel Chicago and a Food and Wine best new mixologist), and Sharon Bronstein (marketing director for The 86 Company, a maker and importer of alcoholic spirits) created the conference. They want to empower marginalized voices in their white male dominated industry. The Tribune juxtaposed the event as a response to Tales of the Cocktail. The founders of the annual event walked away after a series of racially insensitive events at last year’s conference, including use of blackface. Those events ignited a conversation about diversity in the cocktail and spirit industry. The conference now has new ownership and will take place in July.

Allison told The New York Times that the three began making plans for the conference early last year, before Tales From the Cocktail. The types of conversation that they hope to kindle at the conference are past due, she said.

Chicago Style also includes male participants, including mixologist Paul McGee. The Tribune stressed the event’s goal of intersectionality, to include a variety of voices — queer, black, and more. Chicago voices include Alexis Brown and Ariel Brown (Causing a Stir), Jacyara de Oliveira (El Che Bar and La Sirena Clandestina), Mony Bunni (Boleo), and Nandini Khaund (Chicago Athletic Association). They’re also bringing in out of town guests including Ashtin Berry from Tokyo Record Bar in New York and Josh Harris of San Francisco’s Trick Dog — where Laman once worked.

The conference will also tackle the environment and substance abuse. Last year, Lost Lake hosted the British zero-waste cocktail pop-up Trash Tiki. The nationally touring gang is back to talk about their best practices. Meanwhile, Chicago Style’s organizers will release the full schedule later in February and tickets go on sale on March 1. Another marquee event tied to the conference is the Speed Rack championship, the competition for female bartenders that benefits breast cancer charities.

A portion of the proceeds of the conference will go toward Chicago Period Project and the James Beard Foundation’s Women Leadership Programs. Follow the conference via Instagram for updates.

Eater New Orleans reached out to Tales of the Cocktail. In a statement, their organizers patted themselves on the back by mentioning that they’ve hosted groups, including Causing a Stir, in past years and given them a platform to grow. They added that their focus is on preparation for July.

Ace Hotel

20 West 29th Street, Manhattan, NY 10001 (212) 679-2222 Visit Website