Since its debut in 2007, Bar Convent Berlin has established a reputation as one of the booze business’ biggest trade shows. Equally emphasizing the products behind the bar, including spirits, craft beer and coffee, along with the people serving it, the event has succeeded where so many of its kind have failed: concentrating, with purpose, an entire industry under one roof.
Next month, the operation goes on the road for the first time with Bar Convent Brooklyn at Brooklyn Expo Center in Greenpoint (June 12 and 13). Over two days, 125 exhibitors and more than 200 brands look to replicate its winning formula on this side of the Atlantic.
As a beer and spirits writer, I attended BCB for the first time in 2015, brandishing my passport and braving nearly 10 hours of flight time for a taste of what had been nicknamed Bartenders’ Christmas. And I found it well worth the time and effort.
Upon entry, the energy exuding from Station Berlin was palpable. The football-field-size train hall, which has housed the confab since inception, was buzzing with live demos and countless tastings. Surrounding me were some of Europe’s top ambassadors, artisans and craftspeople, all of whom came to see what everyone was up to and gauge what might be percolating on the horizon.
“Bar Convent Berlin is where the who’s-who of the spirits and beverage industry come together,” says Paula November, the vice president of the Brooklyn incarnation. “They exchange knowledge, discover new trends and product launches and experience the Berlin bar scene.”
That the event should end up in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint neighborhood, of all places, is hardly happenstance. “We spent quite a bit of time researching venues and cities,” says November. “New York City has the highest concentration of bartenders. It’s a mecca for innovation and trends in the community.”
It’s also sorely in need of this sort of gathering, filling a void left after the high-profile collapse of the Manhattan Cocktail Classic.
But BCB isn’t an overly ambitious undertaking; it’s a manageable two-day affair set in a moderately sized convention hall, not unlike Station Berlin that birthed it. “It was important to stay true to the BCB Berlin brand and image, so we had to select a creative city and venue, and Brooklyn and Brooklyn Expo Center met those criteria,” says November.
Attendees can expect to mingle with up to 5,000 industry insiders per day. Three-dozen seminars will be spread out across two stages, with approximately 60 speakers slated to take the mic. By comparison, last year’s Bar Convent Berlin brought in 13,000 visitors and 140 moderators.
Intimacy, though, might be one of the event’s biggest selling points. As the industry’s foremost festival, New Orleans’ Tales of the Cocktail struggles through controversy and new ownership, many bar professionals are in search of something with more meaning and less pageantry. The timing of Bar Convent Brooklyn, it would seem, is particularly auspicious.
Yet it won’t arrive without its own set of challenges. Hip as it is, Greenpoint doesn’t hold a hotel scene to speak of. Out-of-towners will have to plan accordingly, most likely booking their stay across the river. And the neighborhood is also something of a mass transit outlier for New York, serviced by a single subway line. As the city’s only major line that doesn’t run into Manhattan, it’s not particularly efficient, nor appreciated by locals.
Of course, these are minor hurdles against the lofty logistics required to bring an effective industry conference to bear. And in this regard, BCB’s formidable expertise is its greatest asset.
Berlin offers a well-manicured trade show, with many moving parts flowing seamlessly upon one massive footprint. Recreate this here, and you can expect to see the bar world’s best and brightest shaking hands in Brooklyn later this spring. And perhaps best of all, you won’t need a passport to enjoy the view.