Bellingham Cocktail Week takes place this month, from February 1st through the 9th. While Bellingham may have a reputation as a beer town, the folks organizing cocktail week want to make it known that there’s a lot more to the city’s beverage culture.

“We really want to be able to draw some attention to the [cocktail] scene here, celebrating what’s happening and also kind of encouraging people to come see it
for themselves,” says Cocktail Week organizer Sara Holodnick.

Over the course of the week, attendees can enjoy specialty drinks at favorite watering holes all over town as well as events like a bartender’s competition. The week culminates with a Tasting Expo & Gala at the Hotel Leo.

The first Cocktail Week took place in 2016, but looked a little different than it does today. At the time, it was organized by the former owners from Temple Bar and the Red Light.

“They did a first iteration of Cocktail Week that happened in, I think it was December of that year,” Holodnick says. “After doing the first one, they realized they didn’t have the capacity to plan another one, so we skipped a year, and they asked me if I wanted to take it on. I was like, ‘Yes!’ but then I was like, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing!’ So I approached the fellas at HappyChap Creative and we pulled it together. That was two Cocktail Weeks ago. The 2020 one will be our third together,” Holodnick says.

For the first time ever, Cocktail Week has a theme. “Into the Cosmos,” was the brainchild of collaborator Kristina Michele.

“We realized very quickly after our second iteration [of Cocktail Week] ‘Oh, this thing is kind of ready to grow in a big way,’” Holodnick says. “It was [Michele’s] idea to give it a theme.”

“I probably spent two days kicking it around in my head, going, ‘Is it just too on-the-nose?’ It just seemed so simple. I now have the idea that I want for 2021, which will remain our secret for a while. But there was just something so perfect about the galaxy theme, and not having had a theme before, it means anything really… It just felt right,” Michele says.

The bartender competition started in 2016 with the first Cocktail Week and, after switching organizers, took a break until 2019. Now, in 2020, the competition is expanding.

“Last time around, it was really cool. We had a little cocktail challenge with Herb’s Cider—folks made cocktails incorporating [Herb’s Cider] as an ingredient, which was really fun. This year, what we decided to do in alignment with that theme, was have folks competing in the bartender competition create a special that [was
available to the public] through the whole month of January. So even though Cocktail Week is in February, we were like, ‘Why not?’ So it [gave] everybody in town an opportunity to go try these cocktails that the competitors are using. We [had] a voting component, and a passport that people [could] get this year. They [were]
able to vote for their favorite drink as well, so they actually [got] to kind of participate in the selection.”

In addition to public votes, a panel of judges also examined the technical aspects of the cocktails. The top three bartenders, as selected by both the public and the judges, will go on to a live competition at the end of Cocktail Week. For 2020, there are a total of 16 bartenders entered into the competition.

When asked about how much the event has grown, Michele and Holodnick both laughed. “Soooooo much,” Holodnick says. In 2019, Cocktail Week saw 30 participating bars; as of mid-December 2019, 2020’s lineup already had 25 bars, with the deadline still weeks away.

“We didn’t really host any of our own events [last year], so this year, with the tasting expo—it’s sort of like a tradeshow-style thing. It’s going to be happening at Hotel Leo in the Crystal Ballroom—we’ll have a gala that night, and VIP parties, and with [Michele] planning everything, the scale has grown really exponentially,” Holodnick says.

Participating Bars

(at time of publication, check website for updates)

  • Keenan’s at the Pier
  • Swim Club Wet Bar
  • Black Sheep
  • L&L Libations
  • Fireside Martini and Wine Bar
  • Red Rum
  • Mambo Italiano Cafe
  • The Black Cat
  • Uisce Irish Pub
  • Temple Bar
  • Endgame Bellingham
  • Rock & Rye Oyster House
  • 1-Up Lounge
  • Filling Station (Sunnyland location)
  • Packer’s Kitchen & Bar at Semiahmoo Resort
  • Bantam 46
  • Evolve Chocolate & Cafe
  • B-Town Kitchen & Raw Bar
  • Galloway’s Cocktail Bar

For more like this, check out our Dine section here.

"We really want to be able to draw some attention to the [cocktail] scene here, celebrating what’s happening and also kind of encouraging people to come see it for themselves."