A classy event is headed to downtown Cape Coral. The third annual Best Martini Competition returns for another year of food and drink, pairing a number of classic, exotic, and dessert martinis with select, delicious appetizers.
Much like the beer and wine tasting events, attendees will be able to sample a wide variety of martinis throughout the downtown corridor, linked together by a series of roaming trolleys.
The martinis will then be voted on by the tasters, and awards, including cash prizes, in the three categories will given.
Sponsored by the Community Redevelopment Agency, the Downtown Martini competition gives tasters the chance to try something they might normally steer away from.
"You really discover the exotic ways of making martinis," said CRA's Helen Ramey. "If I had to drink a regular martini ... I wouldn't like them. But the exotic and dessert martinis are great, I adore them."
Grape Crush at the Pearl Lounge, Starburst at the Paradise Tiki Hut, and the Fish-tini at Eddie Fishbowls are but a few of the exotic flavors sprinkled around downtown.
What: 3rd Annual Best Downtown Martini Competition
Where: Downtown Cape Coral
When: Saturday, Jan. 31, 7 - 11 p.m.
The dessert martinis, like Scorz Sports Bar's Chocolate, or the Baked Apple at Ralph's Place, are examples of what Helen Ramey describes as "Not Your Grandmother's martinis."
The Baked Apple has, in fact, won the competition the last two years, taking home the prize for the Best Dessert Martini.
Ralph's owner Joanne Stevens said she really looks forward to these events, as they showcase the downtown corridor and bring in new business.
"I think its a wonderful thing," Stevens said. "A lot of these people are from Naples, Bonita, and Fort Myers because they've heard of the event. Some of those people might not come to the downtown area, and some say we didn't even know this was here."
Having won the competition two years in a row with Baked Apple, Stevens was thinking of changing her entry this year, but the CRA decided to use the Baked Apple as a bench mark, asking other eateries to try and knock Ralph's off the winner's pedestal.
So, Baked Apple returns for another shot at the crown, as well as the "Q-tini", which Stevens will be serving for the classic martini category.
Celebrating a decade of business in the Cape, Ralph's has its gang of regulars. But the Martini competition gives the long time Cape favorite a much larger stage on which to play.
"We're the 'Cheers' type place, but this really gives us a chance to expand," Stevens said. "It gives them (attendees) the chance to see our little place. That way, if they're in the area, they can say, hey let's stop in! This gives you the chance to expand your customers for the future."
A big part of the event is the trolly service, offering door to door rides for martini tasters.
The trolly has been such a big hit at previous events, the CRA is thinking of implementing the trolly on a regular basis, part of a rotating schedule Wednesday through Saturday night.
Though not yet approved by the city, there's a chance it will be a full time fixture in the area.
"We are working on bringing a free trolly system downtown," Helen Ramey said. This way people could park and shuttle from location to location. They could start with a progressive dinner - maybe have drinks and an appetizer at one restaurant, and then go to dinner at another. It's also a great way to see all the live entertainment in the downtown area."
Joanne Stevens agrees with the idea of having trolleys full time. Not only is it a good way to showcase downtown, but it also alleviates potential parking problems.
Located at Big John's, Stevens said parking often fills quickly, which might steer people away from stopping by.
"I like the idea of the trolly because of the parking situation. This time of the year theres not a single space. People might think there's no where to park so I'm not going," Stevens said. "I also like the idea because its very quaint, people think its neat."
There are only 1,000 tickets being sold for exclusive event, so the CRA is urging people to buy tickets early.
Helen Ramey said there are still some tickets available, but a huge rush on ticket sales generally proceeds the events just a few days prior.
"This is a quality event, so ticket sales are going well," Ramey said. "We alway have the mad rush the final week. So, if you haven't secured your ticket, i suggest you do. The last two events have sold out before it started."
The CRA has implemented a few safeguards for event, just in case people find themselves unable to drive, or they just want to hang around downtown after the event is over.
Cape Paradise Resort, for instance, is offering a special room rate of $69 for the night of the martini competition. And America Executive Limousine Services is offering a special rate of $10 per person for a ride home anywhere in Cape Coral city limits.
Then there are the "Special Designated Driver Tickets", available for groups of two or more, allow designated drivers access to the trolleys and appetizer samplings, but no martinis.
"For ten bucks they can eat, watch their friends, then do the responsible thing of driving home safely," Ramey said.
Tickets for the event are $20 per person, which includes martini tasting, trolly service, and appetizers. Tickets may be purchased at locations throughout Big John's Plaza, and at some of the tasting locations. All participants must be 21 years of age.
Check in location are located in Club Square, Big John's and Leapin Lizard. Ramey is urging early check in.
For a full list of participating locations, and more information, visit downtowncapecoral.net.